wave particle theory

energy of a photon

A photon isnt a fixed amount of energy. Instead, the amount of energy in a photon depends on the frequency of the electromagnetic wave. The frequency of a wave is the number of waves that pass a fixed point in a given amount of time, such as the number of waves per second. In waves with higher frequencies, photons have more energy.

a new theory

In 1905, the physicist Albert Einstein developed a new theory about electromagnetic radiation. The theory is often called the wave-particle theory. It explains how electromagnetic radiation can behave as both a wave and a particle. Einstein argued that when an electron returns to a lower energy level and gives off electromagnetic energy, the energy is released as a discrete packet of energy. We now call such a packet of energy a photon. According to Einstein, a photon resembles a particle but moves like a wave. You can see this in the Figure 1.1. The theory posits that waves of photons traveling through space or matter make up electromagnetic radiation.


the debate

This question about the nature of electromagnetic radiation was debated by scientists for more than two centuries, starting in the 1600s. Some scientists argued that electromagnetic radiation consists of particles that shoot around like tiny bullets. Other scientists argued that electromagnetic radiation consists of waves, like sound waves or water waves. Until the early 1900s, most scientists thought that electromagnetic radiation is either one or the other and that scientists on the other side of the argument were simply wrong. Q: Do you think electromagnetic radiation is a wave or a particle? A: Heres a hint: it may not be a question of either-or. Keep reading to learn more.

the question

Electromagnetic radiation, commonly called light, is the transfer of energy by waves called electromagnetic waves. These waves consist of vibrating electric and magnetic fields. Where does electromagnetic energy come from? It is released when electrons return to lower energy levels in atoms. Electromagnetic radiation behaves like continuous waves of energy most of the time. Sometimes, however, electromagnetic radiation seems to behave like discrete, or separate, particles rather than waves. So does electromagnetic radiation consist of waves or particles?

evidence for the waveparticle theory

After Einstein proposed his theory, evidence was discovered to support it. For example, scientists shone laser light through two slits in a barrier made of a material that blocked light. You can see the setup of this type of experiment in the Figure 1.2. Using a special camera that was very sensitive to light, they took photos of the light that passed through the slits. The photos revealed tiny pinpoints of light passing through the double slits. This seemed to show that light consists of particles. However, if the camera was exposed to the light for a long time, the pinpoints accumulated in bands that resembled interfering waves. Therefore, the experiment showed that light seems to consist of particles that act like waves.

instructional diagrams

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before einstein, all scientists thought that electromagnetic energy consists of waves.

a. true

-->  b. false

einstein based his wave-particle theory on experimental evidence.

a. true

-->  b. false

the double-slit experiments showed that light

a) consists of particles.

b) behaves like a wave.

c) requires a medium.

-->  d) two of the above

photons create interference patterns just as waves do.

-->  a. true

b. false

diagram questions

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