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Proceedings Paper • Open Access

The photoelectric effect: project-based undergraduate teaching and learning optics through a modern physics experiment redesign
Author(s): Corneliu Rablau; Uma Ramabadran; Brendan Book; Robert Cunningham

Paper Abstract

The photoelectric effect is a cornerstone textbook experiment in any Modern Physics or Advanced Laboratory course, designed to verify Einstein’s theory of the photoelectric effect, with the implicit determination of an experimental value for Planck’s constant and the demonstration of the particle nature of light. The standard approach to the experiment is to illuminate the light-sensitive cathode of a vacuum-tube photocell with monochromatic light of known wavelengths; a reversed-voltage is then applied to the photocell and adjusted to bring the photoelectric current to zero. The stopping voltage is then plotted as a function of the inverse wavelength or frequency of the incident light, and Planck's constant is determined from the slope of the graph. Additionally, a value for the work function of the photocathode can be extracted from the intercept. The commercial apparatus for the experiment is available from a number of vendors (PASCO, Leybold) in various forms, degrees of performance and cost. However, designing and assembling a photoelectric effect experiment apparatus can in itself be a valuable experiential project-based undergraduate learning opportunity in Optics involving both fundamental light and optics theory and practical optics and opto-mechanical design aspects. This presentation details a project undertaken in the Applied Physics/Engineering Physics programs at Kettering University involving students in a Modern Physics laboratory course. The first phase of the project, discussed in detail in this paper, was a redesign of an existing photoelectric effect apparatus through an undergraduate student thesis, currently in advanced stages of completion. In a second phase of the project we plan to replicate the newly assembled experimental apparatus up to as many as six identical stations and deploy it in our Modern Physics lab course. Typically, more than 50% of the students in this course are engineering majors who would otherwise not get any significant exposure to problems of optics and optical design. We believe that the modular design of the new apparatus together with a carefully redesigned lab activity will allow us to have our students explore major aspects of optics and optoelectronic design while performing this classic Modern Physics experiment.

Paper Details

Date Published: 2 July 2019
PDF: 11 pages
Proc. SPIE 11143, Fifteenth Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics: ETOP 2019, 111433S (2 July 2019); doi: 10.1117/12.2523860
Show Author Affiliations
Corneliu Rablau, Kettering Univ. (United States)
Uma Ramabadran, Kettering Univ. (United States)
Brendan Book, Kettering Univ. (United States)
Robert Cunningham, Kettering Univ. (United States)

Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 11143:
Fifteenth Conference on Education and Training in Optics and Photonics: ETOP 2019
Anne-Sophie Poulin-Girard; Joseph A. Shaw, Editor(s)

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