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Questionable Question about Photons and Waves

  1. Mar 23, 2012 #1
    If a photon is a particle moving like a wave, and the color we see when viewing a stream of photons is determined by their frequency, then how many oscillations of a wave constitute a single photon?

    When an experiment speaks of shooting “a single photon” at a target, exactly “how much wave-form” is it speaking of? One complete oscillation?

    Or am I thinking of this all wrong, making the question invalid?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 23, 2012 #2


    I think that the words are misleading: when one talks about waves or particles simply refer to particular pictures that he has in mind: they are just a way to imagine the process; what actually make sense are just the observations and the measurements. As far as I can see, there is no way to give meaning to the expression "particle moving like a wave", unless you mean something specific which I don't understand. "When an experiment speaks of shooting “a single photon” at a target" this just simply means that we can interpretate the whole thing as a photon doing something during an experiment: it is just a useful way to see the physical processes you are considering.
    Indeed, one of the "postulata" of atomic physics "pre-quantum mechanics" is just that every phenomenon can be interpretated both in terms of particles and in terms of waves (the keywords are "interpretated" and "both"); for example, let's analyze briefly the usual one-slit diffraction experience: we have a thing (conventionally called "light") produced in a given experimental way; the result of the experiment is a sequence of images conventionally called "diffraction pattern"; possible interpretation:
    1) wave interpretation: the thing called "light" can be seen as a wave, in the sense that if we make the hypothesis that the light is a wave then we observe the thing called "diffraction pattern"
    2)particle interprestation: the thing called "light" can be imagined to be composed of particles and these particles interact in some way with the experimental apparatus in such a way to form the diffraction pattern.

    Notice that this duality is one way to derive the Heisenberg uncertainty relations.
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