Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

How do we know that light is a wave

  1. Jul 9, 2010 #1
    I'm reading a bit about atomic theory at the moment and I keep reading about how the wave model of light is not sufficient to explain things like the photoelectric effect and black body radiation, which is where quantum theory stepped in but I haven't seen any mention of where the wave theory came from.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 9, 2010 #2
    Here's the guy who started it all - a good place to start

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christiaan_Huygens" [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  4. Jul 9, 2010 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    Light was first noticed to have wavelike properties such as poliarization and diffraction around 1800 as predicted by the initial wave theory which originated in the 1600s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light#Wave_theory
  5. Jul 9, 2010 #4
    Ah right I didn't even think about diffraction thanks.
  6. Jul 9, 2010 #5
    Because it has a property that belongs to a class we call wave.
  7. Jul 9, 2010 #6
    Newton was an advocate of light as a particle (they were called corpuscles back then, I believe). Newton and Huygens were contemporaries and knew of each other's work. So the debate over the nature of light (wave vs. particle) goes way back...

    I think it is usually credited to Thomas Young and the double slit expirement that put an end to Newton's corpuscular theory of light. Until Einstein and his explaination the photoelectric effect -- for which he received the Nobel Prize.
  8. Jul 10, 2010 #7
    it also follows from maxwells equations. a solution to these is a propagating wave for electric and magnetic field
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook