Historically, the electronvolt was devised as a standard unit of measure through its usefulness in electrostatic particle accelerator sciences, because a particle with charge q has an energy E = qV after passing through the potential V; if q is quoted in integer units of the elementary charge and the terminal bias in volts, one gets an energy in eV.
Like the elementary charge on which it is based, it is not an independent quantity but is equal to 1 J/C√2hα / μ0c0. It is a common unit of energy within physics, widely used in solid state, atomic, nuclear, and particle physics. It is commonly used with the metric prefixes milli-, kilo-, mega-, giga-, tera-, peta- or exa- (meV, keV, MeV, GeV, TeV, PeV and EeV respectively). In some older documents, and in the name Bevatron, the symbol BeV is used, which stands for billion (109) electronvolts; it is equivalent to the GeV.
For example, an electron and a positron, each with a mass of 0.511 MeV/c2, can annihilate to yield 1.022 MeV of energy. The proton has a mass of 0.938 GeV/c2. In general, the masses of all hadrons are of the order of 1 GeV/c2, which makes the GeV (gigaelectronvolt) a convenient unit of mass for particle physics:
In high-energy physics, the electronvolt is often used as a unit of momentum. A potential difference of 1 volt causes an electron to gain an amount of energy (i.e., 1 eV). This gives rise to usage of eV (and keV, MeV, GeV or TeV) as units of momentum, for the energy supplied results in acceleration of the particle.
The dimensions of momentum units are LMT−1. The dimensions of energy units are L2MT−2. Then, dividing the units of energy (such as eV) by a fundamental constant that has units of velocity (LT−1), facilitates the required conversion of using energy units to describe momentum. In the field of high-energy particle physics, the fundamental velocity unit is the speed of light in vacuum c.
By dividing energy in eV by the speed of light, one can describe the momentum of an electron in units of eV/c.
The fundamental velocity constant c is often dropped from the units of momentum by way of defining units of length such that the value of c is unity. For example, if the momentum p of an electron is said to be 1 GeV, then the conversion to MKS can be achieved by:
In particle physics, a system of "natural units" in which the speed of light in vacuum c and the reduced Planck constantħ are dimensionless and equal to unity is widely used: c = ħ = 1. In these units, both distances and times are expressed in inverse energy units (while energy and mass are expressed in the same units, see mass–energy equivalence). In particular, particle scattering lengths are often presented in units of inverse particle masses.
Outside this system of units, the conversion factors between electronvolt, second, and nanometer are the following:
The above relations also allow expressing the mean lifetimeτ of an unstable particle (in seconds) in terms of its decay widthΓ (in eV) via Γ = ħ/τ. For example, the B0 meson has a lifetime of 1.530(9) picoseconds, mean decay length is cτ = 459.7 μm, or a decay width of (4.302±25)×10−4 eV.
Conversely, the tiny meson mass differences responsible for meson oscillations are often expressed in the more convenient inverse picoseconds.
Energy in electronvolts is sometimes expressed through the wavelength of light with photons of the same energy: 1 eV = 8065.544005(49) cm−1.
A photon with a wavelength of 532 nm (green light) would have an energy of approximately 2.33 eV. Similarly, 1 eV would correspond to an infrared photon of wavelength 1240 nm or frequency 241.8 THz.
In a low-energy nuclear scattering experiment, it is conventional to refer to the nuclear recoil energy in units of eVr, keVr, etc. This distinguishes the nuclear recoil energy from the "electron equivalent" recoil energy (eVee, keVee, etc.) measured by scintillation light. For example, the yield of a phototube is measured in phe/keVee (photoelectrons per keV electron-equivalent energy). The relationship between eV, eVr, and eVee depends on the medium the scattering takes place in, and must be established empirically for each material.
Photon frequency vs. energy particle in electronvolts. The energy of a photon varies only with the frequency of the photon, related by speed of light constant. This contrasts with a massive particle of which the energy depends on its velocity and rest mass. Legend
One mole of particles given 1 eV of energy has approximately 96.5 kJ of energy – this corresponds to the Faraday constant (F ≈ 96485 C mol−1) where the energy in joules of N moles of particles each with energy X eV is X·F·N.
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