AQA A Level Physics

Revision Notes

2.5.3 Wave-Particle Duality

Wave-Particle Duality

  • Light can behave as a particle (i.e. photons) and a wave
  • This phenomenon is called the wave-particle nature of light or wave-particle duality
  • Light interacts with matter, such as electrons, as a particle
    • The evidence for this is provided by the photoelectric effect
  • Light propagates through space as a wave
    • The evidence for this comes from the diffraction and interference of light in Young’s Double Slit experiment

Light as a Particle

  • Einstein proposed that light can be described as a quanta of energy that behave as particles, called photons
  • The photon model of light explains that:
    • Electromagnetic waves carry energy in discrete packets called photons
    • The energy of the photons are quantised according to the equation E = hf
    • In the photoelectric effect, each electron can absorb only a single photon – this means only the frequencies of light above the threshold frequency will emit a photoelectron
  • The wave theory of light does not support the idea of a threshold frequency
    • The wave theory suggests any frequency of light can give rise to photoelectric emission if the exposure time is long enough
    • This is because the wave theory suggests the energy absorbed by each electron will increase gradually with each wave
    • Furthermore, the kinetic energy of the emitted electrons should increase with radiation intensity
    • However, in the photoelectric effect, this is not what is observed
  • If the frequency of the incident light is above the threshold and the intensity of the light is increased, more photoelectrons are emitted per second
  • Although the wave theory provides good explanations for phenomena such as interference and diffraction, it fails to explain the photoelectric effect

Electron Diffraction

  • Louis de Broglie discovered that matter, such as electrons, can behave as a wave
  • He showed a diffraction pattern is produced when a beam of electrons is directed at a thin graphite film
  • Diffraction is a property of waves, and cannot be explained by describing electrons as particles

Electron Diffraction Experiment, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Electrons accelerated through a high potential difference demonstrate wave-particle duality 

  • In order to observe the diffraction of electrons, they must be focused through a gap similar to their size, such as an atomic lattice
  • Graphite film is ideal for this purpose because of its crystalline structure
    • The gaps between neighbouring planes of the atoms in the crystals act as slits, allowing the electron waves to spread out and create a diffraction pattern
  • The diffraction pattern is observed on the screen as a series of concentric rings
    • This phenomenon is similar to the diffraction pattern produced when light passes through a diffraction grating
    • If the electrons acted as particles, a pattern would not be observed, instead, the particles would be distributed uniformly across the screen
  • It is observed that a larger accelerating voltage reduces the diameter of a given ring, while a lower accelerating voltage increases the diameter of the rings

Investigating Electron Diffraction

  • Electron diffraction tubes can be used to investigate the wave properties of electrons
  • The electrons are accelerated in an electron gun to a high potential, such as 5000 V, and are then directed through a thin film of graphite
  • The electrons diffract from the gaps between carbon atoms and produce a circular pattern on a fluorescent screen made from phosphor

Investigating Electron Diffraction, downloadable AS & A Level Physics revision notes

Experimental setup to demonstrate electron diffraction

  • Increasing the voltage between the anode and the cathode causes the energy, and hence speed, of the electrons to increase
  • The kinetic energy of the electrons is proportional to the voltage across the anode-cathode:

Ek = ½ mv2 = eV

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Katie has always been passionate about the sciences, and completed a degree in Astrophysics at Sheffield University. She decided that she wanted to inspire other young people, so moved to Bristol to complete a PGCE in Secondary Science. She particularly loves creating fun and absorbing materials to help students achieve their exam potential.
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