Planck.jpgIn 1900, Max Planck was a physicist in Berlin studying ultraviolet catastrophe. The problem was the laws of physics predicted that if you heat up a box in such a way that no light can get out, it should produce an infinite amount of ultraviolet radiation. This prediction did not was false. The box radiated different colors, red, blue, white, just as heated metal does, but there was no infinite amount of anything. It didn't make sense. Why didn't they accurately describe this black box scenario?

Planck tried a mathematical trick. He presumed that the light wasn't really a continuous wave as everyone assumed, but perhaps could exist with only specific amounts, or "quanta," of energy. Planck didn't really believe this was true about light, in fact he later referred to this math gimmick as "an act of desperation." But with this adjustment, the equations worked, accurately describing the box's radiation. It took awhile for everyone to agree on what this meant, but eventually Albert Einstein interpreted Planck's equations to mean that light can be thought of as discrete particles, just like electrons or protons. In 1926, Berkeley physicist Gilbert Lewis named them photons. This idea that particles could only contain lumps of energy in certain sizes moved into other areas of physics as well. Over the next decade, Niels Bohr pulled it into his description of how an atom worked. He said that electrons traveling around a nucleus couldn't have arbitrarily small or arbitrarily large amounts of energy, they could only have multiples of a standard "quantum" of energy. Eventually scientists realized this explained why some materials are conductors of electricity and some aren't -- since atoms with differing energy electron orbits conduct electricity differently. This understanding was crucial to building a transistor, since the crystal at its core is made by mixing materials with varying amounts of conductivity.


Created By: Tyler Beebout