We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What are Matter Waves?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 21, 2024
Our promise to you
All The Science is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At All The Science, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

Matter waves, also called de Broglie waves, are the wave-like nature of all matter, including the atoms that make up your body. One of the first and most important findings of quantum physics is that electrons have a dual wave-particle nature. It soon became apparent that all matter has this dual nature, but because conventional matter has a high momentum relative to electrons, the wavelength of the matter waves is very small, and in most cases barely noticeable. For instance, the wavelength of the matter that makes up a person is on the order of 10−35 meters, far smaller than can be observed using current measurement technologies.

The concept of matter waves was first elucidated by French physicist Louis de Broglie, who was extending early theories proposed by Albert Einstein, Max Planck, and Neils Bohr. Bohr primarily studied the quantum behavior of hydrogen atoms, whereas de Broglie tried to extend these ideas to determine a wavelength equation for all matter. De Broglie came up with a theory and presented it in his 1924 PhD thesis, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1929. This was the first case where the Nobel Prize was awarded for a PhD thesis.

Equations known as the de Broglie relations describe the dual wave-particle nature of all matter. These relations state that the wavelength of a particle is inversely proportional to its momentum (mass times velocity) and its frequency is proportional to its kinetic energy, which is a frame-dependent (relative) value. Thus, particles with low momentum, such as electrons at room temperature, have a de Broglie wavelength of about 8 nanometers. Particles with even lower momentum, such as helium atoms at temperatures of only a few nanoKelvins, might have matter waves with wavelengths as long as a few microns. Under such unusual conditions, the realities of the quantum world are almost brought up into a the macroscale realm.

De Broglie's theories of matter waves were confirmed in 1927, when Bell Labs scientists Lester Germer and Clinton Davisson fired slow-moving electrons at a crystalline nickel target. The resulting diffraction pattern demonstrated the wave-like characteristics of the electrons, similar to those known to be displayed by photons such as those in x-rays. The matter waves were only able to be observed in this instance because the electrons used to produce them had very low momentum. Since 1927, the wave-like nature of various other elementary particles has been demonstrated empirically.

All The Science is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.
Discussion Comments
By jennythelib — On Jun 17, 2011

@jholcomb - I guess research on light must have come first at least to some extent, because that's how quantum physicists knew that electrons were behaving like waves. X-rays in particular had been studied a lot. (Turns out they're dangerous. Oops.)

I remember learning this stuff in school, too. I'm pretty sure I once had an assignment that involved calculating the wavelength of a baseball! Not sure how I did that, though, because I don't think we ever got as far as the actual de Broglie equations.

By jholcomb — On Jun 14, 2011

I remember learning in school about the wave-particle duality of light. For years (decades?), a debate raged about whether light should be considered a wave or a particle. Different scientists did all sorts of tests, some proving it was a wave, some proving it was a particle. Finally, they had to admit it was both.

With matter, I'm guessing the assumption was that it was made up of particles? And it turned out later that matter also is both waves and particles?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated All The Science contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
Learn more
All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

All The Science, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.