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The work function from what we've been introduced to in lecture shows the minimum energy required to eject an electron from a metal surface. It also shows a relationship between the energy of the incoming photon and the kinetic energy of the e- since it is the difference between the energy of the incoming photon (E=hv) and the work function of the metal.
The work function is the energy needed to remove an electron from the surface of a metal. There is an equation that in words goes like this "E(photon)-E(energy needed to remove e-)=kinetic energy of e-). So the work function is needed to solve for the kinetic energy of an electron, or excess energy. Usually the work function is given in the question, or if the question states that a certain amount of energy releases an electron with no kinetic energy then you know that energy is the work function.
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