The Atlantic: "It Wasn't Relativity that Won Einstein His Nobel Prize"
This short article from The Atlantic magazine provides an engaging, readable account of Einstein's work to explain the Photoelectric Effect, which resulted in a Nobel Prize in 1921. The article could work well as a flipped lesson, to give students a foundation for understanding the groundbreaking idea that light has properties of both waves and particles.
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Solar Power World: From Selenium to Silicon Solar Panels
As early as the 1870's, British scientists realized that light could cause a "flow of electricity" through a solid material (selenium). William Adams and Richard Evans Day called this peculiar phenomenon "photoelectric". Charles Fritts of New York moved the technology forward by constructing the first solar module in 1883 -- he spread a thin layer of selenium on a metal plate and covered it with gold-leaf film. Renowned scientists Werner von Siemens and James Clerk Maxwell immediately saw the importance of the Photoelectric phenomenon, but neither had a clue how it worked! This article tells the story of the selenium module and early work to understand the Photoelectric Effect. The image at right shows a selenium "honeycomb" as found in photoelectric light meters of the 20th Century.
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American Institute of Physics: Einstein - His Great Works
This page from the American Center for History of Physics online exhibit takes a look at Albert Einstein's early work to explain the nature of light as "quanta", discrete packets of energy that behave as particles, not waves. It was this work on the Photoelectric Effect that won the 1921 Nobel Prize for Einstein, not his work on relativity.
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Princeton University Press: Einstein's Heuristic View of Light Paper - A Primary Source Document
This is a direct link to Einstein's paper, "On a Heuristic Point of View Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light", written in 1905. This paper was the foundation of Einstein's explanation of the Photoelectric Effect phenomenon. European scientists already realized that light could cause a "flow of electricity" when exposed to certain materials. But it took the genius of Albert Einstein to explain how the phenomenon worked. As Einstein phrased it, "energy is not distributed continuously over ever-increasing spaces, but consists of a finite number of energy quanta that are localized in points in space....and can be absorbed or generated only as a whole." Sixteen years later, Einstein won a Nobel Prize for this work.
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