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Wave-Particle Duality

  The principle of wave-particle duality is that all waves have a particle nature, and that, conversely, all particles have a wave-like nature. There are extremes of each: water waves are almost completely wave-like particles, like electrons and neutrons, and, even in some cases, atoms, may be shown to behave like waves under the right conditions.

The wavelength of a particle is determined by its mass and its velocity (see de Broglie waves). A snooker ball has such a tiny wavelength that it is completely indetectable. We could, in theory, increase this wavelength to a measurable distance by allowing the ball to move only very slowly, but if it was moving slowly enough, it would take more than the age of the universe to do anything interesting.

Electrons, which are undoubtedly charged particles, may act as waves. Crystals may be examined by passing an electron beam through them, and the wave pattern that is detected in the emerging electrons will give us information about the interior of the crystal. Many experiments can be performed which show particles travelling like waves but being finally detected as particles. Sound waves may be shown in some circumstances to act like particles, which have been given the name phonons. JJ

See also quantum theory; wave-particle duality of light.



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