The Photoelectric Effect
Einstein developed the theory further to study how atoms interacted with
photons. He produced the notion of quantum
physics, in which electromagnetic radiation has a particulate nature. The essential points of quantum theory are:
electromagnetic radiation is emitted in tiny bursts of energy called photons
travel in one direction only and in a straight line
atom emits a photon its energy changes by the energy of the photon.
contained in a photon is given by
E = hf.
Detailed study called for more sophisticated experiments that used apparatus like this
Details of this experiment are NOT needed for the AQA Unit 1 exam. However to understand the results, we need to be aware of what goes on in the experiment:
The photocathode is given a positive voltage, and the photo-anode a negative voltage.
This means that photoelectrons (electrons released by interaction with a photon. One photon releases one electron) are repelled from the anode.
If the electrons have lots of kinetic energy, they can overcome the repulsive force.
We turn up the reverse voltage until the electrons with the most kinetic energy are just repelled. The voltage is called the stopping voltage. We can see what is happening in this diagram
The totally unexpected result is that the
kinetic energy of the photoelectrons is exactly the same regardless of the
intensity of the illumination. However
dim or bright the light, the maximum kinetic energy is the same.
|Which one of the photoelectrons has the most kinetic energy? Why?|
It is important to understand that each photon can eject only one photoelectron. So if we can count the number of photoelectrons, we know the number of photons.
the diagram is a simplification as to what really happens, we can see that the
photoelectrons are released with a range
of kinetic energies. The
lowest kinetic energy is where the electron just manages to crawl out.
It will be hauled back pretty quickly by the electrostatic forces.
|Which one of the photoelectrons has the least kinetic energy? Why?|
can summarise these findings in three rules, the laws of photoelectric emission.
number of electrons emitted per second depends on the intensity of the
photoelectrons have a range of energy, from zero to a maximum value.
The maximum value is determined by the frequency of the radiation, not
value for the frequency is needed, the threshold frequency.
The maximum kinetic energy has the same value in eV as the stopping voltage. A voltage of 5 volts gives rise to an electron energy of 5 eV. This stands to reason. We know that energy = charge × voltage, and that the electron carries a single electronic charge (1e = 1.6 × 10-19 C).
So if that charge moves through a potential difference
of 5 V, the work is done is 5 eV or 8.0 × 10-19 J.
|If the stopping voltage for a photoelectron is 3 V, what is the kinetic energy in eV and joules?|
The graph shows how the energy of the photoelectrons depends on the frequency (colour) of the light:
has to be a
threshold frequency below
which no photoelectrons are emitted, regardless of brightness.
Therefore radio waves, however strong, will NEVER affect photographic
film; gamma rays will.
is the threshold frequency of a metal whose photoelectrons are stopped by
a stopping voltage of 5.6 V?
maximum kinetic energy is 5.6 eV = 5.6
× 1.6 × 10-19 = 8.96 × 10-19 J
gives us a photon energy of 8.96 × 10-19 J
|What wavelength is this?|
|Use the wave equation c =
l = 3 × 108 m/s ÷ 1.36 × 1015 Hz = 2.20 × 10-7 m = 220 nm
Physicists tend to use nanometres to measure wavelength of light, so red light has a wavelength of 600 nm. 600 nm = 600 × 10-9 = 6 × 10-7 m.
Failure to convert correctly from nanometres to metres is a common bear trap.
|A metal gives out photoelectrons that have a stopping voltage of 2.6 V. Will light of wavelength 615 nm cause photoelectrons to be ejected?|
When you answer
this kind of question, you need to be very careful about what you say when
discussing wavelengths. A photon
with a long wavelength carries less energy than one with a short wavelength.
So if the wavelength of a photon is longer than the wavelength suggested
by the threshold frequency, photoelectrons will not be ejected.
Einstein’s Photoelectric Equation
photoelectrons are removed from a metal surface, a certain amount of work has to
be done in removing them. Therefore
the photoelectrons will lose some of their kinetic energy in order to escape the
attractive field of the positively charged nuclei.
The work required to remove the photoelectron is called the work
function. It is given the
physics code f
(Phi - a Greek letter ‘ph’) and is measured in joules, or electron
It is tempting to relate the work function to the molar ionisation energy. If you convert the work function to kilojoules per mole, you will find that it is somewhat lower than the ionisation energy per mole. This is because the ionisation energy in chemistry is worked out using metals that have been turned into gases. The photoelectric effect involves solid metals which have free electrons which are more easily removed.
energy received from a photon is split into:
necessary to separate the electron from the metal (the work function)
of Photon = work done to remove electron + kinetic energy of the electron
f + Ek
+ 1/2 mv2
We must note the following:
is the maximum kinetic energy (the
stopping voltage), i.e. the kinetic energy of the
fastest electrons. We are not
interested in slower electrons.
maximum kinetic energy is dependent only on the frequency, NOT the intensity.
A more intense beam produces more photons per second, but each photon has
the same energy.
We can work out the work function of any metal by plotting the maximum energy against the frequency
We find that the gradient of this graph is constant, regardless of the metal. The equation of the graph is:
So the gradient is Planck’s constant, h.
A metal surface has a work function of 3.0 eV and is illuminated with radiation of wavelength 350 nm. Work out:
(a) The maximum wavelength that causes photoelectric emission
(b) The maximum kinetic energy of the photoelectrons
(c) The speed of the photoelectrons.
Work out the work function in joules:
f = 3.0 eV × 1.6 × 10-19 J/eV = 4.8 × 10-19 J.
Now work out the frequency that this corresponds to. The minimum frequency is the frequency at which a photon will just release an electron. So we use the equation E = hf0 where f0 is the threshold frequency. Since the energy given by the photon is the work function f, we can rewrite the equation as f = hf0.
f0 = f/h = 4.8 × 10-19 J ÷ 6.63 × 10-34 Js = 7.25 × 1014 Hz
Use the wave equation to work out the wavelength:
l = c/f = 3 ×
108 m/s ¸
1014 Hz = 4.14 ×
10-7 m = 414 nm
Use Emax = hf -
First work out the frequency of the 350 nm light:
f = c/l = 3
108 m/s ¸
10-9 m = 8.57 ×
Now put this into the photoelectric equation:
Emax = hf - f
= (6.63 ×
10-34 Js ×
1014 Hz) - 4.8 ×
10-19 J = 8.8
This is equivalent to 0.54 eV. It is perfectly acceptable to express your answers in eV or joules.
Now we use the kinetic energy of the electron to find out its
Mass of an electron = 9.11 × 10-31 kg
v2 = 2Ek/m
= 2 ×
10-20 J ¸9.11
10-31 kg = 1.93 ×
Þ v = Ö(1.93 × 1011 m2/s2) = 4.4 × 105 m/s
Even these low energy electrons move like greased lightning.
(a) The Work Function of potassium is 3.52 × 10-19 J. What is meant by this statement?
(b) When radiation of a suitable frequency falls on a potassium surface, photoelectrons are emitted. What is the minimum frequency at which this can occur?
(c) What is the maximum speed of the photoelectrons emitted when radiation of 400 nm falls on the potassium surface?