The ebook FEEE - Fundamentals of Electrical Engineering and Electronics is based on material originally written by T.R. Kuphaldt and various co-authors. For more information please read the copyright pages.

Magnetic Quantum Number

The magnetic quantum number for an electron classifies which orientation its subshell shape is pointed. The “lobes” for subshells point in multiple directions. These different orientations are called orbitals. For the first subshell (s; l=0), which resembles a sphere pointing in no “direction”, so there is only one orbital. For the second (p; l=1) subshell in each shell, which resembles dumbbells point in three possible directions. Think of three dumbbells intersecting at the origin, each oriented along a different axis in a three-axis coordinate space.

Valid numerical values for this quantum number consist of integers ranging from -l to l, and are symbolized as ml in atomic physics and lz in nuclear physics. To calculate the number of orbitals in any given subshell, double the subshell number and add 1 (2l + 1). For example, the first subshell (l=0) in any shell contains a single orbital, numbered 0; the second subshell (l=1) in any shell contains three orbitals, numbered -1, 0, and 1; the third subshell (l=2) contains five orbitals, numbered -2, -1, 0, 1, and 2; and so on.

Like principal quantum numbers, the magnetic quantum number arose directly from experimental evidence: the division of spectral lines as a result of exposing an ionized gas to a magnetic field, hence the name "magnetic" quantum number.


Last Update: 2010-11-19