Ethics & photoelectrics

This morning I was setting up the school classroom for teaching my Primary Ethics class when one of the Year 4 boys in my class came up to me and asked, “Can you explain the photoelectric effect?” This is a nine or ten year old kid, remember.

He has no way of knowing I have a Ph.D. in physics, and so yes, this is actually something I know about and can explain to people. I tried to tone it down to a nine-year-old’s level.

“Well, it’s a thing that happens when light hits some materials, like metals. The light hits an atom… do you know about atoms and electrons and …”

“Yeah!” he says, in a tone of voice that indicates “of course I do, who doesn’t?”

“Okay,” I continue, “The light hits an atom and it makes an electron jump out of the atom, so it can then travel through the metal as electricity.”

“Hmmm,” says the boy, “Does the electron just jump up to a higher energy level shell, or does it jump completely out of the atom?”

I skilfully hid my internal jaw-drop, as I replied, “All the way out of the atom.”

“Huh,” he said, “Well that’s pretty simple. I don’t know why someone else told me it was so hard to understand.”

He want off to his seat, and I started teaching my class…

2 Responses to “Ethics & photoelectrics”

  1. Yerushalmi says:

    Awesome.

  2. JG says:

    Kids are often smarter than people think. And while there’s a lot of math and science behind that effect which were cut out into that overly simple explanation, but the kid wanted to know how it happened, not the precise mechanics of it.

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