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European Journal of Physics

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 (10pp) doi:10.1088/0143-0807/36/6/065039

A semiclassical approach to the matte

M A Ramrez-Moreno, S Gonzlez-Hernndez and
G Ares de Parga
Dpto. de Fsica, Escuela Superior de Fsica y Matemticas, Instituto Politcnico
Nacional, U.P. Adolfo Lpez Mateos, Zacatenco, C.P. 07738, Mxico D.F., Mexico


Received 1 August 2015

Accepted for publication 19 August 2015
Published 6 October 2015

In this paper, a semiclassical approach is used to describe a kind of black-body
which we will call a matte black-body. Although the frequency energy density
of a black-body is deduced using a semiclassical method which includes the
electromagnetic reaction force and the quantization of the energy, a phe-
nomenological damping force, as in the explanation of the anomalous dis-
persion of some uids, is considered in order to obtain the corresponding
frequency energy density of the matte black-body. The concept of emissivity is
incorporated into the new body in order to explain the experimental data of the
radiation measured in the Earths atmosphere. The purpose of this article
consists of showing students the applicability of semiclassical approaches in
obtaining physical results.

Keywords: black-body, grey-body, semiclassical approach

(Some gures may appear in colour only in the online journal)

1. Introduction

In the late 19th century and early 20th century, understanding the behavior of light and its
relationship with thermodynamics was essential for physicists due to several phenomena that
classical physics could not explain. One such problem is that black-body radiation experi-
mentally shows the absence of a divergence in the energy density, called the ultraviolet
catastrophe, predicted by classical physics. This was explicated by Planck and its reasoning
represents one of the cornerstones of modern physics. Indeed, Plancks discretization of the
energy was the rst step to develop quantum mechanics [1, 2]. Nowadays the black-body
radiation is derived using pure quantum mechanics [3, 4] , but in the late 19th century, it was

0143-0807/15/065039+10$33.00 2015 IOP Publishing Ltd Printed in the UK 1

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

thought to solve the problem in a conventional manner using classical statistical mechanics
and classical electrodynamics. In order to understand the behavior of the charges and the
electromagnetic elds in a cavity, the rst step was to describe the motion of a charged
particle including the inuence of its own eld. At the end of the 19th century, Abraham
[5, 6] was able to obtain an equation of motion of a structured charged particle including the
self interaction. Almost simultaneously, Planck [1, 6] deduced an equation of motion for an
oscillating charge considering the radiated power losses (Larmor formula) in the motion and
by averaging over the periodical motion. He obtained an equation which coincides with the
Abraham result. This equation is known as the LorentzAbrahamPlanck equation. With the
help of this last equation, classical statistical physics and the ergodic theorem, the Rayleigh
Jeans relation was deduced leading to the ultraviolet catastrophe. In order to avoid the
divergence in the frequency energy density, a discrete set of energy was introduced by
Planck. He obtained the Wien relation [1]. Indeed, the frequency energy density is derived
using a classical result and connecting it with the mean energy density which is derived from
a quantum theory; that is, a semiclassical approach is used.
Real bodies do not behave as black-bodies [7]. Moreover, a good quantity of phenomena
deals with the so called grey-bodies which differ from the black-bodies due to an emissivity
different from one. The grey-bodies possess constant frequency emissivity n (it is dened so
that it does not depend on the frequency nor the temperature) and it can be showed that the
total emissivity is equal to the frequency emissivity [7], that is:
= v. (1)
As a consequence, the frequency energy density for a grey body in terms of the emissivity is
given by [7, 8]

w 3 w -1
r (w , T ) = exp - 1 , ( 2)
p 2c 3 kT
where c, = h 2p, w, k and T represents the speed of light, the Planck constant over 2p, the
angular frequency or radian frequency, the Boltzmann constant and the temperature. This
model for radiators is very useful due to its simplicity and because it is a good approximation
for some real non-black-body radiators.
Diluted black-body radiation (DBR) [9] is obtained after black-body radiation is scattered
elastically, for example by atmospheric particles or water droplets. Equation (2) corresponds
to the spectrum of radiation for a grey-body and it coincides with the DBR. The emissivity is
related to the magnitude of the dispersion. If one supposes that the Sun emits as a black-body,
the incident radiation over the Earths surface may correspond to a grey-body. The effect is
greater on a cloudy day than on a clear day, since in the former case the light undergoes
stronger scattering. Although the existence of grey-bodies has been proved since their
radiations correspond to the DBR, the radiation measured by looking at the sky from the
Earths surface is not exactly a grey-body [10].
Let us analyze the equation of motion of a charged particle including the self-force or the
reaction force. As we noticed above, Planck and Abraham separately obtained a non-relati-
vistic equation of motion which includes the effect of its eld on the motion. The equation is
[1, 5, 6]

a = F + to m
a, ( 3)

where F , a , to = 2q 2 mc 3, q, and m represent the applied force, the derivative of the
acceleration with respect to the time, the characteristic time of the charge, the charge and the

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

mass of the particle, respectively. However, some solutions of this equation are unphysical as
the runaway solutions and the preaccelerations [6]. In order to avoid these types of solutions,
some other approaches appeared in the literature, such as the Ford equation [11] for non
relativistic motion, and the LandauLifshitz [12] or Eliezer equation [13] for relativistic
motion. Nevertheless, since we will deal with oscillatory motions, those inconveniences will
not appear in our treatment. Applying the regular method to obtain the RayleighJeans
relation but using the Ford equation, a different result is obtained [14]. Even if the new
expression does not diverge for high frequencies, the ultraviolet catastrophe still exists since
integrating the expression a divergence appears. Therefore, in the calculation of the frequency
energy density on a cavity, the LorentzPlanckAbraham equation can be used (equation (3)).
On the other hand, a friction damping can be used to describe the dispersion properties of
dielectrics particularly in dilute gases (low density). Therefore, we can propose a semi-
classical approach such that an electron of charge -e is submitted to a harmonic force and to

an electric eld E (x , t ). Its motion is described by

m x + g
x + wo2
x = - eE
x,t , ( ) (4)

where represents the phenomenological damping force. From this equation, a dielectric
constant can be deduced giving [15]

4pNe 2 -1
(w ) = 1 +
fi ( wi2 - w 2 - iwgi ) , (5)

where N, fi, wi, w and gi represent the number of molecules per unit volume, the oscillator
strengths, the binding frequencies for each electron of the molecule, the eld oscillation
frequency and the damping constant for each electron of the molecule, respectively. The
oscillator strengths fi satisfy the relation i = 1 fi = Z with Z being the number of electrons
per molecule. This explains in a very satisfactory way the anomalous dispersion and resonant
absorption of some materials, such as liquid water [15]. Therefore, an extra term describing
the phenomenological damping force for dielectrics can be added to equation (3); that is

a = F + to
a - g
v. (6)

The purpose of this article consists of showing to undergraduates that semiclassical

treatments may lead to physical solutions in a simple manner. In particular, by means of this
kind of approach, the existence of another kind of non-black-body which consists of a surface
modeled by a set of damping oscillators is shown and it is called the matte black-body. We
will see that it will correspond to a black-body with a dispersed relation. Using the concept of
emissivity and the matte black-body, the radiation measured by looking at the sky from the
Earths surface is reproduced with a high degree of accuracy. The article is organized as
follows: section 2 is advocated to deducing the LorentzPlanckAbraham equation. In
section 3, using a semiclassical approach, the black-body radiation is obtained. In section 4,
by means of the LorentzPlanckAbraham reaction term and the phenomenological damping
force, the radiation of the matte black-body is obtained. In section 5, the similitude of the
frequency energy density of a matte black-body embedded on a grey-body and the frequency
energy density of the Earths atmosphere is described. Finally, in section 6, some concluding
remarks are given.

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

2. The LorentzPlanckAbraham equation

Since Planck deduced the equation in order to apply it to the deduction of the black-body
radiation, it is convenient to expose its deduction in a rapid scheme [6]. Using the well-known
Larmor formula which describes the radiated power of a charged particle,
P = to ma 2 , (7)
where a represents the acceleration of the charge and considering the existence of a reaction
force due to the loss of radiated power, it is clear that the equation of motion for a charged
particle can be put as

a = F + frad , (8)

where frad represents the reaction force to be deduced. The radiated power must equal the
Larmor formula, therefore,
t 0
v dt = - to ma 2 dt . t 0

By integrating by parts

v dt - to m
t t
t 0
frad v dt = to m t 0
( )
v t
t0 . (10)

For a periodic motion, ( a

v )t0 = 0. Consequently, we arrive at

f - to m v v dt = 0. (11)

Finally, it is proposed that the reaction force may be

frad = to m
v. (12)
Finally, the equation of motion for a charged particle with self-force, the LorentzPlanck
Abraham equation, is obtained

a = F + to m
a. (13)
This equation possesses unphysical solutions due to its third order characteristic leading to
runaway solutions and preaccelerations in some circumstances. However, for averaging
oscillatory motions, these inconveniences do not appear.

3. Semiclassical approach to black-body radiation

For a black-body, Planck proposed that we can substitute the walls of the cavity by a set of
small independent oscillators in one dimension. Taking into account the PlanckAbraham
Lorentz equation, the motion for the oscillator can be described by
x + w 2x - to x = ex , (14)
where w = k m with the restitution constant of the oscillator and ex represents the x-
component of the electric eld in the cavity. Considering just the steady-state and using
Fourier transformations, we obtain

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al
~ e ex (W)
x (W) = . (15)
m w2 - W2 + ito W3
On the other side, the mean energy of an oscillator is
E t = T + V t = 2T t = mx 2
~ 2
2e 2 W2 ex (W) dW
m 0 ( w 2 - W2)2 + ( to W3)2 . (16)

This integral is easily calculated since the integrand function is a Lorentzian function and it
has a sharp maximum at w = W. The integrand vanishes outside a small neighborhood around
the maximum. Thus, can be replaced by w except where the difference, x = W - w,
appears, giving a good approximation; that is
2e 2 ~ 2 dx
Et =
ex (w) 0 x 2 + ( to w 2 )

3p c 3 ~ 2
ex (w) . (17)
Since the mean energy density in the cavity is given by
1 2t 1 2 t 3 2t
u= e = e x + e 2y + e 2z = ex
4p 4p 4p
3 ~ 2
2p 0 ex (w) dw =

r (w) dw . (18)

By substituting this last result in equation (17), we arrive at

r (w , T ) = E (w )t . (19)
p 2c 3
Using classical statistical theory, let us now calculate the mean energy E . The number of
particles with energy E at a temperature is equal to
N (E ) = No exp - bE , (20)
where b = 1 kT . Therefore the mean energy can be calculated as follows

0 E exp [-bE ] dE
E = =-
ln 0 exp [ - bE ] dE
0 exp [-bE ] dE
= ln b = = kT . (21)
b b
On the other hand, using the ergodic theorem,
Et = E, (22)
we obtain
r (w , T ) = kT . (23)
p 2c 3

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

This is known as the RayleighJeans formula. If we calculate the energy density, that is

u= o r ( w , T ) dw , (24)

the famous ultraviolet catastrophe is obtained since the energy density diverges. Planck
introduced the idea of a discrete set of energy. In such case, the medium energy E is
E = , (25)
exp E1 kT - 1
with E1 = w. Giving
w 3 w -1
r (w , T ) = exp - 1 , (26)
p 2c 3 kT
which is known as the black-body radiation and has been experimentally proved with a high
degree of accuracy. Moreover, we can compare the RayleighJeans result with the
experimental data or the Planck proposal [1] and notice that for small frequencies both results
coincide but for higher frequencies the RayleighJeans formula diverges.

4. Matte black-body

As we mentioned in the introduction, a phenomenological description of the dispersion

relation must include an extra damping force, consequently a damping charged oscillator can
be described using equation (6) which is expressed as
b e

x + w 2x - to x +x = ex , (27)
m m
where b represents the damping parameter. Applying the same method used in section 3, we
arrive at
~ e ex (W)
x (W) = b
. (28)
m ( w 2 - W2) + ito W3 - W

Continuing, we obtain
~ 2
2e 2 W2 ex (W) dW
E = 0
. (29)
( w 2 - W2)2 + ( to W3 - mb W)
Using the same argument to obtain equation (17) from equation (16), we arrive at
2e 2 ~ 2 dx
Et = ex (w) 0 b 2
. (30)
x 2 + to w 2 - m)
~ 2
p ex (w)
E = t
. (31)
to w 2 - m

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

Therefore, we arrive at
3 ~ 2 w2 3b
r (w , T ) = ex (w) = - E t (w , T ) . (32)
2p p 2c 3 2p 2e 2
Applying Plancks statistical proposal, we arrive at
w 3 3wb w -1
r ( w , T , b) = - exp - 1 . (33)
p 2c 3 2p 2e 2 kT
This kind of radiation can be called the matte black-body radiation and it corresponds to a
black-body with a dispersed relation. However, as in the case of the anomalous dispersion, the
damping force just acts on a neighborhood of a dispersion frequency [15]
3bc 3
wb , (34)
2e 2
and consequently, equation (33) must be restricted to Dw around the frequency wb.
Physically, the frequency energy density in equation (33) must be substituted by a smooth
function S(w) which starts as the regular black-body frequency energy density; it vanishes in
the damping frequency and links the regular black-body frequency energy density in the
interval Dw. That is
S (w) for wb - Dw w wb + Dw

r ( w , T , b) = w 3 -1 . (35)
( )( ( ) - 1)
p 2c3
exp w

If we consider that there exist some more binding frequencies, the result could be generalized
Si (w) for wbi - Dwi w wbi + Dwi

r ( w , T , b) = w 3 -1 , (36)
( )( ( ) - 1)
p 2c3
exp w

where the damping frequency corresponds to
3bi c 3
wi = , (37)
2e 2
and Dwi is the interval for each damping frequency and the emissivity has been introduced
in order to take into account the absorbed energy by the medium.

5. Earths atmosphere radiation and the matte black-body radiation

Seventy-one percent of Earths surface is covered with water, with the remainder consisting
of continents and islands that together have many lakes and other sources of water that
contribute to the hydrosphere. Therefore, considering the Earth as a matte black-body whose
surface is composed of water may represent a good approximation. Indeed, if we examine the
experimental data of the Earths radiation [10], the frequency energy density vanishes at
frequencies close to the water dispersion frequencies. Therefore, by taking such frequencies
(see table 1), by calculating the corresponding damping parameters, equation (37), and
inserting them in equation (36), a frequency energy density is obtained for such values (see
gure 1). The coincidence between the frequency energy density deduced by applying the
method developed in this paper and the one from the experimental data (see gure 1) tells us

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

Figure 1. The red line (BB) corresponds to a black-body radiation with T = 5778 K ;
the blue line (GB) corresponds to a grey-body with emissivity 0.675 with
T = 5778 K ; the pink line (MBB) corresponds to the matte black-body embedded in
the grey-body; black points correspond to the Earths radiation [10]. The experimental
data are taken from the table that appears in [10] with the title Global Tilt, which
represents the measurement of the spectral radiation from the solar disk plus its
diffusion in the atmosphere (sky diffuse) and reection in the ground (diffuse reected)
on a south facing surface tilted 37 deg from horizontal.

Table 1. Water absorption frequencies and the corresponding damping parameters. The
absorption frequencies were taken from the experimental data. The regular frequency
is in Hertz and it is related to the angular frequency by n = 2pw.
n (1015 Hz) bi (10-22g s-1)

0.07 0.00541
0.11 0.0161
0.16 0.0328
0.22 0.0606
0.27 0.0919
0.32 0.129
0.37 0.171
0.40 0.2
0.42 0.223
0.44 0.243
0.50 0.32
0.58 0.431
0.61 0.476
0.70 0.627
0.76 0.739
0.90 1.04
1.00 1.28

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al

that the Earth behaves as a kind of matte black-body embedded in a grey-body with emis-
sivity 0.675. For frequencies above 0.4 1015 Hz the model predicts a bigger frequency
energy density but it coincides in form.
For a cavity whose walls may resemble a set of damping oscillators, a semiclassical
approach has been used and a frequency energy density has been found which it cancels for
certain frequencies. The Earths atmosphere frequency energy density coincides with it if the
zeros of the experimental data are associated with the damping frequencies. The model
describes the observation with a surprising exactitude but it fails for frequencies above
0.4 1015 Hz. However, above such a frequency there still exists a similitude in the form as
seen in gure 1. It can be concluded that the Earth behaves as a matte black-body embedded
in a grey-body of emissivity 0.675. The differences between the experimental data and
the prediction can be explained by many reasons: rst, the Earth cannot be considered just as
a water surface due to the existence of the continents; second, the molecules of water are
much more complicated than a set of damping oscillator; and third, the discrete set of energy
corresponds to a regular oscillator and not to a damping oscillator. Better levels of energies
can be introduced by means of the Grabert et al technique [16]; however, this method is
beyond the scope of the article.
As we mentioned in the introduction, a grey-body possesses the same emissivity for each
frequency and consequently it can be seen as a black-body whose emission is lower; that is, it
is the same as that for diluted black-body radiation (DBR) [9]. This means that the radiation
coming from the last layer of the atmosphere is scattered elastically, for example by atmo-
spheric particles or water droplets. The emissivity is greater on a cloudy day than on a clear
day, since in the former case the light undergoes stronger scattering (see gure 1). The
observed radiation is decreased due to the loss of part of the radiation. This explains the
emissivity. Therefore, the Earths radiation can be considered as mixture between a matte
black-body and grey black-body, with the surface of the Earth (mostly water) being the cause
of the matte black-body and the atmosphere the cause of the existence of the envelope
represented by the emissivity connected with the grey-body.

6. Conclusion

In this article we prove the theoretical existence of what we call a matte black-body, and using
the concept of emissivity, the description of the Earths atmosphere radiation has been
attained with a high degree of accuracy. It has to be highlighted that the use of semiclassical
approximations may lead to results close to reality. After teaching the use of this kind of
method, students always wonder when and why some of them give results so close to the
physical reality. The answer is not simple because although the semiclassical approximation
refers to a theory in which one part of a system is described quantum-mechanically whereas
the other is treated classically, the application limits are specic to each theory. It is useful to
mention to students that such methods go from simple physical cases to more complicated
theories such as the WKB approximation, semiclassical gravity and quantum chaos.


This work was partially supported by C.O.F.A.A and E.D.I.,I.P.N, and CONACYT.

Eur. J. Phys. 36 (2015) 065039 M A Ramrez-Moreno et al


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