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2 The Photoelectric Effect Notes

• The photoelectric effect is the emission of electrons from the surface material
when electromagnetic radiation is incident on the surface.

• The photoelectric effect allows us to provide evidence for a particulate nature of

electromagnetic radiation, but it also allows us to see interference and diffraction
which provides evidence of the wave nature.

• Work function is the minimum energy required to release an electron from a

material, which is measured in joules.

• Threshold frequency is the lowest frequency of electromagnetic radiation that

will result in the emission of photoelectrons from a specified metal surface.

• When a photon interacts with a electron in the photoelectric effect energy is

always conserved.

• Einstein’s photoelectric equation: hf = φ + KEmax or it can be rearranged to give

(1/2mv2)max = hf – φ

Worked example:

An ultraviolet lamp illuminates a clean zinc surface and photoelectrons are emitted.
The stopping potential of the photoelectrons is – 1.92V. The work function energy of
zinc is 4.24eV. Calculate the wavelength of the UV radiation.


Energy E of UV photons = 4.24eV + 1.92eV = 6.16eV

On emerging from the zinc the photoelectrons must still have 1.93eV of energy if the
can only be stopped by a reverse p.d. of magnitude 1.92V.

E = 6.16eV x 1.60-19J/eV = 9.856x10-19J

E = hf = _hc_ Therefore λ = _hc_ = 6.626x10-34 x 3.00x108 = 2.02x10-7 = 202nm

λ E 9.856x10-19