Nikola Tesla and the True Explanation of the Photoelectric Effect
by J. J. J.
The photoelectric effect is a phenomenon which occurs when electromagnetic radiation, such as ultraviolet light, is exposed to certain metallic objects causing the metals to emit electrons from their surface.
In 1905, Albert Einstein gained world fame for supposedly being the first scientist to successfully describe this effect. His theory was that light had little packets (quanta) of energy, or photons, and when exposed to metallic objects at certain frequencies the electrons in these metallic objects would absorb this energy and be broken off from their source. Hence, photoelectrons.
This theory led to the wave-particle duality of light since light seemed to act as both a wave and a particle. In 1921, Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his theoretical and mathematical explanations of this effect. A theory that even today is still accepted as a fact. But According to experiments, research and data collected by Nikola Tesla, Einstein and many other scientists overlooked some key factors in their interpretations of the effect.
The history of the photoelectric effect goes back to 1887, when Heinrich Hertz first observed electromagnetic waves in experiments, first predicted by James Clerk Maxwell over twenty years before. After this great discovery, Phillip Lenard and many other scientists, including Nikola Tesla, followed Hertz’ work with their own investigations into the matter.
In 1889, after freeing himself from work in Pittsburgh, Tesla returned to New York to begin work on high-frequency apparatuses, wireless transmission, and to develop theories on the relationship between light and electromagnetic radiation. It was right around this time in Tesla’s life when he was starting to gain fame. His alternating current system was finally getting recognition, and he was being asked to give lectures and demonstrations all over the world. On top of this, he was making new discoveries one after another. One very important discovery he made was the discovery of X-rays in 1884, which he called “shadowgraphs.” These mysterious radiations were still very new to him at this time so he wouldn’t realize their importance until a year later when Wilhelm Roentgen made public the same discovery that would win him the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901. Unfortunately, Tesla’s laboratory would burn down eight months before Roentgen announced his discovery, and the inventor would lose all his laboratory data, notes, plans, photographs, tools, and inventions. So it must be noted that Nikola Tesla was indeed the first scientist to discover X-rays.
After recovering from the fire that destroyed his laboratory March of 1895, a tragedy that set him back a great deal in work and recognition, Nikola Tesla was finally able to resume his work in 1896. With experiments on radiant energy, such as radio waves and X-rays, not only would Nikola Tesla become the first scientist to discovery radioactivity and electrons, but he would be the first scientist to propose that light and other electromagnetic radiations had both particle-like and wave-like properties–predating Henri Becquerel’s radioactivity discovery by a few months, J.J. Thompson’s discovery of the electron by a couple years (both Becquerel and Thomson won Nobel Prizes), and Einstein and other quantum physicist’s light theory by nearly a decade. But Tesla’s views on these effects were much different than other’s.
In experiments with his newly developed high-vacuum tubes and his high-frequency disruptive coil (Tesla Coil), Tesla shot cathode, and other rays at different metals noting the differences in reflection the streams made upon the metals. His experiments indicated six conclusions.
- His highly exhausted bulbs emit material streams which, impinging on the metallic surfaces experimented with, are reflected.
- These streams are formed of matter in some primary or elementary condition (what we now consider photons/or electrons).
- These material streams are probably the same agent which is the cause of the electro-motive tension between metals in close proximity, or actual contact, and they may possibly, to some extent, determine the energy of combination of the metals with oxygen.
- Every metal or conductor is more or less a source of such streams.
- These streams must be produced by some radiations which exist in the medium.
- These streams resembling the cathodic must be emitted by the sun (cosmic radiations) and probably also other sources of radiant energy, such as an arc light or Bunsen burner.
He considered all conclusions incontrovertible, and with these results, Tesla believed it probable that there is a continuous supply of such radiations in the medium in some form which must come from the sun. Later experiments with the above conclusion would lead Tesla to his discovery of cosmic rays, which he also discovered come from not only our sun, but from every other star outside our solar system. This discovery would be fifteen years before Victor Hess, who also won a Nobel Prize for this discovery, who even today we still recognize as the discoverer of cosmic rays.
Tesla also suggested that the primary particles composing the cosmic rays are broken into smaller particles by impact against certain metals, and are thereby enabled to pass into the air. His analogy was that of shooting a bullet at a wall. When the bullet strikes the wall it is crushed and spatters in all directions radial to where it hit the wall.
So according to Tesla, the energy from the flying pieces can only come from that of the bullets, and the results will differ based on the density of the wall, and or the velocity of the bullets. For instance, X-rays are incomparably smaller than cathode rays and have a higher velocity, which is why we are unable to detect X-rays and assume them to be massless photons, while cathode rays are slower so we have been able to label them electrons. This is how Tesla’s radioactivity theory differs from today’s. He realized it was the cosmic rays, and other sources of radiation that cause the radioactivity on earth. We believe the metals, or the elements themselves are producing the radioactivity and emitting electrons, like Einstein’s photoelectric theory suggests, but Tesla’s theory obviously suggests otherwise.
Now to make the above experiments more precise and prove his cosmic radiation theory further, Tesla developed a better method. He used two conductors and connected them to terminals of a condenser which had a considerable electrostatic captivity. One conductor was a metal plate (’P’ in Fig. 1) which was exposed to the Sun’s, and other radiations, and the other being grounded (’p’ in fig. 1) since it is a supply of negative electricity. Now Tesla could derive from a great mass of air, ionized by the radiation disturbance, a current, and store its energy in the condenser (’C’ in Fig. 1).
He could also discharge the current through an indicating device. This method did away with the limitations and incertitude of the electroscope and gave Tesla much better results. He filed a patent based off these results titled, “Apparatus of the Utilization of Radiant Energy,” published in 1901. This would obviously be a precursor to solar panels, but still more advanced than today’s panels because it ran off cosmic radiation and not just our sun’s light.
So in order to get results like Tesla obtained, one would need to reproduce Tesla’s experiments and patents. You can search anywhere online and see demonstrations of the photoelectric effect, but all are using the weakest instruments to demonstrate the effect–like a basic ultraviolet light and an electroscope. The fact that today’s physical science relies on such demonstrations to prove its theories seems to show that science may not be as advanced as we tend to believe.
Tesla’s work would obviously get ignored by main stream science, but it seems that today’s technology, which seemingly works off Albert Einstein’s theories, are in reality, working off Tesla’s.
“There can be no great harm in a student taking an erroneous view, but when great minds err, the world must dearly pay for their mistakes.”
“On Light And Other High Frequency Phenomena.” Lecture delivered before the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, February 1893, and before the National Electric Light Association, St. Louis, March 1893.