Reconstruction of the history of the photoelectric effect and its implications for general physics textbooks

  • Niaz M
  • Klassen S
  • McMillan B
 et al. 
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The photoelectric effect is an important part of general physics textbooks.
To study the presentation of this phenomenon, we have reconstructed
six essential, history and philosophy of science (HPS)-related aspects
of the events that culminated in Einstein proposing his hypothesis
of lightquanta and the ensuing controversy within the scientific
community. These aspects are (1) Lenard's trigger hypothesis to explain
the photoelectric effect, (2) Einstein's quantum hypothesis to explain
the photoelectric effect, (3) lack of acceptance of Einstein's quantum
hypothesis in the scientific community, (4) Millikan's experimental
determination of the Einstein photoelectric equation and Planck's
constant, h, (5) Millikan's presuppositions about the nature of light,
and (6) the historical presentation and its interpretation within
a history and philosophy of science perspective. Using these aspects
as criteria, we analyzed 103 university general physics textbooks.
Results obtained reveal that these historical elements are largely
ignored or distorted in the textbooks, with only three of the texts
obtaining a score of satisfactory and none a score of excellent.
It is concluded that inclusion of HPS-related aspects in general
physics textbooks can facilitate a better understanding of the dynamics
associated with the initial controversy and final acceptance of Einstein's
explanation of the photoelectric effect by the scientific community.

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  • Mansoor Niaz

  • Stephen Klassen

  • Barbara McMillan

  • Don Metz

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