What Is a Photon

Light energy travels in packets called photons. The energy content of a photon depends on the wavelength of the light according to the equation

                       E = hv = hc/ λ

Where h is Planck’s constant (1.58 x 10 to power -34 cal-sec), v is the frequency of the radiation, c is the speed of light in a vacuum, and λ is the wavelength of light. The shorter the wavelength the higher the energy content. One mole (6.02 x 10 to power 23) of photons of red light (wavelength 635 nm) contains approximately 45kcal of energy.

Particle Nature of Light: The Photon

Photoelectric effect thus gave evidence to the strange fact that light in interaction with matter behaved as if it was made of quanta or packets of energy, each of energy h ν.Is the light quantum of energy to be associated with a particle? Einstein arrived at the important result, that the light quantum can also be associated with momentum (h ν/c). A definite value of energy as well as momentum is a strong sign that the light quantum can be associated with a particle. This particle was later named photon. The particle-like behavior of light was further confirmed, in 1924, by the experiment of A.H. Compton (1892-1962) on scattering of X-rays from electrons. In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to theoretical physics and the photoelectric effect. In 1923, Millikan was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the elementary charge of electricity and on the photoelectric effect.

The characteristics of Photon can be summarized as below:

(i) In interaction of radiation with matter, radiation behaves as if it is made up of particles called photons.

(ii) Each photon has energy E (=hν) and momentum p (= h ν/c), and speed c, the speed of light.

(iii) All photons of light of a particular frequency ν, or wavelength λ, have the same energy E (=hν = hc/λ) and momentum p (= hν/c = h/λ), whatever the intensity of radiation may be. By increasing the intensity of light of given wavelength, there is only an increase in the number of photons per second crossing a given area, with each photon having the same energy. Thus, photon energy is independent of intensity of radiation.

(iv) Photons are electrically neutral and are not deflected by electric and magnetic fields.

In a photon-particle collision (such as photon-electron collision), the total energy and total momentum are conserved. However, the number of photons may not be conserved in a collision. The photon may be absorbed or a new photon may be created. The discovery of photon has brought a phenomenal change to our society and all the credit goes to Albert Einstein. This quanta of energy is responsible for accelerating our evolution and has acted as a chief catalyst.