quantum theory: Early Developments

Early Developments

While the theory of relativity was largely the work of one man, Albert Einstein, the quantum theory was developed principally over a period of thirty years through the efforts of many scientists. The first contribution was the explanation of blackbody radiation in 1900 by Max Planck, who proposed that the energies of any harmonic oscillator (see harmonic motion), such as the atoms of a blackbody radiator, are restricted to certain values, each of which is an integral (whole number) multiple of a basic, minimum value. The energy E of this basic quantum is directly proportional to the frequency ν of the oscillator, or E=hν, where h is a constant, now called Planck's constant, having the value 6.62607×10−34 joule-second. In 1905, Einstein proposed that the radiation itself is also quantized according to this same formula, and he used the new theory to explain the photoelectric effect. Following the discovery of the nuclear atom by Rutherford (1911), Bohr used the quantum theory in 1913 to explain both atomic structure and atomic spectra, showing the connection between the electrons' energy levels and the frequencies of light given off and absorbed.

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