The de Broglie wavelength is a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics that profoundly explains particle behavior at the quantum level. According to de Broglie hypothesis, particles like electrons, atoms, and molecules exhibit wavelike and particlelike properties.
This concept was introduced by French physicist Louis de Broglie in his doctoral thesis in 1924, revolutionizing our understanding of the nature of matter.
de Broglie Equation
A fundamental equation core to de Broglie hypothesis establishes the relationship between a particle’s wavelength and momentum. This equation is the cornerstone of quantum mechanics and sheds light on the waveparticle duality of matter. It revolutionizes our understanding of the behavior of particles at the quantum level. Here are some of the critical components of the de Broglie wavelength equation:
1. Planck’s Constant (h)
Central to this equation is Planck’s constant, denoted as “h.” Planck’s constant is a fundamental constant of nature, representing the smallest discrete unit of energy in quantum physics. Its value is approximately 6.626 x 10^{34} Jˑs. Planck’s constant relates the momentum of a particle to its corresponding wavelength, bridging the gap between classical and quantum physics.
2. Particle Momentum (p)
The second critical component of the equation is the particle’s momentum, denoted as “p”. Momentum is a fundamental property of particles in classical physics, defined as the product of an object’s mass (m) and its velocity (v). In quantum mechanics, however, momentum takes on a slightly different form. It is the product of the particle’s mass and its velocity, adjusted by the de Broglie wavelength.
The mathematical formulation of de Broglie wavelength is
\[ \lambda = \frac{h}{p}\]
We can replace the momentum by p = mv to obtain
\[ \lambda = \frac{h}{m\hspace{0.01 cm} v}\]
Unit
The SI unit of wavelength is meter or m. Another commonly used unit is nanometer or nm.
This equation tells us that the wavelength of a particle is inversely proportional to its mass and velocity. In other words, as the mass of a particle increases or its velocity decreases, its de Broglie wavelength becomes shorter, and it behaves more like a classical particle. Conversely, as the mass decreases or velocity increases, the wavelength becomes longer, and the particle exhibits wavelike behavior. To grasp the significance of this equation, let us consider the example of an electron.
de Broglie Wavelength of Electron
Electrons are incredibly tiny and possess a minimal mass. As a result, when they are accelerated, such as when they move around the nucleus of an atom, their velocities can become significant fractions of the speed of light, typically ~1%.
Consider an electron moving at 2 x 10^{6 }m/s. The rest mass of an electron is 9.1 x 10^{31} kg. Therefore,
\[ \lambda = \frac{6.626 \times 10^{34} \hspace{0.1 cm} J\cdot s}{9.1 \times 10^{31} \hspace{0.1 cm} kg \times 2 \times 10^6 \hspace{0.1 cm} m\cdot s^{1}} = 3.637 \times 10^{10} \hspace{0.1 cm} m \hspace{0.5 cm} \text{or} \hspace{0.5 cm} 0.364 \hspace{0.1 cm} nm \]
These short wavelengths are in the range of the sizes of atoms and molecules, which explains why electrons can exhibit wavelike interference patterns when interacting with matter, a phenomenon famously observed in the doubleslit experiment.
Thermal de Broglie Wavelength
The thermal de Broglie wavelength is a concept that emerges when considering particles in a thermally agitated environment, typically at finite temperatures. In classical physics, particles in a gas undergo collision like billiard balls. However, particles exhibit wavelike behavior at the quantum level, including wave interference phenomenon. The thermal de Broglie wavelength considers the kinetic energy associated with particles due to their thermal motion.
At finite temperatures, particles within a system possess a range of energies described by the MaxwellBoltzmann distribution. Some particles have relatively high energies, while others have low energies. The thermal de Broglie wavelength accounts for this distribution of kinetic energies. It helps to understand the statistical behavior of particles within a thermal ensemble.
Mathematical Expression
The thermal de Broglie wavelength (λ_{th}) is determined by incorporating both the mass (m) of the particle and its thermal kinetic energy (kT) into the de Broglie wavelength equation:
\[ \lambda = \frac{h}{\sqrt{2 \hspace{0.02 cm} \pi \hspace{0.02 cm} m\hspace{0.02 cm} K\hspace{0.02 cm}T}} \]
Here, k is the Boltzmann constant, and T is the temperature in Kelvin.

References
 de Broglie Wave Equation – Chem.libretexts.org
 de Broglie Wavelength – Spark.iop.org
 de Broglie Matter Waves – Openstax.org
 Wave Nature of Electron – Hyperphysics.phyastr.gsu.edu
Article was last reviewed on Friday, October 6, 2023