Skip to ContentGo to accessibility pageKeyboard shortcuts menu
OpenStax Logo


6.1 Blackbody Radiation

  • All bodies radiate energy. The amount of radiation a body emits depends on its temperature. The experimental Wien’s displacement law states that the hotter the body, the shorter the wavelength corresponding to the emission peak in the radiation curve. The experimental Stefan’s law states that the total power of radiation emitted across the entire spectrum of wavelengths at a given temperature is proportional to the fourth power of the Kelvin temperature of the radiating body.
  • Absorption and emission of radiation are studied within the model of a blackbody. In the classical approach, the exchange of energy between radiation and cavity walls is continuous. The classical approach does not explain the blackbody radiation curve.
  • To explain the blackbody radiation curve, Planck assumed that the exchange of energy between radiation and cavity walls takes place only in discrete quanta of energy. Planck’s hypothesis of energy quanta led to the theoretical Planck’s radiation law, which agrees with the experimental blackbody radiation curve; it also explains Wien’s and Stefan’s laws.

6.2 Photoelectric Effect

  • The photoelectric effect occurs when photoelectrons are ejected from a metal surface in response to monochromatic radiation incident on the surface. It has three characteristics: (1) it is instantaneous, (2) it occurs only when the radiation is above a cut-off frequency, and (3) kinetic energies of photoelectrons at the surface do not depend of the intensity of radiation. The photoelectric effect cannot be explained by classical theory.
  • We can explain the photoelectric effect by assuming that radiation consists of photons (particles of light). Each photon carries a quantum of energy. The energy of a photon depends only on its frequency, which is the frequency of the radiation. At the surface, the entire energy of a photon is transferred to one photoelectron.
  • The maximum kinetic energy of a photoelectron at the metal surface is the difference between the energy of the incident photon and the work function of the metal. The work function is the binding energy of electrons to the metal surface. Each metal has its own characteristic work function.

6.3 The Compton Effect

  • In the Compton effect, X-rays scattered off some materials have different wavelengths than the wavelength of the incident X-rays. This phenomenon does not have a classical explanation.
  • The Compton effect is explained by assuming that radiation consists of photons that collide with weakly bound electrons in the target material. Both electron and photon are treated as relativistic particles. Conservation laws of the total energy and of momentum are obeyed in collisions.
  • Treating the photon as a particle with momentum that can be transferred to an electron leads to a theoretical Compton shift that agrees with the wavelength shift measured in the experiment. This provides evidence that radiation consists of photons.
  • Compton scattering is an inelastic scattering, in which scattered radiation has a longer wavelength than that of incident radiation.

6.4 Bohr’s Model of the Hydrogen Atom

  • Positions of absorption and emission lines in the spectrum of atomic hydrogen are given by the experimental Rydberg formula. Classical physics cannot explain the spectrum of atomic hydrogen.
  • The Bohr model of hydrogen was the first model of atomic structure to correctly explain the radiation spectra of atomic hydrogen. It was preceded by the Rutherford nuclear model of the atom. In Rutherford’s model, an atom consists of a positively charged point-like nucleus that contains almost the entire mass of the atom and of negative electrons that are located far away from the nucleus.
  • Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom is based on three postulates: (1) an electron moves around the nucleus in a circular orbit, (2) an electron’s angular momentum in the orbit is quantized, and (3) the change in an electron’s energy as it makes a quantum jump from one orbit to another is always accompanied by the emission or absorption of a photon. Bohr’s model is semi-classical because it combines the classical concept of electron orbit (postulate 1) with the new concept of quantization (postulates 2 and 3).
  • Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom explains the emission and absorption spectra of atomic hydrogen and hydrogen-like ions with low atomic numbers. It was the first model to introduce the concept of a quantum number to describe atomic states and to postulate quantization of electron orbits in the atom. Bohr’s model is an important step in the development of quantum mechanics, which deals with many-electron atoms.

6.5 De Broglie’s Matter Waves

  • De Broglie’s hypothesis of matter waves postulates that any particle of matter that has linear momentum is also a wave. The wavelength of a matter wave associated with a particle is inversely proportional to the magnitude of the particle’s linear momentum. The speed of the matter wave is the speed of the particle.
  • De Broglie’s concept of the electron matter wave provides a rationale for the quantization of the electron’s angular momentum in Bohr’s model of the hydrogen atom.
  • In the Davisson–Germer experiment, electrons are scattered off a crystalline nickel surface. Diffraction patterns of electron matter waves are observed. They are the evidence for the existence of matter waves. Matter waves are observed in diffraction experiments with various particles.

6.6 Wave-Particle Duality

  • Wave-particle duality exists in nature: Under some experimental conditions, a particle acts as a particle; under other experimental conditions, a particle acts as a wave. Conversely, under some physical circumstances, electromagnetic radiation acts as a wave, and under other physical circumstances, radiation acts as a beam of photons.
  • Modern-era double-slit experiments with electrons demonstrated conclusively that electron-diffraction images are formed because of the wave nature of electrons.
  • The wave-particle dual nature of particles and of radiation has no classical explanation.
  • Quantum theory takes the wave property to be the fundamental property of all particles. A particle is seen as a moving wave packet. The wave nature of particles imposes a limitation on the simultaneous measurement of the particle’s position and momentum. Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle sets the limits on precision in such simultaneous measurements.
  • Wave-particle duality is exploited in many devices, such as charge-couple devices (used in digital cameras) or in the electron microscopy of the scanning electron microscope (SEM) and the transmission electron microscope (TEM).
Order a print copy

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.


This book may not be used in the training of large language models or otherwise be ingested into large language models or generative AI offerings without OpenStax's permission.

Want to cite, share, or modify this book? This book uses the Creative Commons Attribution License and you must attribute OpenStax.

Attribution information
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a print format, then you must include on every physical page the following attribution:
    Access for free at
  • If you are redistributing all or part of this book in a digital format, then you must include on every digital page view the following attribution:
    Access for free at
Citation information

© Jan 19, 2024 OpenStax. Textbook content produced by OpenStax is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License . The OpenStax name, OpenStax logo, OpenStax book covers, OpenStax CNX name, and OpenStax CNX logo are not subject to the Creative Commons license and may not be reproduced without the prior and express written consent of Rice University.