Dynamics of electrons subjected to a constant amplitude classical electromagnetic (EM) wave is investigated as a fundamental, representative problem in the physics of interacting quantum and classical waves. In the nonrelativistic regime (electrons as Schrödinger waves), the electron energy acquires a constant and a time dependent part. Driven by EM waves, both parts scale strongly with the amplitude, but we expect no resonant enhancement since the parallel electron “speed” of nonrelativistic electrons could never match the wave phase velocity. In the relativistic regime (electron as a Klein–Gordon wave), however, a class of electron waves (with parallel speed matching the EM phase speed) are resonantly excited to extremely high energies. Such a direct resonant energy transfer from intense electromagnetic waves constitutes a mechanism that could, in principle, power the most energetic of cosmic rays (this mechanism will work on protons just as well). Some predictions of the theory will, hopefully, be tested in laboratory laser experiments. The nonrelativistic calculations will also be examined in the context of recent experiments using photon-induced near-field electron microscopy in detail.

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