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ligands definitely impact a change in magnetic properties and color of the transition metal in an aqueous solution. CFT qualitatively describes the strength of metal-ligand bonds and describes how the presence of ligands contributes to the breaking of orbital degeneracy in transition metal complexes
I think that for Chem 14A we are not expected to know Crystal Field Theory, however the basic concept is that ligands as they approach the metal ion experience greater repulsion and cause crystal field splitting. In a d to d transition, an electron in is excited by a photon to another d orbital of higher energy. The lights emitted determines the color observed.
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