Friday, October 28, 2011

Dual nature of light and related questions

How light has a dual nature?

A photon has zero rest mass. Explain how ?

(These questions were posted by Shubham SInha  and Ritika Chatak)


The dual nature of light has been established through the various theories in an attempt to find out the real nature of light. The first theory on the nature of light was by Sir Isaac Newton. He said that light consists of tiny spherical an perfectly elastic particles called corpuscles which travel through space with an enormous speed. This theory could explain various phenomena exhibited by light like, reflection, refraction, rectilinear propagation etc. But could not explain color vision, colors in thin films, dispersion etc.

Then came Huygen's wave theory which considered light as mechanical waves. This theory could explain many phenomena but could not explain how light can travel through vacuum, as a mechanical wave requires a medium for propagation.

Then Electromagnetic Wave Theory  by James Clark Maxwell was used to explain the nature of light and it was experimentally established. The velocity of electromagnetic waves predicted theoretically matched closely with the actual velocity of light determined experimentally by different scientists through different methods.

But, the discovery of photoelectric effect made us rethink. Photoelectric effect, in which electrons are emitted out when light strikes the surface of metals, could be explained well only if we consider the particle nature of light.

Max Planck in his Quantum theory considers radiations as packets of energy called quanta (plural of quantum) or photons. These photos can behave like a particle during its interaction with matter and posses wave nature as basicllay light is an electromagnetic wave.

Thus scientists have concluded that light possess both wave nature and particle nature at the same time. In order to explain some phenomena we may consider its wave nature whereas for some other , we have to consider it as particle.

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