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Modern Physics Problem Set 1

Instructions: This is a 30-item problem set composed of normal and challenge problems. Follow
the rules of coherence in writing your solutions. You are required to answer at least 17 normal
problems and 3 challenge problems. Each normal problem is worth 5 points, while challenge prob-
lems are worth 15 points each. The perfect score is 100.

1. The Lorentz factor γν , which appears in the time-dilation and length contraction formulas,
is a reasonable measure of relativistic effects. Roughly speaking, at what speed would observations
deviate from classical expectations by 5%?

2. According to an observer on earth, a spacecraft moving at a speed of 0.6c is 35 m long.

How long is the spacecraft according to the passengers on board?

3. Consider twins Dave and Novie. Dave goes off in a straight line traveling at a speed of 24
c for
7 years as measured in his clock, then reverses and returns at half the speed. Novie remained
at home the entire time. Make a spacetime diagram showing the motion of Dave and Novie from
Novie’s point of view. When Dave finally returns home, how much older is he compared to his
twin Novie?

4. The speed of light is c in any reference frame. Let S be the laboratory frame and
S 0 be the proper frame. Consider a light beam moving at an angle θ with respect to the x-axis
as viewed from frame S. Using the relativistic velocity transformation, find the components of its
velocity when viewed from frame S 0 , and from these verify explicitly that the speed of light is c.

5. Calculate the momentum, kinetic energy, and total energy of a proton moving at a speed
of 0.756c.

6. The energy of a photon is related to its wavelength λ by the expression E = hc/λ, where
h = 1240eV · nm. Imagine that a photon has a wavelength of λ0 in the frame of the source. An
observer is moving with speed v away from the source.

a. Use a Lorentz transformation of the photon’s four momentum to find the photon’s energy
and wavelength in the frame of the observer. Express your answer as a fraction of λ0 .

b. Show that you can get the same answer by calculating the quantity −p · uobs .

7. After receiving a traffic violation, Migel defends himself in court using physics. He explains
that the reason he went through the red light (λ = 650nm) was that, due to his motion, the red
color was Doppler shifted to green (λ = 550nm). How fast was he going?

8. The sun emits a tremendous burst of particles that travel towards the earth. An astronomer
on earth sees the emission through a solar telescope and issues a warning. The astronomer knows
that when the particles arrive, they will wreak havoc on the broadcast radio transmission. Com-
munication systems require three minutes to switch from broadcast to underground cable. What
is the maximum speed of the particle pulse emitted by the sun such that the switch can occur in
time, between the issuance of the warning and arrival of the pulse? Assume the sun to be 500
light-seconds away from the earth.

9. Challenge Problem: Pole-Barn Paradox. A 20 m pole is carried so fast in the direc-
tion of its length that it appears to be only 10 m long in the laboratory frame. The runner carries
the pole through the front door of a barn 10 m long. At the instant the head of the pole reaches
the closed rear door, the front door can be closed, enclosing the pole within the 10 m barn for
an instant. The rear door opens and the runner goes through. From the runner’s point of view,
however, the pole is 20 m long and the barn is only 5 m! Thus the pole can never be enclosed in
the barn. Resolve the apparent paradox quantitatively and using spacetime diagrams.

Figure 1. The ”pole-barn situation” for Problem 9

10. Challenge Problem: The radar-speed trap. A highway patrolman aims a stationary
radar transmitter backward along the highway toward incoming traffic. A detector mounted next
to the transmitter analyzes the radar wave reflected from an approaching car, then an internal
computer uses the shift in frequency of the reflected wave to determine the car’s speed. Treat the
car as a simple mirror and assume that the radar signals move back and forth along one line in the
highway. Radar is an electromagnetic wave that moves at the speed of light. Figure 2 (shown on
the next page) shows the worldline of an approaching car and two radar wave maxima that reflect
from the car.

a. Let v be the speed of the car. From the 45-degree right triangle ABC, show that

∆t = v∆t + λreflected

Similarly, use the 45-degree right triangle DEF to show that

∆t = λincident − v∆t

Eliminate ∆t from these two equations to find an expression for λreflected in terms of λincident
and v.

b. The frequency f of radar is related to its wavelength λ in vacuum by f = c/λ. Show that
the frequency freflected of the reflected signal and the frequency fincident of the incident signal
bears the following relation  
freflected = fincident

Figure 2. Worldline of an approaching car and two radar wave maxima that reflect from the car

c. Assuming that the speed of the car is a very small fraction of the speed of light (v  c), use
the result in part (b) to show that the fractional change of frequency between the incident
and reflected signal is given by the approximate expression
≈ 2v
Substitute the speed of a car moving at 100 kph and show that your assumption about the
small fractional change is justified. Hint: To arrive at the needed approximations, it may be
necessary to use the first two terms of the binomial expansion.

d. A radar gun operates at a frequency of 10.525 × 109 cycles/second. By how many cy-
cles/second is the reflected beam shifted in frequency from a car approaching at 100 kph?

11. A 10 kg object is moving to the right at speed 0.6c. It explodes into two pieces, one of mass
m1 moving to the left at 0.6 c, and another of mass m2 moving to the right at 0.8c. Find (a) m1
and m2 ; and (b) the change in kinetic energy in this explosion.

12. Light of 300 nm wavelength strikes a metal plate and photoelectrons are produced moving as
fast as 0.002c. Find the work function and threshold wavelength of this metal.

13. High energy gamma rays can reach a radiation detector by Compton scattering from the
surroundings as shown in Figure 3. This is known as back-scattering. Show that when E  mc2 ,
the back-scattered photon has an energy of approximately 0.25 MeV, independent of the energy
of the original photon, as long as the scattering angle is nearly 180◦ .

Figure 3. Back-scattering
14. An x-ray source of unknown wavelength is directed at a carbon sample. An electron is scat-
tered with a speed of 4.5×107 m/s at an angle of 60◦ . Determine the wavelength of the x-ray source.

15. Show that the scattering angles of the photon and electron in the Compton effect are related
by the following formula:  
θ h
cot = 1 + tan φ
2 mcλ
17. (a) Calculate the maximum possible change in wavelength if a photon is scattered by a free
electron. (b) Repeat the same calculation but this time replace the free electron with a free proton.
(c) Which of the two collisions (photon-free electron or photon-free proton) more clearly demon-
strates the particle nature of electromagnetic radiation? Why?

18. A photon of energy E interacts with an electron at rest and undergoes pair production, thus
producing a positive electron (positron) and an electron (in addition to the original electron):

photon + e− → e+ + e− + e−

The two electrons and the positron move off with identical momenta in the direction of the ini-
tial photon. Find the kinetic energy of the three final particles and find the energy E of the photon.

19. Before a positron and an electron annihilate, they form a sort of ”atom” in which each orbits
about their common center of mass with identical speeds. As a result of this motion, the photons
emitted in annihilation show a small Doppler shift. In one experiment, the Doppler shift in energy
of the photons was observed to be 2.41 keV.
a. What would be the speed of the positron or electron before the annihilation to produce this
Doppler shift?

b. The positrons form these atom-like structures with the nearly ”free” electrons in a solid.
Assuming the positron and electron must have about the same speed to form this structure,
find the kinetic energy of the electron. This technique, called ”Doppler broadening” is an
important method in studying the energies of electrons in materials.

20. Challenge Problem: More on Compton Scattering. In the Compton effect, we may
always choose the electron to be at the origin and the initial photon’s direction to be in the
a. We may also choose the xy-plane so that it contains the velocities of the outgoing electron
and photon. Why?
b. The wavelength λ of the incoming photon is assumed to be known. The unknowns after the
collision are are the outgoing photon’s wavelength and direction, λ0 and θ, and the outgoing
electron’s speed and direction, ue and φ. With only three equations – two components of
momentum conservation and one of energy – we may not find all four of the unknowns. The
equation for the Compton effect gives us λ0 in terms of θ. Our lack of knowledge of θ after
the collision (without an experiment) is directly related to a lack of knowledge of something
before the collision. What is it? (Hint: Imagine the photon and electron to be both spherical
c. Is it reasonable to suppose that we could know this quantity? Explain.
21. A particle is called ”thermal ” if it is in equilibrium with its surroundings. This means that its
average kinetic energy is 23 kB T . Show that the wavelength of a ”thermal ” particle is given by
λ= √
3mkB T
22. The size of the smallest detail resolvable by a microscope is approximately equal to the wave-
length of the radiation used to view it. Since the minimum wavelength of visible light is approx-
imately 400 nm, a microscope employing light can resolve details no smaller than approximately
400 nm. An electron microscope directs electron waves rather than light toward a specimen. If an
electron microscope is to resolve details as small as 1 nm, what must be the speed of the electrons
and what must be the accelerating potential V?

23. A pi(π) meson (pion) and a proton can briefly join together to form a ∆ particle. A mea-
surement of the energy of the πp system shows a peak of at 1236 MeV, corresponding to the rest
energy of the ∆ particle, with an experimental spread of 120 MeV. What is the lifetime of the ∆

24. A free electron bounces elastically back and forth in one dimension between two walls that are
L = 0.50 nm apart.
a. Assuming that the electron is represented by a de Broglie standing wave with a node at each
wall, show that the permitted de Broglie wavelengths are λn = 2L/n (n = 1, 2, 3, . . .).
b. Find the values of the kinetic energy of the electron for n=1, 2, and 3.
25. In a metal, the conduction electrons are not attached to any one atom, but are relatively free
to move throughout the entire metal. Consider a cube of copper measuring 1.0 cm on an edge.
a. What is the uncertainty in any one component of the momentum of an electron confined to
the metal?
b. Assume ∆p = (∆px )2 + (∆px )2 + (∆px )2

. Estimate the average kinetic energy of an
electron in the metal.
c. If the heat capacity of copper is 24.5J/mol · K, would the contribution of this motion to the
internal energy of copper be important at room temperature? What can you conclude from
26. The energy of a particle of mass m bound by an unusual spring is found to be p2 /2m + bx4 .
a. Classically, it can of course have zero energy. Quantum-mechanically, however, even though
both its position and momentum are on the average zero, its energy cannot be zero. Why?
b. Roughly speaking, ∆x is a typical value of the particle’s position. Make a reasonable as-
sumption about the typical value of the particle’s momentum and find the particle’s minimum
possible energy.
27. Challenge Problem: Wave-Particle Duality. If things really do have a dual wave-particle
nature, then if the wave spreads, the probability of finding the particle should spread proportion-
ally, independent of the degree of spreading, mass, speed, and even Planck’s constant.

To prove this, refer to Figure 4. Imagine a beam of particles of mass m and speed v, moving
in the x-direction, passing through a single slit of width a. Show that the angle θ1 at which the
first diffraction minimum would be found (mλ = a sin θm ) is proportional to the angle at which the
particle would likely be deflected θ ∼
= ∆py /p, and that the proportionality factor is a pure number,
independent of m, v,a, and h. Assume small angle approximation.

Figure 4. Beam of particles passing through a single slit.

28. Show that the group velocity and phase velocity are related by
vgroup = vphase − λ

When white light travels through glass, the phase velocity of each wavelength depends on the
wavelength. This is the origin of dispersion and the breaking up of white light and its component
colors (different wavelengths travel at different speeds and have different indices of refraction).
How does vphase depend on λ? So is vgroup greater than or less than vphase ?

29. Challenge Problem: Energy-Time Uncertainty Principle. According to the energy-

time uncertainty principle, the lifetime ∆t of a transition between states of different energy is
inversely proportional to the uncertainty ∆E in the energy difference. Therefore, in real cases
in which a photon carries off the energy difference between two states, both the duration of the
transition and the uncertainty in the energy of the photon are non-zero. Hydrogen’s 656 nm red
spectral line is the result of a transition between quantum states of the electron in the hydrogen
atom. Such transitions occur within approximately 10−8 s.

a. What inherent uncertainty in the energy of the emitted photon does this imply?

b. To what range in wavelengths does this correspond?

30. Challenge Problem: Why is the electron not in the nucleus? The proton and electron
were known to exist years before the discovery of the neutron, and the structure of the nucleus
accordingly was baffling. For example, the nucleus of Helium has a mass approximately four times
the proton mass but a charge of only twice that of the proton. Quantum mechanics makes the
electron-in-the-nucleus theory untenable. A confined electron is a standing wave, whose wavelength
in the nucleus could be no longer than approximately 4Rnucleus . (By analogy, the ”fundamental”
standing wave on a string has a wavelength satisfying L = λ2 . In the case of the nucleus, the
”length of a string” L is the diameter, D = 2Rnucleus .)
Assuming a nuclear charge of 2e and a typical nuclear radius of 5 × 10−15 m, show that the kinetic
energy of an electron is at the surface of the nucleus.(Hint and warning: Is the electron moving
slow or fast?).
Given that the electrostatic potential energy is responsible for preventing the electron from escap-
ing, what does the result above say about the position of an electron in an atom? Can it be inside
the nucleus? Justify your answer.