What is it about? It all started in 1887, when the German physicist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz discovered that when light (visible or ultraviolet) hits the surface of some metals, the metal emits electrons. “Now we know that what happens is that photons of light collide with atoms on the metal surface and electrons are released in that collision“, clarified the doctor in Physics of the Balseiro Institute, Marcelo Kuperman, to AIR. This is what is known as the “photoelectric effect”.
However, thinking in photons means thinking that the light It is not a wave but it is made up of particles that today we call photons. “For a long time theories about the wave and corpuscular nature of light coexisted but, towards the end of the 19th century, the idea of thinking in the light as a particle had been discarded“, he counted.
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But the observations of the photoelectric effect they couldn’t be explained by thinking of light as a wave. Nor was it enough to simply think of light as a particle. Something else was needed.
“By the late 1800s, the idea of thinking of light as a particle had been discarded,” said Kuperman.
“That something else is born from the ideas of Max planck who, in 1900 proposed that energy cannot take continuous values but is organized in small packages called quanta. Planck won the award Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918 for these works, which gave rise a few years later to the quantum mechanics“Kuperman explained.
Albert Einstein united the conception of light as particles, photons, and Planck’s ideas on the discretization of energy and could explain what was observed with the photoelectric effect. “At that time Planck’s ideas were not accepted by the scientific community, nor were Einstein’s ideas on Relativity in the first years after its formulation,” said the physicist.
Einstein combined the conception of light as particles, photons, and Planck’s ideas about the discretization of energy and was able to explain what was observed with the photoelectric effect.
“But Einstein was beyond the conventions and paradigms of his time and did not hesitate to try Planck’s ideas to explain an unexplained phenomenon.“, he counted.
The award arrives
Another physicist, named Robert Millikan, spent almost ten years trying to show that Einstein’s theory of photoelectric effect it was not correct, “but he achieved the opposite, confirm it”, said the physicist of the Balseiro.
This experimental confirmation was what allowed Einstein receive the Nobel in 1921 and Millikan in 1923.
Meanwhile, the Theory of relativity Einstein’s general received his first experimental confirmation with the eclipse of 1919.
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“After experimental confirmation, the Theory of relativity could have been awarded the Nobel. Understand why the photoelectric effect and not Relativity is the subject of debate. The reason responds more to political questions than to academic questions“Kuperman analyzed.
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100 years ago, Einstein won the Nobel Prize in Physics and it was not for the Theory of Relativity