Easy Photoelectric Effect Experiment

Photoelectric EffectEinstein received a Nobel Prize for figuring out what happens when you shine blue light on a sheet of metal.  When he aimed a blue light on a metal plate, electrons shot off the surface. (Metals have electrons which are free to move around, which is why metals are electrically conductive. More on this in Unit 10).

When Einstein aimed a red light at the metal sheet, nothing happened.  Even when he cranked the intensity (brightness) of the red light, still nothing happened.  So it was the energy of the light (wavelength), not the number of photons (intensity) that made the electrons eject from the plate. This is called the ‘photoelectric effect’. Can you imagine what happens if we aim a UV light (which has even more energy than blue light) at the plate?

This photoelectric effect is used by all sorts of things today, including solar cells, electronic components, older types of television screens, video camera detectors, and night-vision goggles.

This photoelectric effect also causes the outer shell of orbiting spacecraft to develop an electric charge, which can wreck havoc on its internal computer systems.

A surprising find was back in the 1960s, when scientists discovered that moon dust levitated through the photoelectric effect. Sunlight hit the lunar dust, which became (slightly) electrically charged, and the dust would then lift up off the surface in thin, thread-like fountains of particles up ¾ of a mile high.

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