Wave Particle Duality

The results from spectroscopy (emission and absorption spectra) can only be explained if light has a particle nature as shown by Bohr’s atom and the photon description of light.
This dualism to the nature of light is best demonstrated by the photoelectric effect, where a weak UV light produces a current flow (releases electrons) but a strong red light does not release electrons no matter how intense the red light.

An unusual phenomenon was discovered in the early 1900’s. If a beam of light is pointed at the negative end of a pair of charged plates, a current flow is measured. A current is simply a flow of electrons in a metal, such as a wire. Thus, the beam of light must be liberating electrons from one metal plate, which are attracted to the other plate by electrostatic forces. This results in a current flow.

In classical physics, one would expect the current flow to be proportional to the strength of the beam of light (more light = more electrons liberated = more current). However, the observed phenomenon was that the current flow was basically constant with light strength, yet varied strong with the wavelength of light such that there was a sharp cutoff and no current flow for long wavelengths.

Einstein successfully explained the photoelectric effect within the context of the new physics of the time, quantum physics. In his scientific paper, he showed that light was made of packets of energy quantum called photons. Each photon carries a specific energy related to its wavelength, such that photons of short wavelength (blue light) carry more energy than long wavelength (red light) photons. To release an electron from a metal plate required a minimal energy which could only be transfered by a photon of energy equal or greater than that minimal threshold energy (i.e. the wavelength of the light had to be sufficiently short). Each photon of blue light released an electron. But all red photons were too weak. The result is no matter how much red light was shown on the metal plate, there was no current.

The photoelectric earned Einstein the Nobel Prize, and introduced the term “photon” of light into our terminology.

Einstein explained that light exists in a particle-like state as packets of energy (quanta) called photons. The photoelectric effect occurs because the packets of energy carried by each individual red photons are too weak to knock the electrons off the atoms no matter how many red photons you beamed onto the cathode. But the individual UV photons were each strong enough to release the electron and cause a current flow.

It is one of the strange, but fundamental, concepts in modern physics that light has both a wave and particle state (but not at the same time), called wave-particle dualism.

photoelectric_effectWave/particle duality is the possession by physical entities (such as light and electrons) of both wavelike and particle-like characteristics. On the basis of experimental evidence, the German physicist Albert Einstein first showed (1905) that light, which had been considered a form of electromagnetic waves, must also be thought of as particle-like, or localized in packets of discrete energy. The French physicist Louis de Broglie proposed (1924) that electrons and other discrete bits of matter, which until then had been conceived only as material particles, also have wave properties such as wavelength and frequency. Later (1927) the wave nature of electrons was experimentally established. An understanding of the complementary relation between the wave aspects and the particle aspects of the same phenomenon was announced in 1928.

Dualism is not such a strange concept, consider the following picture, are the swirl moving or not or both?


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