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The photon is a type of elementary particle. It is the quantum of the electromagnetic field including electromagnetic radiation such as light and radio waves, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force. Photons are massless,[a] so they always move at the speed of light in vacuum, 299792458 m/s.

Like all elementary particles, photons are currently best explained by quantum mechanics and exhibit wave–particle duality, their behavior featuring properties of both waves and particles.[2] The modern photon concept originated during the first two decades of the 20th century with the work of Albert Einstein, who built upon the research of Max Planck. While trying to explain how matter and electromagnetic radiation could be in thermal equilibrium with one another, Planck proposed that the energy stored within a material object should be regarded as composed of an integer number of discrete, equal-sized parts. To explain the photoelectric effect, Einstein introduced the idea that light itself is made of discrete units of energy. In 1926, Gilbert N. Lewis popularized the term photon for these energy units.[3][4][5] Subsequently, many other experiments validated Einstein's approach.[6][7][8]

In the Standard Model of particle physics, photons and other elementary particles are described as a necessary consequence of physical laws having a certain symmetry at every point in spacetime. The intrinsic properties of particles, such as charge, mass, and spin, are determined by this gauge symmetry. The photon concept has led to momentous advances in experimental and theoretical physics, including lasers, Bose–Einstein condensation, quantum field theory, and the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. It has been applied to photochemistry, high-resolution microscopy, and measurements of molecular distances. Recently, photons have been studied as elements of quantum computers, and for applications in optical imaging and optical communication such as quantum cryptography.

Nomenclature

Photoelectric effect: the emission of electrons from a metal plate caused by light quanta – photons.
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Like all elementary particles, photons are currently best explained by quantum mechanics and exhibit wave–particle duality, their behavior featuring properties of both waves and particles.[2] The modern photon concept originated during the first two decades of the 20th century with the work of Albert Einstein, who built upon the research of Max Planck. While trying to explain how matter and electromagnetic radiation could be in thermal equilibrium with one another, Planck proposed that the energy stored within a material object should be regarded as composed of an integer number of discrete, equal-sized parts. To explain the photoelectric effect, Einstein introduced the idea that light itself is made of discrete units of energy. In 1926, Gilbert N. Lewis popularized the term photon for these energy units.[3][4][5] Subsequently, many other experiments validated Einstein's approach.[6][7][8]

In the Standard Model of particle physics, photons and other elementary particles are described as a necessary consequence of physical laws having a certain symmetry at every point in spacetime. The intrinsic properties of particles, such as charge, mass, and spin, are determined by this gauge symmetry. The photon concept has led to momentous advances in experimental and theoretical physics, including lasers, Bose–Einstein condensation, quantum field theory, and the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. It has been applied to photochemistry, high-resolution microscopy, and measurements of molecular distances. Recently, photons have been studied as elements of quantum computers, and for applications in optical imaging and optical communication such as quantum cryptography.

The word quanta (singular quantum, Latin for how much) was used before 1900 to mean particles or amounts of different quantities, including electricity. In 1900, the German physicist Max Planck was studying black-body radiation, and he suggested that the experimental observations, specifically at shorter wavelengths, would be explained if the energy stored within a molecule was a "discrete quantity composed of an integral number of finite equal parts", which he called "energy elements".[9] In 1905, Albert Einstein published a paper in which he proposed that many light-related phenomena—including black-body radiation and the photoelectric effect—would be better explained by modelling electromagnetic waves as consisting of spatially localized, discrete wave-packets.[10] He called such a wave-packet the light quantum (German: das Lichtquant).[b]

The name photon derives from the Greek word for light, φῶς (transliterated phôs). Arthur Compton used photon in 1928, referring to Gilbert N. Lewis, who coined the term in a letter to Nature on December 18, 1926.[3][11] The same name was used earlier but was never widely adopted before Lewis: in 1916 by the American physicist and psychologist Leonard T. Troland, in 1921 by the Irish physicist John Joly, in 1924 by the French physiologist René Wurmser (1890–1993), and in 1926 by the French physicist Frithiof Wolfers (1891–1971).[5] The name was suggested initially as a unit related to the illumination of the eye and the resulting sensation of light and was used later in a physiological context. Although Wolfers's and Lewis's theories were contradicted by many experiments and never accepted, the new name was adopted very soon by most physicists after Compton used it.[5][c]

In physics, a photon is usually denoted by the symbol γ (the Greek letter gamma). This symbol for the photon probably derives from gamma rays, which were discovered in 1900 by Paul Villard,[13][14] named by Ernest Rutherford in 1903, and shown to be a form of electromagnetic radiation in 1914 by Rutherford and Edward Andrade.[15] In chemistry and optical engineering, photons are usually symbolized by , which is the photon energy, where h is Planck constant and the Greek letter ν (nu) is the photon's frequency.[16] Much less commonly, the photon can be symbolized by hf, where its frequency is denoted by f.[17]

Physical properties

A photon is massless,[d] has no electric charge,[18][19] and is a stable particle. In vacuum, a photon has two possible polarization states.[20] The photon is the gauge boson for electromagnetism,[21]:29–30 and therefore all other quantum numbers of the photon (such as lepton number, baryon number, and flavour quantum numbers) are zero.[22] Also, the photon does not obey the Pauli exclusion principle, but instead obeys Bose–Einstein statistics.[23]:1221

Photons are emitted in many natural processes. For example, when a charge is accelerated it emits synchrotron radiation. During a molecular, atomic or Greek word for light, φῶς (transliterated phôs). Arthur Compton used photon in 1928, referring to Gilbert N. Lewis, who coined the term in a letter to Nature on December 18, 1926.[3][11] The same name was used earlier but was never widely adopted before Lewis: in 1916 by the American physicist and psychologist Leonard T. Troland, in 1921 by the Irish physicist John Joly, in 1924 by the French physiologist René Wurmser (1890–1993), and in 1926 by the French physicist Frithiof Wolfers (1891–1971).[5] The name was suggested initially as a unit related to the illumination of the eye and the resulting sensation of light and was used later in a physiological context. Although Wolfers's and Lewis's theories were contradicted by many experiments and never accepted, the new name was adopted very soon by most physicists after Compton used it.[5][c]

In physics, a photon is usually denoted by the symbol γ (the Greek letter gamma). This symbol for the photon probably derives from gamma rays, which were discovered in 1900 by Paul Villard,[13][14] named by Ernest Rutherford in 1903, and shown to be a form of electromagnetic radiation in 1914 by Rutherford and Edward Andrade.[15] In chemistry and optical engineering, photons are usually symbolized by , which is the photon energy, where h is Planck constant and the Greek letter ν (nu) is the photon's frequency.[16] Much less commonly, the photon can be symbolized by hf, where its frequency is denoted by f.[17]

A photon is massless,[d] has no electric charge,[18][19] and is a stable particle. In vacuum, a photon has two possible polarization states.[20] The photon is the gauge boson for electromagnetism,[21]:29–30 and therefore all other quantum numbers of the photon (such as lepton number, baryon number, and flavour quantum numbers) are zero.[22] Also, the photon does not obey the Pauli exclusion principle, but instead obeys Bose–Einstein statistics.[23]:1221

Photons are emitted in many natural processes. For example, when a charge is accelerated it emits synchrotron radiation. During a molecular, accelerated it emits synchrotron radiation. During a molecular, atomic or nuclear transition to a lower energy level, photons of various energy will be emitted, ranging from radio waves to gamma rays. Photons can also be emitted when a particle and its corresponding antiparticle are annihilated (for example, electron–positron annihilation).[23]:572,1114,1172

In empty space, the photon moves at c (the speed of light) and its energy and momentum are related by E = pc, where p is the magnitude of the momentum vector p. This derives from the following relativistic relation, with m = 0:[24]

The energy and momentum of a photon depend only on its frequency (The energy and momentum of a photon depend only on its frequency () or inversely, its wavelength (λ):

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External links

  • Quotations related to Photon at Wikiquote
  • The dictionary definition of photon at Wiktionary
  • Media related to Photon at Wikimedia Commons