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Photon vs. Electron: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on January 18, 2024
A photon is a quantum of electromagnetic energy without mass, while an electron is a negatively charged subatomic particle with mass.

Key Differences

Photons are the basic units of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation. They are massless and always move at the speed of light. Electrons, on the other hand, are fundamental particles that make up atoms. They have a small but finite mass and a negative electric charge.
Photons are integral to theories of light and electromagnetic radiation, exhibiting both wave and particle properties. Electrons play a crucial role in electricity, magnetism, and thermal conductivity, and also display wave-particle duality.
The energy of a photon depends on its frequency, with higher frequency photons carrying more energy. Electrons have kinetic and potential energy based on their motion and interactions. Both photons and electrons can interact with matter, though in different ways.
Photons are key to technologies like lasers, solar cells, and fiber optics, exploiting their light properties. Electrons are essential in electronics, powering devices through their flow (electric current) and are central to semiconductor technology.
In quantum mechanics, photons are force carriers for electromagnetic interactions. Electrons, apart from their particle nature, are described by quantum states and are subject to the Pauli exclusion principle, influencing their arrangement in atoms.

Comparison Chart


Has mass


Negative charge


Always travels at the speed of light
Varies, but never reaches the speed of light

Role in Electromagnetism

Transmits electromagnetic forces
Involved in electrical currents

Quantum Behavior

Exhibits wave-particle duality
Exhibits wave-particle duality

Photon and Electron Definitions


A photon is a quantum of electromagnetic radiation.
In photosynthesis, photons from sunlight are absorbed by plants.


An electron is a subatomic particle with a negative charge.
Electrons orbit the nucleus of an atom.


A photon is a carrier of light and other forms of electromagnetic energy.
The colors we see are the result of photons at different wavelengths.


An electron exhibits properties of both particles and waves.
Electron diffraction demonstrates the wave-like behavior of electrons.


A photon is a massless particle that travels at the speed of light.
The speed of a photon is a fundamental constant in physics.


An electron obeys the principles of quantum mechanics.
The behavior of electrons in atoms is described by quantum orbitals.


A photon is an elementary particle in the electromagnetic force.
Photons are exchanged in electromagnetic interactions between charged particles.


An electron has a role in electricity, magnetism, and thermal conductivity.
The flow of electrons in a wire constitutes an electric current.


A photon exhibits both wave and particle properties.
The dual nature of a photon is evident in experiments like the double-slit test.


An electron is a fundamental constituent of matter.
Electrons are essential for the formation of chemical bonds.


The elementary particle of light and other electromagnetic radiation; the quantum of electromagnetic energy. The photon is the massless, neutral vector boson that mediates electromagnetic interactions.


A stable elementary particle in the lepton class having a negative electric charge of 1 elementary unit (about 1.602 × 10-19 coulombs) and a mass of about 9.11 × 10-28 grams. Electrons are found in shells orbiting the nuclei of atoms and can also move freely through space as cathode rays in a cathode-ray tube or as beta particles emitted by radioactive nuclei, or flow in a current through a conducting material impelled by an electric potential difference.


(particle) The quantum of light and other electromagnetic energy, regarded as a discrete particle having zero rest mass, no electric charge, and an indefinitely long lifetime. It is a gauge boson.


(particle) The subatomic particle having a negative charge and orbiting the nucleus; the flow of electrons in a conductor constitutes electricity.


A quantum of electromagnetic radiation; an elementary particle that is its own antiparticle


Alloys of magnesium and other metals, like aluminum or zinc, that were manufactured by the German company Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron.


Amber; also, the alloy of gold and silver, called electrum.


One of the fundamental subatomic particles, having a negative charge and about one thousandth the mass of a hydrogen atom. The electron carries (or is) a natural unit of negative electricity, equal to 3.4 x 10-10 electrostatic units, and is classed by physicists as a lepton. Its mass is practically constant at the lesser speeds, but increases due to relativistic effects as the velocity approaches that of light. Electrons are all of one kind, so far as is known. Thus far, no structure has been detected within an electron, and it is probably one of the ultimate composite constituents of all matter. An atom or group of atoms from which an electron has been detached has a positive charge and is called a cation. Electrons are projected from the cathode of vacuum tubes (including television picture tubes) as cathode rays and from radioactive substances as the beta rays. Previously also referred to as corpuscle, an obsolete term. The motion of electrons through metallic conductors is observed as an electric current. A particle identical to the electron in mass and most other respects, but having a positive instead of a negative charge, is called a positron, or antielectron


An elementary particle with negative charge


What is a photon?

A quantum of electromagnetic radiation, essentially a particle of light.

What is the charge of an electron?

Electrons have a negative charge.

Can photons be absorbed?

Yes, photons can be absorbed by matter, transferring energy.

What determines the energy of a photon?

The energy of a photon is determined by its frequency.

How do photons interact with matter?

Photons can be absorbed, transmitted, or reflected by matter.

How do electrons contribute to electricity?

Electricity is the flow of electrons through a conductor.

What is the role of photons in vision?

Photons are detected by the eyes, enabling vision.

What is an electron?

A negatively charged subatomic particle found in atoms.

Do photons have mass?

No, photons are massless.

Do photons have a wavelength?

Yes, photons have a wavelength corresponding to their energy.

How fast do electrons move in an atom?

Electron speeds vary, but are generally a fraction of light speed.

What happens when a photon hits a solar panel?

It can be converted into electrical energy.

Are all electrons identical?

Yes, all electrons are identical in mass and charge.

What is electron spin?

A quantum property of electrons, contributing to magnetic moments.

Can photons be polarized?

Yes, photons can exhibit different states of polarization.

Do photons always travel at light speed?

Yes, in a vacuum, photons always travel at the speed of light.

Can electrons exist independently of atoms?

Yes, electrons can exist free of atoms as in cathode rays.

How do electrons impact magnetism?

Electron spin and motion contribute to magnetic properties.

Are electrons involved in chemical reactions?

Yes, electrons play a key role in forming chemical bonds.

Are photons affected by gravity?

Yes, photons can be bent by gravitational fields, as in gravitational lensing.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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