“In the beginning was hydrogen” was the title of the 1972 German scientist Hoymar von Dettfurth of the famous scientific literature. The chemical element was created with helium right after the Big Bang and is different from the rest of the periodic table. All other elements must first be generated by nuclear fusion within stars or formed by nuclear reactions especially in the final stages of stellar evolution.
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Hydrogen is the simplest atom. It consists of a proton like the nucleus around which an electron revolves. Although “turning around” is no longer entirely true. The simple image of two particles orbiting each other like celestial bodies is attractive but false. If you really want to understand the hydrogen atom, you need the mathematics of quantum mechanics, in which particles are described with wave functions. With hydrogen it looks like this:
This is the time-independent Schrödinger equation for the hydrogen atom. Even without going into details, one can see at first glance that this is a very complex formula. The mathematical treatment and solution of this equation is also known as the hydrogen problem, and in fact hydrogen is the only atom for which the Schrödinger equation can be completely solved.
However, when the hydrogen problem is discussed today, it is usually less about quantum mechanics and more about the transfer of energy. Hydrogen is by far the most common element in the universe and at the same time an element with a high energy density. We can allow it to react with oxygen to form water and use the energy that is released in the process. But first we need enough hydrogen. Because even though hydrogen makes up two-thirds of all matter in the universe, it’s hard to reach Earth. Here we find hydrogen almost exclusively in combination with other atoms, mainly in the form of water.
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