… and Millikan’s manipulations
Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19
It is often reported that Robert Millikan’s 1915 photoelectric experiment verified Einstein’s hypothesis about light quanta. Indeed, this is what Millikan himself claimed in his 1950 autobiography. However, his support for Einstein was less effusive at the time than this later claim would suggest. He maintained a semi-classical interpretation of the results, rather than accepting a fully quantum interpretation, writing in a 1916 paper of Einstein’s photon as a “bold, not to say reckless, hypothesis of an electro-magnetic light corpuscle of energy hv, which flies in the face of thoroughly established facts of interference” and reported that the notion of the photon “now has been pretty generally abandoned”. Millikan’s tendency to rewrite history did not end here. In his elementary physics textbook, Millikan etched out a cigarette from a photograph of J. J. Thompson, perhaps, it is speculated, to avoid corrupting young physicists.