Quantum Physics For Dummies, Revised Edition
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In 1923, the physicist Louis de Broglie suggested that not only did waves exhibit particle-like aspects, but that the reverse was also true — all material particles should display wave-like properties.

How does this work? For a photon, momentum


And the wave vector, k, is equal to


De Broglie presented these apparently surprising suggestions in his Ph.D. thesis. Researchers put these suggestions to the test by sending a beam through a dual-slit apparatus to see whether the electron beam would act like it was made up of particles or waves. In the figure, you can see the setup and the results.

An electron beam going through two slits.
An electron beam going through two slits.

In Figure a, you can see a beam of electrons passing through a single slit and the resulting pattern on a screen. In Figure b, the electrons are passing through a second slit. Classically, you’d expect the intensities of Figures a and b simply to add when both slits are open:

I = I1 + I2

But that’s not what happened. What actually appeared was an interference pattern when both slits were open (Figure c), not just a sum of the two slits’ electron intensities.

The result was a validation of de Broglie’s invention of matter waves. Experiment bore out the relation that


and de Broglie was a success.

The existence of matter waves says that you add the waves’ amplitude,


not their intensities, to sum them:


You square the amplitude to get the intensity, and the phase difference between


is what actually creates the interference pattern that’s observed.

About This Article

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About the book author:

Steven Holzner is an award-winning author of technical and science books (like Physics For Dummies and Differential Equations For Dummies). He graduated from MIT and did his PhD in physics at Cornell University, where he was on the teaching faculty for 10 years. He’s also been on the faculty of MIT. Steve also teaches corporate groups around the country.

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