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A Few Loose Ends

The classroom is darkened and three ``experiments'' are represented on stage: on the left is Neil with a flashlight and a piece of metal, simulating the PHOTOELECTRIC EFFECT; in the centre are Elliott and Kevin with an actual blowtorch and a nichrome wire, demonstrating both blackbody radiation and ATOMIC SPECTROSCOPY (with various salts); and on the right is Douw drawing the BLACKBODY SPECTRUM and the ``ultraviolet catastrophe'' theory. The others also put plots and/or equations on the blackboard as the following action takes place:

Enter Planck followed by von Jolly.

von Jolly: ``So you want to study Physics, do you, Mr. Planck?''

Planck: ``Yes sir, Professor von Jolly, I wish to study nature at its most fundamental level.''

von Jolly: ``Well, forget it! The fundamentals have all been worked out, and there's nothing particularly interesting left to do. Physics will be finished in just a few more years.''

Planck [to audience, on exit] ``Great, then I'll work out the loose ends and settle into a cushy professorial life like this guy.''

von Jolly $\longrightarrow$ Narrator [turning toward demos] ``Indeed, all we have left are a few nagging discrepancies between theory and these experiments.

[referring to blackbody radiation graph] ``We know a body should emit radiation when heated,'' [indicates Rayleigh-Jeans theory curve] ``but our spectrum doesn't look quite right.'' [Douw superimposes experimental curve.]

[referring to line-spectra demo] `` Also, it seems that the elements absorb and emit light only at discrete frequencies, in a manner we can't quite put our finger on.''

[referring to photoelectric simulation] ``Finally, the photoelectric effect shows the number of electrons kicked out of a metal increasing not with the intensity of the radiation, but with its frequency.

``These experiments show there are a few holes left in our understanding of matter, which stems from our understanding of atoms, its most fundamental constituents. Surely, with the kind of collaboration we've seen between theory and experiment, these problems will go away. We'd like them to go away. They're nasty and embarrassing. Faraday and Maxwell serve as a shining example of what can happen when the experimentalists and theorists talk to each other, and we just need more of this sort of thing.''

next up previous
Next: Electrodynamics Up: The Dreams Stuff is Made Of Previous: The Dreams Stuff is Made Of
Jess H. Brewer