Excited state

In quantum mechanics, an excited state of a system (such as an atom, molecule or nucleus) is any quantum state of the system that has a higher energy than the ground state (that is, more energy than the absolute minimum). Excitation refers to an increase in energy level above a chosen starting point, usually the ground state but sometimes an already-excited state. The temperature of a group of particles is indicative of the level of excitation (with the notable exception of systems that exhibit negative temperature).

After absorbing energy, an electron may jump from the ground state to a higher energy excited state.
Excitations of copper 3d orbitals on the CuO2-plane of a high Tc superconductor; The ground state (blue) is x2-y2 orbitals; the excited orbitals are in green; the arrows illustrate inelastic x-ray spectroscopy

The lifetime of a system in an excited state is usually short: spontaneous or induced emission of a quantum of energy (such as a photon or a phonon) usually occurs shortly after the system is promoted to the excited state, returning the system to a state with lower energy (a less excited state or the ground state). This return to a lower energy level is often loosely described as decay and is the inverse of excitation.

Long-lived excited states are often called metastable. Long-lived nuclear isomers and singlet oxygen are two examples of this.


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