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Principal historical developments
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What is the mass of a photon?
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Einband mit Klarsichtfolie beklebt. Hardback or Cased Book. Seller Inventory ING Bleistifteintragungen auf den ersten 20Seiten, Name auf Vorsatz. A quantitative measure of the photoelectric effect came in , with work by Philipp Lenard a former assistant to Hertz.
It was clear that light had electrical properties, but what was going on was unclear. According to Einstein, light is made up of little packets, at first called quanta and later photons.
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How quanta behave under the photoelectric effect can be understood through a thought experiment. Imagine a marble circling in a well, which would be like a bound electron to an atom. When a photon comes in, it hits the marble or electron , giving it enough energy to escape from the well. This explains the behavior of light striking metal surfaces. While Einstein, then a young patent clerk in Switzerland, explained the phenomenon in , it took 16 more years for the Nobel Prize to be awarded for his work. This came after American physicist Robert Millikan not only verified the work, but also found a relation between one of Einstein's constants and Planck's constant.
The latter constant describes how particles and waves behave in the atomic world. Further early theoretical studies on the photoelectric effect were performed by Arthur Compton in who showed that X-rays also could be treated as photons and earned the Nobel Prize in , as well as Ralph Howard Fowler in who looked at the relationship between metal temperatures and photoelectric currents.
While the description of the photoelectric effect sounds highly theoretical, there are many practical applications of its work. Britannica describes a few:.follow
How are photons created and destroyed? (Advanced) - Curious About Astronomy? Ask an Astronomer
Photoelectric cells were originally used to detect light, using a vacuum tube containing a cathode, to emit electrons, and an anode, to gather the resulting current. Today, these "phototubes" have advanced to semiconductor-based photodiodes that are used in applications such as solar cells and fiber optics telecommunications.
Photomultiplier tubes are a variation of the phototube, but they have several metal plates called dynodes. Electrons are released after light strikes the cathodes. The electrons then fall onto the first dynode, which releases more electrons that fall on the second dynode, then on to the third, fourth, and so forth.
Each dynode amplifies the current; after about 10 dynodes, the current is strong enough for the photomultipliers to detect even single photons. Examples of this are used in spectroscopy which breaks apart light into different wavelengths to learn more about the chemical compositions of star, for example , and computerized axial tomography CAT scans that examine the body.