Wave–Particle Duality: De Broglie, Einstein, and Schrödinger

Part of the Science & Technology Education Library book series (CTISE, volume 36)

Postulation and understanding of wave–particle duality was a controversial topic from the very beginning and is closely enmeshed with the origin and development of the photoelectric effect and quantum theory. De Broglie (1924) in a seminal paper explored the reconciliation of lightquanta (used by Einstein to explain the photoelectric effect) with “the strong experimental evidence on which was based the wave theory” (p. 446). J.J. Thomson (1925), in his Structure of Light, compared the interplay between wave and particle theories of radiation to a struggle between a tiger and a shark in which each is supreme in his own element, but helpless in that of the other. Millikan (1916) provided experimental evidence for Einstein's photoelectric equation and still rejected the hypothesis of light quanta. Actually, Millikan went far beyond this by considering Einstein's hypothesis reckless, as it could not explain thoroughly established facts of interference. Millikan, however, conceded that as the photoelectric effect could not be explained by the classical theory, it may at the most need some modifications and not its rejection. Millikan's example in this case is a good indicator of how prior epistemo-logical beliefs of the scientists play an important role in the acceptance of new ideas. In the present case, even as late as 1924 Millikan believed that the classical wave theory only needed to be reinterpreted. Lakatos (1970) has explained that in the history of science, scientists frequently resist changes in the “hard core” of their theories.

A historical reconstruction of wave–particle duality, photoelectric effect, and quantum theory has been recognized in cogent terms by Noyes (1984), a physicist:

The foundations of quantum physics were laid between 1896 and 1925.… Most practicing physicists have learned what little they know of the history of this period by reading textbooks written after the quantum revolution. Often texts or teachers treat the Planck radiation law, the Einstein photoelectric equation, the Bohr atom and the Compton effect in one sequence assuming that this provides an adequate background for understanding E = hv and p = hv/c. This can leave a student with less than total respect for the physicists who took so long to see the “obvious” necessity for this form of quantization. (p. 95)


Photoelectric Effect Historical Reconstruction Copenhagen Interpretation Particle Duality Examination Committee 
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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2009

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