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In 1923 a French physics graduate student named Prince Louis-Victor de Broglie (1892–1987) made a radical proposal based on the hope that nature is symmetric. If EM radiation has both particle and wave properties, then nature would be symmetric if matter also had both particle and wave properties. If what we once thought of as an unequivocal wave (EM radiation) is also a particle, then what we think of as an unequivocal particle (matter) may also be a wave. De Broglie’s suggestion, made as part of his doctoral thesis, was so radical that it was greeted with some skepticism. A copy of his thesis was sent to Einstein, who said it was not only probably correct, but that it might be of fundamental importance. With the support of Einstein and a few other prominent physicists, de Broglie was awarded his doctorate.
De Broglie took both relativity and quantum mechanics into account to develop the proposal that all particles have a wavelength , given by
where $h$ is Planck’s constant and $p$ is momentum. This is defined to be the de Broglie wavelength . (Note that we already have this for photons, from the equation $p=h/\lambda $ .) The hallmark of a wave is interference. If matter is a wave, then it must exhibit constructive and destructive interference. Why isn’t this ordinarily observed? The answer is that in order to see significant interference effects, a wave must interact with an object about the same size as its wavelength. Since $h$ is very small, $\lambda $ is also small, especially for macroscopic objects. A 3-kg bowling ball moving at 10 m/s, for example, has
American physicists Clinton J. Davisson and Lester H. Germer in 1925 and, independently, British physicist G. P. Thomson (son of J. J. Thomson, discoverer of the electron) in 1926 scattered electrons from crystals and found diffraction patterns. These patterns are exactly consistent with interference of electrons having the de Broglie wavelength and are somewhat analogous to light interacting with a diffraction grating. (See [link] .)
All microscopic particles, whether massless, like photons, or having mass, like electrons, have wave properties. The relationship between momentum and wavelength is fundamental for all particles.
De Broglie’s proposal of a wave nature for all particles initiated a remarkably productive era in which the foundations for quantum mechanics were laid. In 1926, the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger (1887–1961) published four papers in which the wave nature of particles was treated explicitly with wave equations. At the same time, many others began important work. Among them was German physicist Werner Heisenberg (1901–1976) who, among many other contributions to quantum mechanics, formulated a mathematical treatment of the wave nature of matter that used matrices rather than wave equations. We will deal with some specifics in later sections, but it is worth noting that de Broglie’s work was a watershed for the development of quantum mechanics. De Broglie was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1929 for his vision, as were Davisson and G. P. Thomson in 1937 for their experimental verification of de Broglie’s hypothesis.
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