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This interactive simulation allows users to visualize the photoelectric effect experiment and explore how it led to the discovery of the photon model of light. It features a robust variety of tools: choose from five different metals, change the light intensity and/or wavelength of light and view how this affects electron ejection, and change the voltage from -8.0 to 8.0.  Output options include graphing current vs. voltage, current vs. light intensity, and electron energy vs. light frequency.

Registered users of PhET also have access to a collection of teacher-contributed lessons, homework, and problem sets. Registration is free. This simulation is part of the Physics Education Technology Project, a growing collection of interactive simulations designed using principles from physics education research and refined based on student interviews.
Editor's Note: A key takeaway from this simulation is that electron ejection only occurs when a certain "threshold frequency" of light is incident on the metal surface. Below this threshold, the photoelectric effect will not happen. The threshold frequency differs for each metal, with sodium on the lower end (longer wavelength) and platinum on the high end (shorter wavelength). NOTE: This simulation meets a specific NGSS Physical Science content standard in Waves: HS-PS4.B.iii -- "Photoelectric materials emit electrons when they absorb light of a high-enough frequency."
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Modern Physics
- Condensed Matter
Quantum Physics
- Foundations and Measurements
- General
- High School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Upper Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
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© 2005 PHET and University of Colorado
Additional information is available.
Particle Model, cathod emission, photoelectric effect, threshold frequency, wave-particle duality, work function
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created September 9, 2006 by Gifford Weber
Record Updated:
June 8, 2018 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
August 11, 2006
Other Collections:

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Integration of Knowledge and Ideas (6-12)
  • RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

Common Core State Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects 6—12

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  • 1. Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content. (WHST.11-12.1)
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Record Link
AIP Format
(PhET, Boulder, 2005), WWW Document, (https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric).
PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect (PhET, Boulder, 2005), <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect. (2006, August 11). Retrieved July 14, 2024, from PhET: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric
Chicago Format
PhET. PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect. Boulder: PhET, August 11, 2006. https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric (accessed 14 July 2024).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect. Boulder: PhET, 2005. 11 Aug. 2006. 14 July 2024 <https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {14 July 2024}, Month = {August 11, 2006}, Year = {2005} }
Refer Export Format

%T PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect %D August 11, 2006 %I PhET %C Boulder %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric %O application/java

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %D August 11, 2006 %T PhET Simulation: Photoelectric Effect %I PhET %V 2024 %N 14 July 2024 %8 August 11, 2006 %9 application/java %U https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/photoelectric

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