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Quantum Physics
As physicists began to probe the mysteries of the atom, they came across a number of unexpected results along the lines of Rutherford’s gold foil experiment. Increasingly, it became clear that things at the atomic level are totally unlike anything we find on the level of everyday objects. Physicists had to develop a whole new set of mechanical equations, called “quantum mechanics,” to explain the movement of elementary particles. The physics of this “quantum” world demands that we upset many basic assumptions—that light travels in waves, that observation has no effect on experiments, etc.—but the results, from transistor radios to microchips, are undeniable. Quantum physics is strange, but it works.

Before we dive into quantum physics, we should define the unit of energy we’ll be using in our discussion. Because the amounts of energy involved at the atomic level are so small, it’s problematic to talk in terms of joules. Instead, we use the electronvolt (eV), where 1 eV is the amount of energy involved in accelerating an electron through a potential difference of one volt. Mathematically,

The Photoelectric Effect
Electromagnetic radiation transmits energy, so when visible light, ultraviolet light, X rays, or any other form of electromagnetic radiation shines on a piece of metal, the surface of that metal absorbs some of the radiated energy. Some of the electrons in the atoms at the surface of the metal may absorb enough energy to liberate them from their orbits, and they will fly off. These electrons are called photoelectrons, and this phenomenon, first noticed in 1887, is called the photoelectric effect.

The Wave Theory of Electromagnetic Radiation
Young’s double-slit experiment, which we looked at in the previous chapter, would seem to prove conclusively that electromagnetic radiation travels in waves. However, the wave theory of electromagnetic radiation makes a number of predictions about the photoelectric effect that prove to be false:
Predict ions of t he wave t heory T ime lap se Elect rons need t o absorb a cert ain amount of wave energy before t hey can be liberat ed, so t here should be Observed result Elect rons begin fly ing off t he surface of t he met al almost inst ant ly aft er light shines on it .

Rather than assuming that light travels as a continuous wave. h . Einstein drew on Planck’s work. but even a very int ense lowfrequency beam liberat es no elect rons. called a quantum. rather than gradually. one blue and one red. of t he light . and not his work on relativity. Because the energy of a photon depends on its frequency. T he mat erial t he light shines up on Each mat erial has a cert ain t hreshold should not release more or fewer frequency : light wit h a lower frequency elect rons dep ending on t he frequency will release no elect rons. Frequency T he frequency of t he beam of light should have no effect on t he number or energy of t he elect rons t hat are liberat ed.some lap se of t ime bet ween t he light hit t ing t he surface of t he met al and t he first elect rons fly ing off. called Planck’s constant. which tells us how much energy an electron must absorb to be liberated. the work function of the metal. as a photon. we should translate h from units of J · s into units of eV · s: We know the frequencies of the beams of light. Int ensit y T he int ensit y of t he beam of light should det ermine t he kinet ic energy of t he elect rons t hat fly off t he surface of t he met al. an electron needs to absorb a certain amount of energy before it can fly off the sheet of metal. that won him his Nobel Prize in 1921. Let’s see how much energy the electrons liberated . That this energy arrives all at once. T he frequency of t he blue light is Hz . the photons in the beam of light must have a higher energy than the work function of the material. Planck’s formula determines the amount of energy in a given quantum: where h is a very small number. and t he frequency of t he red light is of light ? Hz . and that each photon has a certain amount of energy associated with it. Einstein Saves the Day The young Albert Einstein accounted for these discrepancies between the wave theory and observed results by suggesting that electromagnetic radiation exhibits a number of particle properties. Frequency is key : t he kinet ic energy of t he liberat ed elect rons is direct ly p rop ort ional t o t he frequency of t he light beam. and the value of Planck’s constant. T he great er t he int ensit y . . shine up on a met al wit h a work funct ion of 5. suggesting that light travels in small bundles. What is t he energy of t he elect rons liberat ed by t he t wo beams In order to solve this problem. It was his work with the photoelectric effect. A liberated photoelectron flies off the surface of the metal with a kinetic energy of: E XAMPLE T wo beams of light . low-frequency light will not be able to liberate electrons. t he great er t he number of elect rons t hat fly off. M at erial T he int ensit y of t he beam of light has no effect on t he kinet ic energy of t he elect rons. and f is the frequency of the beam of light. Work Function and Threshold Frequency As the wave theory correctly assumes. t he great er t he energy of t he elect rons.0 eV. For a beam of light to liberate electrons. We say that every material has a given work function. explains why there is no time lapse between the shining of the light and the liberation of electrons. called photons. J · s to be precise. as a wave. and no elect rons are liberat ed if t he frequency is below a cert ain t hreshold. T he great er t he int ensit y of light .

As it turns out. The closest orbital radius is called the electron’s ground state. The Mystery of Atomic Spectra Another puzzling phenomenon unexplained by Rutherford’s model. In 1913. Bohr’s model is still mostly accurate for the hydrogen atom. After a while. According to Bohr. giving off a photon as it does so. it will drop spontaneously back down to its ground state. most sunlight travels in a handful of particular frequencies. the radius of an object in orbit is a function of its potential energy. the Danish physicist Niels Bohr proposed a model of the atom that married Planck’s and Einstein’s development of quantum theory with Rutherford’s discovery of the atomic nucleus. For instance. The Problem with Rutherford’s Model Light and other electromagnetic waves are emitted by accelerating charged particles. the electron of a hydrogen atom can only orbit the proton at certain distinct radii. If an electron gives off energy. or anything else before 1913. or some other lesser radius. If we recall the chapter on gravity. but it doesn’t account for some of the complexities of more massive atoms. it makes for the simplest the blue light have: For the electrons struck by the red light: The negative value in the sum means that . . should decrease. In fact. it will jump to a greater orbital radius. and hence the radius of its orbit about the nucleus. Bohr’s model was based on the hydrogen atom. The fact that most of the atoms in the universe have not yet collapsed suggests a fundamental flaw in Rutherford’s model of electrons orbiting nuclei. Only electrons struck by the blue light are liberated. so that we can see exactly which frequencies of light are being emitted. Bohr’s Hydrogen Atom Niels Bohr drew on Rutherford’s discovery of the nucleus and Einstein’s suggestion that energy travels only in distinct quanta to develop an atomic theory that accounts for why electrons do not collapse into nuclei and why there are only particular frequencies for visible light. A spectroscope breaks up the visible light emitted from a light source into a spectrum. is the spectral lines we see when looking through a spectroscope. and the electron would collide with the nucleus. any radiating electron would give off all its potential energy in a fraction of a second. When an electron absorbs a certain amount of energy. we might expect the white light of the sun to transmit light in an even range of all different frequencies. The Bohr Model of the Atom Let’s now return to our discussion of the atom. with just one proton and one electron. thereby bringing quantum physics permanently into the mainstream of the physical sciences. But according to Rutherford’s model. since. then its potential energy. the electrons being accelerated in orbit about the nucleus of an atom release a certain amount of energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation. however. so the frequency of the red light is too low to liberate electrons. In particular. while very little or no light at all travels at many other frequencies. The puzzling thing about atomic spectra is that light seems to travel only in certain distinct frequencies.

The second is that this centripetal force is related to the electric force in the same way that the centripetal force on planets is related to the gravitational force: where e is the electric charge of the electron. Because it makes these jumps. it can only emit photons of certain frequencies. the planetary model places no restriction on the radius at which planets may orbit the sun. One of Bohr’s fundamental insights was that the angular momentum of the electron. so most of the light we see coming from the sun is in one of the allowed frequencies for energy jumps in hydrogen atoms.Because the electron can only make certain jumps in its energy level. be an integer. and does not emit a steady flow of energy. the gravitational potential energy of a body in orbit is electron in orbit is: . must be an integer multiple of . Also. The constant . If we take n to is so common in quantum physics that it has its own symbol. a spectroscopic image of the light emanating from a particular element will only carry the frequencies of photon that element can emit. as Rutherford’s model suggests. . we get: Consequently. the electron will never spiral into the proton. there are some analogies between the nature of this orbit and the nature of planetary orbits. Analogously. The first is that the centripetal force in both cases is . we can now solve for r : Don’t worry: you don’t need to memorize this equation. L. For instance. the sun is mostly made of hydrogen. That means that the centripetal force on the electron is directly proportional to its mass and to the square of its orbital velocity and is inversely proportional to the radius of its orbit. Analogies with the Planetary Model Because the electron of a hydrogen atom orbits the proton. the potential energy of an Differences from the Planetary Model However. What’s worth noting for the . The third analogy is that of potential energy. If we recall. Z is a variable for the number of protons in the nucleus. By equating the formula for centripetal force and the formula for electric force. because an atom can only emit photons of certain frequencies. so in the hydrogen atom. Z = 1 . and Z e is the electric charge of the nucleus.

This is a negative number because we’re dealing with potential energy: this is the amount of energy it would take to free the electron from its orbit. for different integer values of n . Whenever an electron in a hydrogen atom returns from an excited energy state to its ground state it lets off an ultraviolet photon. we can determine the frequency of the emitted photon: Knowing the frequency means we can also determine the wavelength: As it turns out. this photon is of slightly higher frequency than the spectrum of visible light: we won’t see it. but it will come across to us as ultraviolet radiation.purposes of SAT II Physics is that there are certain constant values for r . Note also that r is proportional to . we can calculate its potential energy. Remember that the potential energy of an electron is . you’ll find that the energy of an electron in a hydrogen atom at its ground state (where n = 1 and Z = 1 ) is –13. When the electron jumps from its ground state to a higher energy level. which relates energy and frequency. If you plug in the above values for r . The potential energy of an electron in a hydrogen atom for any value of n is: Frequency and Wavelength of Emitted Photons As we said earlier. Using Planck’s formula. Electron Potential Energy The importance of the complicated equation above for the radius of an orbiting electron is that. it jumps by multiples of n .6 eV. For instance. so that each successive radius is farther from the nucleus than the one before. a photon at n = 2 returning to the ground state of n = 1 will emit a photon with energy . when we know the radius of an electron. an excited hydrogen atom emits photons when the electron jumps to a lower energy state. .

an electron can only orbit the nucleus at a radius where it will complete a whole number of wavelengths. whether an electron or a planet: De Broglie’s hypothesis is an odd one. Wave-Particle Duality The photoelectric effect shows that electromagnetic waves exhibit particle properties when they are absorbed or emitted as photons. In other words. a French graduate student named Louis de Broglie (pronounced “duh BRO-lee”) suggested that the converse is also true: particles can exhibit wave properties. to say the least. . The electron in the figure below completes four cycles in its orbit around the nucleus. The de Broglie wavelength. can be easily answered. there are three different possible frequencies at which this hydrogen atom can emit electromagnetic radiation. and the frequency of that radiation depends on the amount of energy the electron emits while dropping to this lower energy state. only objects with a very small mass will have a de Broglie wavelength that is at all noticeable. it can then drop once more to n = 1 . so there is a different frequency of radiation emitted with each drop. serves to explain why electrons can orbit the . If it drops to n = 2 . which is the length of a single orbit.E XAMPLE A hy drogen at om is energiz ed so t hat it s elect ron is excit ed t o t he n = 3 energy st at e. How many different frequencies of elect romagnet ic radiat ion could it emit in ret urning t o it s ground st at e? Electromagnetic radiation is emitted whenever an electron drops to a lower energy state. An electron in the n = 3 energy state can either drop to n = 2 or drop immediately to n = 1 . the drop from n = 3 to n = 1 . and so represents an electron in the n = 4 energy state. The formula for the socalled de Broglie wavelength applies to all matter. mv = h / . Therefore. There is a different amount of energy associated with the drop from n = 3 to n = 2 . If we recall. and the drop from n = 2 to n = 1 . then. Therefore. Imagine a person of mass 60 kg. at least. De Broglie Wavelength and Electrons The de Broglie wavelength is more evident on the atomic level. Because h is so small. According to de Broglie’s The de Broglie wavelength of an electron is an integer multiple of . In 1923. running at a speed of 5 m/s. What on earth is a wavelength when associated with matter? How can we possibly talk about planets or humans having a wavelength? The second question. That person’s de Broglie wavelength would be: We cannot detect any “wavelength” associated with human beings because this wavelength has such an infinitesimally small value. the angular momentum of an electron is formula.

Only object s on t he at omic level have wavelengt hs associat ed wit h t hem. It would only have an observable de Broglie wavelengt h if it were moving at near light sp eed. however. and must have a very small mass. E XAMPLE Which of t he following exp lains why no one has ever managed t o observe and measure a de Broglie wavelengt h of t he Eart h? (A) T he Eart h is t raveling t oo slowly . This principle can be expressed mathematically as: where is the uncertainty in a particle’s position and momentum. This is the sort of question you’re most likely to find regarding quantum physics on SAT II Physics: the test writers want to make sure you understand the theoretical principles that underlie the difficult concepts in this area. we do. and so on. The answer to this question is B. its meaning. T here is no observable effect associat ed wit h wavelengt h. a young physicist named Werner Heisenberg proposed a counterintuitive and startling theory: the more precisely we measure the position of a particle. and the formula associated with it. mv must also be very small if an object is going to have a noticeable wavelength. the object must be moving relatively slowly. the de Broglie wavelength for the Earth is m. Since h is such a small number. if you know exactly where a particle is. This principle has profound effects on the way we can think about the world. All Rights Reserved . you have no idea how fast it is moving. that observation has no influence upon experimental results. It casts a shadow of doubt on many long-held assumptions: that every cause has a clearly defined effect. and if you know exactly how fast it is moving. (E) T he individual at oms t hat const it ut e t he Eart h all have different wavelengt hs t hat dest ruct ively int erfere and cancel each ot her out . (D) “ Wavelengt h” is only a t heoret ical t erm in reference t o mat t er. In fact. which is about as small a value as you will find in this book. As we discussed above. you needn’t be aware of the philosophical conundrum Heisenberg posed—you just need to know the name of the principle. As a result . the less precisely we can measure the momentum of that particle. is the uncertainty in its According to the uncertainty principle. Only object s of very small mass have not iceable wavelengt hs. << RETURN TO THE PREVIOUS SECTION | CONTINUE TO THE NEXT SECTION >> Help | Feedback | Make a request | Report an error M odern P hys ic s When your books and teachers don’t make sense. the wavelength of an object is given by the formula = h/mv . Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle In 1927. (C) T he Eart h has no de Broglie wavelengt h.nucleus only at certain radii. which is anything but a small mass. For SAT II Physics. t he net wavelengt h of t he Eart h is z ero. The Earth weighs kg. Contact Us | Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | About | Sitemap | Advertise Fiction Books | Textbooks | eTextbooks | Classic Books | Used Books | Teen Books | nook | eReader ©2011 SparkNotes LLC. Contrary to A. (B) T he Eart h is t oo massive. you have no idea where it is.