Covering topics in Nature, Technology and Culture
The effects of this force are easily observable at both the microscopic and macroscopic level, because the photon has zero rest mass; this allows long distance interactions.
laser light showing green (532 nm), blue-violet (445 nm) and red (635 nm) consist of photons of light. image: Netweb01 / wikipedia
Like all elementary particles, photons are currently best explained by quantum mechanics and exhibit wave–particle duality, exhibiting properties of both waves and particles. Photons are are also a type of elementary boson, which means they can occupy the same quantum states, in contrast to say electrons which can’t. In a sense photons can get very close to each other , such as in lasers and exhibit coherence.
For example, a single photon may be refracted by a lens or exhibit wave interference with itself, but also act as a particle giving a definite result when its position is measured.
The development of the photon concept
The modern photon concept was developed gradually by Albert Einstein to explain experimental observations that did not fit the classical wave model of light.
In particular, the photon model accounted for the frequency dependence of light's energy, and explained the ability of matter and radiation to be in thermal equilibrium.
Photons helped account for black body radiation
It also accounted for anomalous observations, including the properties of black-body radiation, that other physicists, most notably Max Planck, had sought to explain using semiclassical models, in which light is still described by Maxwell's equations, but the material objects that emit and absorb light do so in amounts of energy that are quantized (i.e., they change energy only by certain particular discrete amounts and cannot change energy in any arbitrary way).
Although these semiclassical models contributed to the development of quantum mechanics, many further experiments starting with Compton scattering of single photons by electrons, first observed in 1923, validated Einstein's hypothesis that light itself is quantized.
The year the name photon was coined
In 1926 the optical physicist Frithiof Wolfers and the chemist Gilbert N. Lewis coined the name photon for these particles, and after 1927, when Arthur H. Compton won the Nobel Prize for his scattering studies, most scientists accepted the validity that quanta of light have an independent existence, and the term photon for light quanta was accepted.
The energy of a photon is defined by the planck constant and the wavelength of light
Photons are necessary in the standard model of particle physics
In the Standard Model of particle physics, photons are described as a necessary consequence of physical laws having a certain symmetry at every point in spacetime. The intrinsic properties of photons, such as charge, mass and spin, are determined by the properties of this gauge symmetry.
How photons are useful
The photon concept has led to momentous advances in experimental and theoretical physics, such as lasers, Bose–Einstein condensation, quantum field theory, and the probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics. It has been applied to photochemistry, high-resolution microscopy, and measurements of molecular distances. Recently, photons have been studied as elements of quantum computers and for sophisticated applications in optical communication such as quantum cryptography.