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Wave-particle Duality

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Tanvir Rafe

Wave-particle duality


In the early 1800's, scientists Michael Faraday, Augustin Fresnel and Thomas Young discovered and showed that light rays actually have the structure of waves. James Clerk Maxwell came up with the famous “Maxwell's four equations” that describe the phenomenon of light, called electromagnetic waves. However, the idea that light can have properties of both waves and particles does not appear in Maxwell’s equations. 

Henrich Hertz then discovered the photoelectric effect, he discovered that an electric current made of electrons emanates out of a photoelectric material when hit with light rays. Maxwell’s Equations did not explain this, so, in 1905 Albert Einstein used the quantum of energy theory to explain the extraction of the electrons.  Einstein theorized that light rays are made of packets of energy, nowadays called photons

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photons. When these particles strike a surface, they transfer their energy to electrons. Once freed, the electrons move along the metal or get ejected from the surface.

Einstein said that:

All matter exhibits both wave and particle properties.

An electron is a particle and a wave at the same time.

To summarise, there are two ways in which it can be proven that light behaves like a particle and a wave, in a double-slit experiment and using the aforementioned photoelectric effect. In the former, the apparatus is set up like this:


Here, when the light passes through the two slits, it creates an interference pattern. When electrons are fired through the two slits, the expected result would be a random pattern, however, it actually creates an interference pattern similar to that which light produces.

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The next question, asked by Louis de Broglie, was "If waves can behave like particles, can particles behave like waves?" In the case of light, exposing the particle properties was simply a matter of using the photoelectric effect).

They aimed a beam of electrons at a crystal, and observed the electrons that were reflected off it. If the electron beam can behave as a wave, then as the wave is reflected off the crystal, the rows of atoms should have the same effect as the slits in Young's experiment. The result is that instead of the electrons being scattered from the crystal randomly, the reflected electrons exhibit an interference pattern like the light in Young's experiment.

The result was that the electron beam was reflected like a wave, rather than like particles. They concluded, that wave particle duality is a property not only of light (photons), but of matter as well.

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