Atomic Bonds

There are two types of bonds:



Primary Bonds:

Primary bonds are the strongest bonds which hold atoms together. The three types of primary bonds are:

 Metallic Bonds

Covalent Bonds

Ionic Bonds

Metallic Bonds

In a metal, the outer electrons are shared among all the atoms in the solid. Each atom gives up its outer electrons and becomes slightly positively charged. The negatively charged electrons hold the metal atoms together. Since the electrons are free to move, they lead to good thermal and electrical conductivity.

Figure 1. Metallic bond.

The lack of oppositely charged ions in the metallic structure and lack of sufficient valence electrons to form a true covalent bond necessitate the sharing of valence electrons by more than two atoms. Each of the atoms of the metal contributes its valence electrons to the formation of the negative " electron cloud". These electrons are not associated with a particular ion but are free to move among the positive metallic ions in definite energy levels. The metallic ions are held together by virtue of their mutual attraction for the negative electron cloud. This is illustrated schematically in Figure 2.The metallic bond may be thought of as an extension of the covalent bond to a large number of atoms.

Figure 2. Metallic bond and electron cloud

Ionic Bonds

Atoms like to have a filled outer shell of electrons. Sometimes, by transferring electrons from one atom to another, electron shells are filled. The donor atom will take a positive charge, and the acceptor will have a negative charge. The charged atoms or ions will be attracted to each other, and form bonds. The compound NaCl, or table salt, is the most common example.

Figure 3. Ionic bond

The electron structure of atoms is relatively stable when the outer shells contain eight electrons (or two in the case of the first shell). An element like sodium with one excess electron will give it up so that it has a completely filled outer shell. It will then have more protons than electrons and become a positive ion (charged atom) with a +1 charge. An atom of chlorine, on the other hand, with seven electrons in its outer shell would like to accept one electron. When it does, it will have one more electron than protons and become a negative ion with a -1 charge. When sodium and chlorine atoms are placed together, there is a transfer of electrons from the sodium to the chlorine atoms, resulting in a strong electrostatic attraction between the positive sodium ions and the negative chlorine ions. This explains the strong attraction between paired ions typical of the gas or liquid state.

Figure 4a. Formation of ionic bond in NaCl.

Figure 4b. Na+ and Cl- ions formed by ionic bonding mechanism.


Covalent Bonds

Some atoms like to share electrons to complete their outer shells. Each pair of shared atoms is called a covalent bond. Covalent bonds are called directional because the atoms tend to remain in fixed positions with respect to each other. Covalent bonds are also very strong. Examples include diamond, and the O-O and N-N bonds in oxygen and nitrogen gases.

Figure 5. Covalent bonding.


Secondary Bonds:

Secondary bonds are much weaker than primary bonds. They often provide a "weak link" for deformation or fracture. Example for secondary bonds are:

Hydrogen Bonds

Van der Waals Bonds

Hydrogen Bonds

Hydrogen bonds are common in covalently bonded molecules which contain hydrogen, such as water (H2O). Since the bonds are primarily covalent, the electrons are shared between the hydrogen and oxygen atoms. However, the electrons tend to spend more time around the oxygen atom. This leads to a small positive charge around the hydrogen atoms, and a negative charge around the oxygen atom. When other molecules with this type of charge transfer are nearby, the negatively charged end of one molecule will be weakly attracted to the positively charged end of the other molecule. The attraction is weak because the charge transfer is small.

Figure 6. Hydrogen bonds.

Van der Waals Bonds

Van der Waals bonds are very weak compared to other types of bonds. These bonds are especially important in noble gases which are cooled to very low temperatures. The electrons surrounding an atom are always moving. At any given point in time, the electrons may be slightly shifted to one side of an atom, giving that side a very small negative charge. This may cause an attraction to a slightly positively charged atom nearby, creating a very weak bond. At most temperatures, thermal energy overwhelms the effects of Van der Waals bonds.

Van Der Waals bonding is a secondary bonding, which exists between virtually all atoms or molecules, but its presence may be obscured if any of the three primary bonding types is present. Secondary bonding forces arise from atomic or molecular dipoles. In essence, an electron dipole exists whenever there is some separation of positive and negative portions of an atom or molecule. When an electron cloud density occurs at one side of an atom or molecule during the electron flight about the nucleus, Van Der Waals forces are generated. This creates a dipole wherein one side of the atom becomes electrically charged and the other side has deficiency of electrons and is considerably charged positive. The atom is distorted as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Van der Waals Bond


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Last updated: September 10, 1999

By: Serdar Z. Elgun