P Orbital Definition in Science

Atomic Structure

Abstract dumbbell shape
The p orbital is shaped like a dumbbell.

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At any given moment, an electron can be found at any distance from the nucleus and in any direction according to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The p orbital is a dumbbell-shaped or lobed region describing where an electron can be found, within a certain degree of probability. The node of the dumbbell occurs at the atomic nucleus, so the probability of finding an electron in the nucleus is very low (but not zero). The shape of the orbital depends on the quantum numbers associated with an energy state.

All p orbitals have l = 1, with three possible values for m (-1, 0, +1). The wave function is complex when m = 1 or m = -1.


  • Griffiths, David (1995). Introduction to Quantum Mechanics. Prentice Hall. pp. 190–191. ISBN 978-0-13-124405-4.
  • Levine, Ira (2000). Quantum Chemistry (5 ed.). Prentice Hall. pp. 144–145. ISBN 978-0-13-685512-5.
  • Orchin, Milton; Macomber, Roger S.; Pinhas, Allan; Wilson, R. Marshall (2005). Atomic Orbital Theory.
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Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "P Orbital Definition in Science." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/p-orbital-603802. Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. (2020, August 28). P Orbital Definition in Science. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/p-orbital-603802 Helmenstine, Anne Marie, Ph.D. "P Orbital Definition in Science." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/p-orbital-603802 (accessed April 10, 2021).