Quantum Processes

Quantum properties dominate the fields of atomic and molecular physics. Radiation is quantized such that for a given frequency of radiation, there can be only one value of quantum energy for the photons of that radiation. The energy levels of atoms and molecules can have only certain quantized values. Transitions between these quantized states occur by the photon processes absorption, emission, and stimulated emission. All of these processes require that the photon energy given by the Planck relationship is equal to the energy separation of the participating pair of quantum energy states.

Interaction of radiation with matter

Electromagnetic spectrum

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Absorption and Emission

Taking the electron transitions associated with visible and ultraviolet interactions with matter as an example, absorption of a photon will occur only when the quantum energy of the photon precisely matches the energy gap between the initial and final states. In the interaction of radiation with matter, if there is no pair of energy states such that the photon energy can elevate the system from the lower to the upper state, then the matter will be transparent to that radiation.


Interaction of radiation with matter

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Stimulated Emission

If an electron is already in an excited state (an upper energy level, in contrast to its lowest possible level or "ground state"), then an incoming photon for which the quantum energy is equal to the energy difference between its present level and a lower level can "stimulate" a transition to that lower level, producing a second photon of the same energy.

When a sizable population of electrons resides in upper levels, this condition is called a "population inversion", and it sets the stage for stimulated emission of multiple photons. This is the precondition for the light amplification which occurs in a laser, and since the emitted photons have a definite time and phase relation to each other, the light has a high degree of coherence.

Like absorption and emission, stimulated emission requires that the photon energy given by the Planck relationship be equal to the energy separation of the participating pair of quantum energy states.

Interaction of radiation with matter

Population inversionCoherent light
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Laser concepts
 
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