Photoelectric Effect

The ejection of electrons from metallic surfaces by illuminating light.

The effect was explained by Albert Einstein and demonstrates that light seems to be made up of particles, or photons. Light can excite electrons (photoelectrons in this context) to be ejected from a metal. Light with a frequency below a certain threshold, at any intensity, will not cause any photoelectrons to be emitted from the metal. Above that frequency, photoelectrons are emitted in proportion to the intensity of incident light. The reason is that a photon has energy in proportion to its wavelength, and the constant of proportionality is the Planck constant. Below a certain frequency and thus below a certain energy the incident photons do not have enough energy to knock the photoelectrons out of the metal. Above that threshold energy, called the workfunction, photons will knock the photoelectrons out of the metal, in proportion to the number of photons (the intensity of the light). At higher frequencies and energies, the photoelectrons ejected obtain a kinetic energy corresponding to the difference between the photon's energy and the workfunction.

See also: Electron, Photoelectric Voltage, Photoelectron.

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Subjects: Electronics Physics