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Light: A Wave and a

Particle, Physical Science

The Photon Theory

At the end of this lesson, you should be able

explain how the photon theory of light
accounts for atomic spectra;
discuss why red light is used in photographic
dark rooms;
determine why you easily get sunburned in
ultraviolet light but not in visible light; and
explain how you see colors.
The Photon Theory of Light

Atoms are composed

of electrons, protons, and neutrons.
Inside an atom, electrons are located at
specific energy levels, and they can
move to higher energy level when given
a certain amount of energy, for example
through collisions with light.
Light is composed of photons. Based on the
photon theory of light, a photon is a discrete
bundle of electromagnetic energy moving at
the speed of light, has no rest mass but has
momentum, and carries energy. This energy is
given to an electron upon their collision,
which causes it to move up to the next energy
level. After about 10-8 s, it will go back to its
original level and emit light in the form of
The emitted light has a certain
wavelength that corresponds to
different colors. It can be observed
as a series of colored lines with
black spaces in between. This is
called atomic spectra. Each element
has its unique set of spectral lines.
The Photoelectric Effect

The photoelectric effect refers to

the ejection of electrons from a
surface of a metal in response to
light directed to the metal.
Albert Einstein proposed that light
consisted of individual photons,
which interacted with the electrons
in the surface of the metal. For each
frequency or color of the incident
light, each photon carried energy.
Increasing intensity of light
corresponded to increasing incident
of photons while the energy of the
photons remained the same. More
electrons are ejected upon the
increase in incident light. Increasing
the frequency of light would
increase the energy of the ejected
The energy carried by a photon is
directly proportional to its
frequency. The arrangement of the
visible spectrum of light shows
that red color has the least
frequency, which means it also has
the least energy.
Since photographers use light-
sensitive photographic papers,
red light would not overexpose
and ruin the pictures during the
developing process.
Color Spectra
Colors are not innate to objects. They
give off light that appears as colors.
Colors only exist in the human visual
system and is determined by
frequencies. When light reaches the eye,
it falls into a receptor cell at the back of
the eye or retina and gives signals to the
brain, which interprets the image with
Ultraviolet Radiation

Different colors of light have photons of different energies.

Based on the frequency and wavelength in a visible
light, red has low frequency and long wavelength, which
means that it contains less energy. Blue, on the other hand,
has high frequency and short wavelength, which means it
contains more energy. Beyond the visible light,
the ultraviolet light has greater frequency and shorter
wavelength, which means it carries greater energy than the
visible light. This explains why we easily get sunburned
under the ultraviolet rays of light than under the visible light.
Imagine you are looking at a
rainbow. You can see the ROYGBIV
colors namely red, orange, yellow,
green, blue, indigo, and violet. They
are seen under a visible light.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation comes
right after violet. How come UV is
invisible to us?
Key Points
The photon theory of light states that a
photon is a discrete bundle of
electromagnetic energy moving at the speed
of light; it has no rest mass but has a
momentum and carries energy.
Atomic spectra is the unique set of
frequencies emitted by an atom whenever its
electron undergoes excitation and returns to
its original energy level.
The frequency of a photon is directly
proportional to the energy it carries. The
higher the frequency of the photon, the
greater is its energy.
Since red light has the least frequency in the
color spectrum of light, it also has the least
amount of energy and can therefore be used
in photographic dark rooms because it would
have the least effect on a very sensitive paper
Given that ultraviolet has a higher
frequency than the visible light, it
follows that it would also have
greater energy, which causes us to
get easily sunburned under the UV
light compared to visible light.
The colors we see depends on the
frequency of light that the object
absorbs and reflects.