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The Lewis dot symbol for the calcium ion

The following ideas are important in understanding hybridization:

  1. Hybrid orbitals do not exist in isolated atoms. They are formed only in covalently bonded atoms.
  2. Hybrid orbitals have shapes and orientations that are very different from those of the atomic orbitals in isolated atoms.
  3. A set of hybrid orbitals is generated by combining atomic orbitals. The number of hybrid orbitals in a set is equal to the number of atomic orbitals that were combined to produce the set.
  4. All orbitals in a set of hybrid orbitals are equivalent in shape and energy.
  5. The type of hybrid orbitals formed in a bonded atom depends on its electron-pair geometry as predicted by the VSEPR theory.
  6. Hybrid orbitals overlap to form σ bonds. Unhybridized orbitals overlap to form π bonds.

In the following sections, we shall discuss the common types of hybrid orbitals.

sp Hybridization

The beryllium atom in a gaseous BeCl2 molecule is an example of a central atom with no lone pairs of electrons in a linear arrangement of three atoms. There are two regions of valence electron density in the BeCl2 molecule that correspond to the two covalent Be–Cl bonds. To accommodate these two electron domains, two of the Be atom’s four valence orbitals will mix to yield two hybrid orbitals. This hybridization process involves mixing of the valence s orbital with one of the valence p orbitals to yield two equivalent sp hybrid orbitals that are oriented in a linear geometry (Figure 3). In this figure, the set of sp orbitals appears similar in shape to the original p orbital, but there is an important difference. The number of atomic orbitals combined always equals the number of hybrid orbitals formed. The p orbital is one orbital that can hold up to two electrons. The sp set is two equivalent orbitals that point 180° from each other. The two electrons that were originally in the s orbital are now distributed to the two sporbitals, which are half filled. In gaseous BeCl2, these half-filled hybrid orbitals will overlap with orbitals from the chlorine atoms to form two identical σ bonds.

Figure 3. Hybridization of an s orbital (blue) and a p orbital (red) of the same atom produces two sp hybrid orbitals (purple). Each hybrid orbital is oriented primarily in just one direction. Note that each sp orbital contains one lobe that is significantly larger than the other. The set of two sp orbitals are oriented at 180°, which is consistent with the geometry for two domains.