Photons as spin-1 particles

After all of the lengthy and speculative excursions into the nature of the wavefunction for an electron, it is time to get back to Feynman’s Lectures and look at photon-electron interactions. So that’s chapter 17 and 18 of Volume III. Of all of the sections in those chapters – which are quite technical here and there – I find the one on the angular momentum of polarized light the most interesting.

Feynman provides an eminently readable explanation of how the electromagnetic energy of a photon may be absorbed by an electron as kinetic energy. It is entirely compatible with our physical interpretation of the wavefunction of an electron as… Well… We’ve basically been looking at the electron as a little flywheel, right? 🙂 I won’t copy Feynman here, except the illustration, which speaks for itself.

Formula 3

However, I do recommend you explore these two Lectures for yourself. Among other interesting passages, Feynman notes that, while photons are spin-1 particles and, therefore, are supposed to be associated with three possible values for the angular momentum (Jz = +ħ, 0 or −ħ), there are only two states: the zero case doesn’t exist. As Feynman notes: “This strange lack is related to the fact that light cannot stand still.” But I will let you explore this for yourself. 🙂

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