By Milton A. Rothman
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Extra resources for Discovering the Natural Laws: The Experimental Basis of Physics
In order to keep the law intact it is necessary to say that the momentum of the incident electron is greater than what you would expect from the simple expression mv, where m is the constant rest-mass of the electron. ) With this new definition of mass, conservation of momentum remains a valid law. This re-definition of the mass also serves to keep the form of Newton's Second Law of Motion intact. Imagine an experi ment in which an electron is being accelerated by a constant electric field. We notice experimentally that the velocity does not increase at a constant rate, but that it gradually levels off until it approaches a constant value: the speed of light.
If a law of nature is something we discover by observation of nature, where have observations gone into the construction of this important law we have been discussing? By looking at the careful analysis of the definition of mass in the above paragraphs, we can see what parts of the law are the result of experiments. We begin by defining the mass of an object under one particular set of conditions. We then find by experiment that the above relatiouship continues to be true for all time, regardless of the orientation of the masses, their location and motion in space, regardless of the kind of force used to push them apart, and regardless of the materials they are made of.
But when atoms emit photons of light, it is the electromagnetic force that is re sponsible for this emission. Similarly, when an atom absorbs a photon of fight and shoots out an electron (the photo electric effect), the electromagnetic interaction is the cause of this event. In fact, the highly abstract theory of ^"quantum electrodynamics’' describes the electromagnetic force existing between any two chsdrged objects as resulting from the con tinuous back-and-forth interchange of photons. In this model the photon is the carrier of the force, and all the effects that we attribute to electric and magnetic fields are simply the visible results of this invisible exchange of photons (Figure 3-2).