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We customarily teach atoms as “wanting” to fill their valence shells with electrons, thus setting up the whole of chemistry with covalent or ionic bonds. But what’s really in it for atoms to form covalent bonds? Turns out not to be so simple! Isolated atoms DON'T particularly tend to pick up, nor lose, free electrons; they are quite happy as neutral particles. Extra electrons would repel each other on an atom (ion), which is not energetically favorable unless the ion is stabilized somehow. And a loss of electrons would lead to a cation disposed to reacquire the electrons lost. That’s NOT evidence of “wanting to fill” the valence shell! So, consider instead what’s in it for each of the subatomic particle types in two atoms near each other that could share electrons. First, for the nuclei, there’s no advantage in bonding! If anything, if the shared electrons didn’t completely screen out the positive charges of the two nuclei from each other, they would repel each other ferociously... read more

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