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Saturday, February 6, 2010

What is the electron volt (eV)?

The electron volt is a unit of energy like the joule (J).

However in quantum mechanics if the joule is used, then very small numbers would be obtained. These small numbers are very clumsy to use as a result a better unit to use is the electron volt.   clip_image001

Fig 1

As you can see in fig 1, we have two metal plates that are connected to a power supply of e.m.f. 1 V. As a result a potential difference of 1 V will be set up be set up between the plates. An electric field will be set up between the plates as a result of the potential difference.

Now if a stationary electron is released from the negatively charged plate it will experience an acceleration due to the electric field and as a result will move towards the positively charged plate with increasing velocity.

When it would reached the positively charged plate it would have a certain velocity.

The Kinetic energy gained by the electron can be calculated by the following equation:

Kinetic energy gained Ek = Charge on particle * Potential difference between plates.

Ek = Q * V

Hence it can be deduce that if the charge is an electron then the kinetic energy that is gained by the electron is

Kinetic energy gained Ek = Charge on electron (elementary charge) * 1 V

   = 1 eV

Hence the eV is the energy that is gained by an electron or any particle of charge -e or +e when accelerated by a potential difference of 1 V 

If you want to know how many joule there is in 1 eV then it is as shown below

Kinetic energy gained Ek = Charge on electron (elementary charge) * 1 V

= 1.6 x 10-19* 1

= 1.6 x10-19 J

We can thus say that 1 eV is equivalent to 1.6 x 10 –19 J

As we have said above in quantum mechanics it is better to use the the eV because if the joule is used we would be dealing with small numbers which would make the works and calculations difficult.

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