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Class XII/Physics

Emission of Electrons

Metals have free electrons (valence electrons). To be freed from the metal, they need some minimum energy, called work function of the
metal. Its unit is electron volt (eV).
The work function of a metal depends upon the type of the metal and its temperature. To free them, energy may be supplied by any one of
the following methods.

(1) Thermionic Emission: When current is passed through a filament so that it gets heated sufficiently, free electrons from the metal of
the filament get emitted. Such emission occurs in diode and TV tube (Cathode ray tube).

(2) Field Emission: When a metal is subjected to strong electric fields of the order of 108 V / m, electrons get emitted from the metal.

(3) Photoelectric Emission: When electromagnetic radiation of sufficiently high frequency is incident on a clean metal surface, free
electrons are emitted from the surface. This method is called photoelectric emission and the electrons so emitted are called the photo


Definition: When ultraviolet light falls on certain metals, electrons are emitted. This`
phenomenon, in which certain metals emit electrons when exposed to light of suitable
frequency is called PHOTO ELECTRIC EFFECT.
In short, ejection of electrons by means of light is called 'photo electric effect'.
The electrons emitted are called the ‘photoelectrons’.


The figure shows the experimental arrangement to study the photoelectric effect.
The apparatus consists of an evacuated glass tube fitted with two electrodes. The
electrode E is called the emitting electrode and the other electrode C is called the
collecting electrode. A varying potential is applied between the two electrodes.
If suitable light is allowed to fall on electrode 'E', it will give out
photo electrons as shown in the figure. The photo electrons are attracted by the
collector 'C' despite its negative polarity. As the collecting electrode is made more and
more negative, fewer and fewer electrons will reach the cathode and the photoelectric
current recorded by the ammeter will decrease.

The negative potential of the plate 'C' at which the photo electric current becomes zero is called stopping potential or cut-off potential.
Stopping potential is that value of retarding potential difference between two plates which is just sufficient to halt the most energetic
photo electrons emitted.
It is denoted by "Vo".

In such a case, the work done by the stopping potential is equal to the maximum kinetic energy of the electrons. i. e
eV0 
As the charge on electron, e, is constant,
V0 
The stopping potential gives the estimate of the maximum kinetic energy, with which the photoelectrons may be emitted.

Threshold frequency is defined as the minimum frequency of incident light which can cause photo electric emission i.e. this frequency is
just able to eject electrons with out giving them additional energy. It is denoted by 0 .
Minimum amount of energy which is necessary to start photo electric emission is called Work Function. If the amount of energy of
incident radiation is less than the work function of metal, no photo electrons are emitted.
It is denoted by  . Work function of a material is given by   h 0 .
It is a property of material. Different materials have different values of work function.


The number of photo electrons depends upon:
 The nature of material
 The frequency of incident radiation
 The intensity of incident radiation
 Potential difference between the electrons

SRHSS/2010/Photoelectric emission Page 1 of 2 Sandhya.K
Class XII/Physics

For a given intensity, stopping potential depends on frequency and is thus independent of intensity of light. Also, for a given frequency,
maximum saturation current depends on the intensity of light and is thus independent of its frequency.
(1) The maximum energy of photo-electron depends on the frequency of incident light and not on
its intensity.
(2) The number of photo-electrons increases with increase in intensity of incident light.
(3) The phenomenon of photo-emission is instantaneous. Within 10- 9 s, after light is incident, photo-
electrons are emitted.
The graph of stopping potential versus frequency is shown in the figure. This graph is linear.


1. The emission of photoelectrons takes place only when the frequency of the incident radiation is above the threshold
frequency, characteristic of that metal.
2. The emission of photoelectrons starts as soon as light falls on metal surface.
3. The maximum kinetic energy with which an electron is emitted from a metal surface is independent of the intensity
of the light and depends only on its frequency.
4. The number of photoelectrons emitted, i.e. the photoelectric current, is independent of the frequency of the incident
light and depends only upon its intensity.

Einstein’s Photoelectric equation

In 1905, Einstein explained photo-electric effect using Planck’s hypothesis.

Einstein assumed that emission, transmission and absorption of light take place in the form of photons. According to Einstein, when light
in the form of photon is incident on a metal, it is totally absorbed or does not lose its energy at all. The electron which receives h amount
of energy of photon spends energy equal to its binding energy (work function   h 0 ) and gets immediately emitted with the remaining

mv 2 ). Thus,
mvmax  h  
Or, h    mvmax ---------------------------- (1)
Here, m is the mass of the electron and v max is the maximum velocity of the photoelectrons. But,   h 0 , the threshold energy or the
work function of the metal. Therefore, equation (1) becomes,
h  h 0  mvmax ----------------------- (2)
Equation (2) is called Einstein’s photoelectric equation.

Conclusions from Einstein’s photoelectric equation

1. The photoelectrons will be ejected out of the surface, only if    0 , i.e. if the frequency of incident radiation is greater
than the threshold frequency for the metal.
2. The number of photoelectrons emitted will be large, when intense radiation is incident.
3. The photoelectrons will come out of the metal surface with greater value of maximum kinetic energy, as the
frequency of the radiation is increased.

SRHSS/2010/Photoelectric emission Page 2 of 2 Sandhya.K