Photoelectric effect thus gave evidence to the strange fact that light in interaction with matter behaved as if it was made of quanta or packets of energy, each of energy h n. Is the light quantum of energy to be associated with a particle? Einstein arrived at the important result, that the light quantum can also be associated with momentum (h n/c).A definite value of energy as well as momentum is a strong sign that the light quantum can be associated with a particle. This particle was later named photon. The particle-like behaviour of light was further confirmed, in 1924, by the experiment of A.H. Compton (1892-1962) on scattering of X-rays from electrons. In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to theoretical physics and the photoelectric effect. In 1923, Millikan was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect. We can summarise the photon picture of electromagnetic radiation as follows:

(i) In interaction of radiation with matter, radiation behaves as if it is made up of particles called photons.

(ii) Each photon has energy E (=hn) and momentum p (= h n/c),and speed c, the speed of light.

(iii) All photons of light of a particular frequency n, or wavelength l, have the same energy E (=hn = hc/l) and momentum p (= hn/c = h/l),, whatever the intensity of radiation may be. By increasing the intensity of light of given wavelength, there is only an increase in the number of photons per second crossing a given area, with each photon having the same energy. Thus, photon energy is independent of intensity of radiation.

(iv) Photons are electrically neutral and are not deflected by electric and magnetic fields.

(v) In a photon-particle collision (such as photon-electron collision), the total energy and total momentum are conserved. However, the number of photons may not be conserved in a collision. The photon may be absorbed or a new photon may be created.


The dual (wave-particle) nature of light (electromagnetic radiation, in general) comes out clearly from what we have learnt in this and the preceding chapters. The wave nature of light shows up in the phenomena of interference, diffraction and polarisation. On the other hand, in photoelectric effect and Compton effect which involve energy and momentum transfer, radiation behaves as if it is made up of a bunch of particles – the photons. Whether a particle or wave description is best suited for understanding an experiment depends on the nature of the experiment. For example, in the familiar phenomenon of seeing an object by our eye, both descriptions are important. The gathering and focusing mechanism of light by the eye-lens is well described in the wave picture. But its absorption by the rods and cones (of the retina) requires the photon picture of light.

A natural question arises: If radiation has a dual (wave-particle) nature, might not the particles of nature (the electrons, protons, etc.) also exhibit wave-like character? In 1924, the French physicist Louis Victor de Broglie (pronounced as de Broy) (1892-1987) put forward the bold hypothesis that moving particles of matter should display wave-like properties under suitable conditions. He reasoned that nature was symmetrical and that the two basic physical entities – matter and energy, must have symmetrical character.


A photocell is a technological application of the photoelectric effect. It is a device whose electrical properties are affected by light. It is also sometimes called an electric eye. A photocell consists of a semi-cylindrical photo-sensitive metal plate C (emitter) and a wire loop A (collector) supported in an evacuated glass or quartz bulb. It is connected to the external circuit having a high-tension battery B and microammeter (μA). Sometimes, instead of the plate C, a thin layer of photosensitive material is pasted on the inside of the bulb. A part of the bulb is left clean for the light to enter it. When light of suitable wavelength falls on the emitter C, photoelectrons are emitted. These photoelectrons are drawn to the collector A. Photocurrent of the order of a few microampere can be normally obtained from a photo cell.

A photocell converts a change in intensity of illumination into a change in photocurrent. This current can be used to operate control systems and in light measuring devices. A photocell of lead sulphide sensitive to infrared radiation is used in electronic ignition circuits. In scientific work, photo cells are used whenever it is necessary to measure the intensity of light. Light meters in photographic cameras make use of photo cells to measure the intensity of incident light. The photocells, inserted in the door light electric circuit, are used as automatic door opener. A person approaching a doorway may interrupt a light beam which is incident on a photocell. The abrupt change in photocurrent may be used to start a motor which opens the door or rings an alarm. They are used in the control of a counting device which records every interruption of the light beam caused by a person or object passing across the beam. So photocells help count the persons entering an auditorium, provided they enter the hall one by one. They are used for detection of traffic law defaulters: an alarm may be sounded whenever a beam of (invisible) radiation is intercepted.

In burglar alarm, (invisible) ultraviolet light is continuously made to fall on a photocell installed at the doorway. A person entering the door interrupts the beam falling on the photocell. The abrupt change in photocurrent is used to start an electric bell ringing. In fire alarm, a number of photocells are installed at suitable places in a building. In the event of breaking out of fire, light radiations fall upon the photocell. This completes the electric circuit through an electric bell or a siren which starts operating as a warning signal. Photocells are used in the reproduction of sound in motion pictures and in the television camera for scanning and telecasting scenes. They are used in industries for detecting minor flaws or holes in metal sheets.

Louis Victor de Broglie

Louis Victor de Broglie (1892 – 1987) French physicist who put forth revolutionary idea of wave nature of matter. This idea was developed by Erwin Schródinger into a fullfledged theory of quantum mechanics commonly known as wave mechanics.

In 1929, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the wave nature of electrons.


It is worth pausing here to reflect on just what a matter wave associated with a particle, say, an electron, means. Actually, a truly satisfactory physical  understanding of the dual nature of matter and radiation has not emerged so far. The great founders of quantum mechanics (Niels Bohr, Albert Einstein, and many others) struggled with this and related concepts for long. Still the deep physical interpretation of quantum mechanics continues to be an area of active research. Despite this, the concept of matter wave has been mathematically introduced in modern quantum mechanics with great success. An important milestone in this connection was when Max Born (1882-1970) suggested a probability interpretation to the matter wave amplitude. According to this, the intensity (square of the amplitude) of the matter wave at a point determines the probability density of the particle at that point. Probability density means probability per unit volume.


The wave nature of electrons was first experimentally verified by C.J. Davisson and L.H. Germer in 1927 and independently by G.P. Thomson, in 1928, who observed diffraction effects with beams of electrons scattered by crystals. Davisson and Thomson shared the Nobel Prize in 1937 for their experimental discovery of diffraction of electrons by crystals. The experimental arrangement used by Davisson and Germer. It consists of an electron gun which comprises of a tungsten filament F, coated with barium oxide and heated by a low voltage power supply (L.T. or battery). Electrons emitted by the filament are accelerated to a desired velocity by applying suitable  potential/voltage from a high voltage power supply (H.T. or battery). They are made to pass through a cylinder with fine holes along its axis, producing a fine collimated beam. The beam is made to fall on the surface of a nickel crystal. The electrons are scattered in all directions by the atoms of the crystal. The intensity of the electron beam, scattered in a given direction, is measured by the electron detector (collector). The detector can be moved on a circular scale and is connected to a sensitive galvanometer, which records the current. The deflection of the galvanometer is proportional to the intensity of the electron beam entering the collector. The apparatus is enclosed in an evacuated chamber. By moving the detector on the circular scale at different positions, the intensity of the scattered electron beam is measured for different values of angle of scattering q which is the angle between the incident and the scattered electron beams. The variation of the intensity (I ) of the scattered electrons with the angle of scattering q is obtained for different accelerating voltages.

Thus, there is an excellent agreement between the theoretical value and the experimentally obtained value of de Broglie wavelength. Davisson- Germer experiment thus strikingly confirms the wave nature of electrons and the de Broglie relation. More recently, in 1989, the wave nature of a beam of electrons was experimentally demonstrated in a double-slit experiment, similar to that used for the wave nature of light. Also, in an experiment in 1994, interference fringes were obtained with the beams of iodine molecules, which are about a million times more massive than electrons.

The de Broglie hypothesis has been basic to the development of modern quantum mechanics. It has also led to the field of electron optics. The wave properties of electrons have been utilised in the design of electron microscope which is a great improvement, with higher resolution, over the optical microscope.

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