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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: August 2012

Complement 2A: Classical model of the atom-field interaction: the Lorentz model


This first complement is devoted to a completely classical approach of lightmatter interaction which was proposed by Lorentz at the end of the nineteenth century, before the advent of quantum mechanics, but after the discovery of the electron. Lorentz' phenomenological model is based on the experimental fact that atoms have well-defined and sharp absorption lines: he assumed that atoms behaved like harmonic oscillators, in which the electrons are bound to the atomic nucleus by a restoring force which varies linearly with its displacement (from its equilibrium point close to a nucleus), and makes them oscillate at a given frequency ω0 equal to the experimentally determined absorption frequency.

Within the frame of this model, we first calculate the electromagnetic field radiated by an oscillating electron. We show that in the absence of an externally applied force the free oscillations of the electron are damped, because electromagnetic energy is radiated at the expense of mechanical energy. We then study the characteristics of the radiation that is emitted when the oscillations are forced by the application of an external oscillatory electromagnetic field of angular frequency ω. We characterize the different regimes of this scattering of the incident electromagnetic wave and finally determine the polarization induced in the atomic medium by the incident electromagnetic wave.

The Lorentz model can be considered as a lowest order approximation to a description of the light–matter interaction, a better approximation being the semi-classical treatment presented in Chapter 2, and the rigorous treatment being the completely quantum mechanical model presented in Chapter 6.