Students' reasoning about chemical bonding: The lacuna of repulsion

Asnat R. Zohar, Sharona T. Levy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article concerns a lacuna in chemistry students' reasoning about chemical bonding. Although chemistry students are familiar with the charges that make up the atom––both positive and negative––they refer only to the attraction between unlike charges. Specifically, they ignore the repulsion between the positive nuclei. We named this disregard of repulsion the lacuna of repulsion. Repulsion is a crucial component in the force-based explanation of chemical bonding, presenting the bond as a dynamic equilibrium between attraction and repulsion electrical forces. We noticed this lacuna incidentally while interviewing chemistry students for a bigger project aimed at supporting students in understanding the force-based explanation of chemical bonding. This article describes our systematic qualitative study of the lacuna of repulsion and its impact on mental models of 23 high school chemistry students. Our findings show that students use six mental models, most of them built upon each other. Beginning from a simple mental model that describes the chemical bond as electrons, continuing with the including attraction forces, and completing with repulsion and a dynamic view of the bond. Only when one considers both attraction and repulsion forces and understands the dynamic balance between them is it possible to build the force-based dynamic mental model of chemical bonding.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)881-904
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.


  • attraction
  • chemical bonding
  • forces
  • mental model
  • repulsion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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