The Pauli Exclusion Principle

Source: OpenStax Chemistry 2e

The Pauli Exclusion Principle (OpenStax Chemistry 2e)

An electron in an atom is completely described by four quantum numbers: nlml, and ms. The first three quantum numbers define the orbital and the fourth quantum number describes the intrinsic electron property called spin. An Austrian physicist Wolfgang Pauli formulated a general principle that gives the last piece of information that we need to understand the general behavior of electrons in atoms. The Pauli exclusion principle can be formulated as follows: No two electrons in the same atom can have exactly the same set of all the four quantum numbers. What this means is that two electrons can share the same orbital (the same set of the quantum numbers nl, and ml) only if their spin quantum numbers ms have different values. Since the spin quantum number can only have two values (± ½), no more than two electrons can occupy the same orbital (and if two electrons are located in the same orbital, they must have opposite spins). Therefore, any atomic orbital can be populated by only zero, one, or two electrons.

The properties and meaning of the quantum numbers of electrons in atoms are briefly summarized in the table above.

Related Topic: Understanding Quantum Theory of Electrons in Atoms


Flowers, P., Theopold, K., Langley, R., & Robinson, W. R. (2019, February 14). Chemistry 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at:


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Definition of the Pauli Exclusion Principle