Waves and Particles
It has already been noted (section 2.8) that high frequency electromagnetic radiation can exhibit particle-like behaviour. For example, in the sensitive type of detector known as a photomultiplier tube (described in Wehr and Richards, Physics of the Atom, 2nd edn, Addison-Wesley, section 10.5), a beam of low-intensity X-rays is detected as a sequence of isolated sharp pulses, such as would be produced by a stream of particles arriving at the detector. As was pointed out, it is not surprising that it is usually high-frequency radiation which travels in particle form; as shown in figure 2.39, a wave group of high-frequency radiation can be compressed into a very short time span. However, when we speak of a particle, we mean something more than an entity which arrives in a short time span. A particle has a definite size, or more exactly it has a well-defined energy and momentum. It was discovered around about 1900 that the same is true of an X-ray wave packet: all packets of a given frequency radiation carry the same energy and momentum. This revolutionary discovery means that we must treat the wave packets as particles on exactly the same footing as more familiar particles such as electrons. The electromagnetic particle is called a photon. There is a wealth of experimental evidence which may be used to define the properties of a photon. We shall be highly selective, however, and simply present two particularly clear-cut experiments, the photoelectric effect and Compton scattering, which enable one to define the energy and momentum of the photon in terms of the frequency and wave number of the corresponding wave. These experiments will be described in detail in section 4.1.
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