Wave Particle Duality: From Newton to Einstein

A. Shapiro

Dept. of Physics, Minnesota

In the early 20th century it was found that particles, such as electrons, sometimes behave like waves while light waves sometimes behave like particles. These phenomena were very different from the ordinary macroscopic properties of particles and waves that had long been familiar to physicists. They found that to describe these new phenomena both classical wave and particle properties were required. Yet, the concepts of wave and particle were continually evolving and rather than recognizing the poverty of contemporary concepts and simply revising them, they froze the concepts of wave and particle from circa 1900 in place.

I will first show how much and continually the properties of light particles and, especially, waves changed since the early 17th century. Then I will describe an earlier encounter with wave particle duality when Newton found that he had to invoke both waves and particles to explain interference phenomena. Newton's attitude to wave particle duality was much like Einstein's, namely, a problem to be solved, not a mystery to be pondered.

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Additional resources for this talk: video, slides.