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May 17, 2014

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A basic introduction to QM concepts. Work in progress.

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A basic introduction to QM concepts. Work in progress.

© All Rights Reserved

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1 Preface

The purpose of this primer is to help a beginner understand the fundamentals of

Quantum Mechanics, and develop an overall sense of the concept of symmetry

principles underlying the main area of study of Advanced Physics. If you are

interested in any area of research work related to Applied Physics, Chemistry,

even Biology in some cases, the a basic understanding of Quantum Mechanics

is indispensable to your career. I can only presume that in spite of this obvious

need to have a respectable course in this subject, currently there isnt much

for engineering students. My aim is to try to ll this chasm between need and

reality, or at least make a rst attempt to understand the obstacles faced by

students or teachers in bridging this gap.

With this in mind, I would hope that you nd this primer helpful in making

you familiar with the essential tools and techniques of Modern Physics, and if

there is any lapse on my part in delivering the right material, or my method

of presentation, then please let me know, so it can be improved for future (and

present) students/researchers interested in the subject.

0.2 Introduction

I will like to begin the rst chapter by discussing the origins of the Schr

odinger

equation, the concept of operators in quantum mechanics, and the fundamental

dierence in the framework of Quantum Mechanics (QM) and Classical Me-

chanics (CM).

0.2.1 CM and QM way of thinking

I am sure that by your second semester, you must have had a preliminary

discussion about Quantum Mechanics, and the Schr

2

2m

2

+ V (r, t) = i

t

(1)

where (r, t) is the wavefunction of a particle of mass m in a general

potential V (r, t). Based on your professor, either you were told that this is a

fundamental equation of QM as is, or that the derivation of this equation are

too intricate/heuristical to delve into at the moment.

My rst aim is to disabuse you of such notions before we do anything else.

To understand the origin of Schr odinger equation and appreciate its true

meaning, we rst need to go back to CM, where we know the standard expression

for writing the Hamiltonian of a system as

p

2

2m

+ V (r, t) = H (2)

this represents the Hamiltonian in terms of the canonical momentum p and

co-ordinates r. Comparing Eq. (1) and (2), the inquisitive reader will be able

1

to make out som familiarity: if we take

p = i, and H = i

t

(3)

in Eq. (2), and multiply on both sides of it with (r, t), we get Eq. (1)!

But the real questions are: why this particular choice, why the need for

(r, t), and what is (r, t).

To understand this particular result [Eq. (1)], we need to understand the

fundamental dierence between the CM way of thinking and the QM way of

thinking.

In CM, when we talk about the state of a particle (or a system of particles),

we mean the (set of) value(s) of the canonical momentum (momenta) and co-

odinate(s) of the particle (system). One example is where we can use Newtons

second law to determine the acceleration of a particle under the inuence of a

force, mr = F. Here, the canonical momentum turns out to be p = m r, and so

p = F.

The canonical momentum is not always p = m r. For an example, see Ap-

pendix ??, where I discuss the general approach to nding the canonical mo-

mentum in CM.

In QM, however, the state of a system is an abstract quantity, and the

variables we call canonical momentum and co-ordinates act as operators on

this abstract quantity. The values we get in experiments when measuring the

position and momentum of particles is a result of the action of these operators

on the abstract quantity. This abstract quantity is closely related to what we

call the wavefunction (r, t) that you saw in Eq. (1). But for now, assume that

the abstract quantity is nothing but (r, t).

While at this point it might seem confusing (and if you believe in the deter-

ministic nature of CM as the truth of reality, then you might be infuriated) to

learn of this perplexing way of thinking in QM. But as your understanding of

QM deepens, you will appreciate its beauty and subtlety.

Part of that subtlety is understanding the driving philosophy behind QM:

unication of matter and wave.

As you know from high school physics, it was de Broglie who rst combined

Einsteins energy-mass equivalence relation E = mc

2

to Einsteins quantisation

principle E = h to derive the relation between the now called de Broglie

wavelength and momentum of the particle = h/p. This is a result of the old

quantum mechanics, before Schr

of the new quantum mechanics.

If we try to understand de Broglies motivation, he was trying to come up

with an equivalent of the wave nature for particles that light was known to

have till that point. But since experiments at the time (Black body radiation,

photoelectric eect) had shown that light also seemed to have a particle nature,

it stands to reason that if nature indeed has an inherent symmetry embedded

as its fundamental characteristic, there must be a corresponding wave nature

for the electrons, protons and all matter in existance.

2

This wave equivalent for particles is what the wavefunction is all about. In

Schrodingers interpretation, the wavefunction is a form of charge distribution

of the particle. This way of thinking is also helpful, since it is the wavefunction

from which we derive the current ow of the charged particle in question. Just

as in wave and uid mechanics, there is a continuity equation relating the den-

sity (derived from the wavefunction) to the current ow (also derived from the

wavefunction)

d

dt

= j (4)

where,

= ||

2

, (5)

j =

i

2m

(

) (6)

is evident that is generally complex.

Up till here, we have answered why the need for the wavefunction, and what

is the wavefunction. Now comes the question of why the expressions for (now)

the operators p and H, as in Eq. (3). For this, we need to work in the QM way

of thinking, i.e. the QM framework of operators and wavefunction.

As I said earlier, in QM momentum and co-ordinates and all the variables we

know in CM act as operators on the abstract quantity called the wavefunction.

These operators are known as observables in QM, because these are the pa-

rameters which we can record in experiments. And now we need to understand

how these operators aect the wavefunction.

0.2.2 Momentum Operator

Thinking about momentum, from our day-to-day classical view of reality, we

understand that if a particle possesses momentum, then it means that it is in

motion with respect to at least some inertial frames. Thus, in the CM frame-

work, if a particle has momentum, it is in motion.

To nd the equivalent statement in QM (and hence understand the meaning

of the momentum operator), we need to keep in mind that here momentum is

an operator; it is not something that is possessed, but something that operates

on the wavefunction. The operation in this case is translation (the equivalent

of what the particle does in CM).

I will use the fact stated in the above paragraph to now derive the expression

for p in Eq. (3). For simplicity, I will consider the translation of the wavefunction

along the x-axis only. The method can then be generalised to the 3D case

(Problem 1).

Consider the translation of the wavefunction (x) (I drop the time variable

here, because it does not enter the discussion here) by an innitesimal distance

dx. That means that there is some operator

T (note the hat symbol), which

3

depends on p

x

, and acts on (x) in such a way that:

Now,

T is not just p

x

(till now, I have only discussed what the momentum op-

erator does to the wavefunction, not how). In order to nd the true dependence

of

T on p, you will have to make a leap of faith, and trust me when I say that

1

T = exp(i p

x

dx/) (8)

We know the Maclaurin series for exp(A), where A is an operator

exp(A) = I + A +

A

2

2!

+

A

3

3!

+ . . . (9)

and for the RHS of Eq. (7), we known the Taylor series

(x + dx) = (x) + dx

x

+

dx

2

2!

x

2

+

dx

3

3!

x

3

+ . . . (10)

Combining Eq. (7), (8), (9), and (10), we get:

(x) +

dx

1!

p

x

(x) +

dx

2

2!

p

x

2

(x) +

dx

3

3!

p

x

3

(x) + . . . =

(x) + dx

x

+

dx

2

2!

x

2

+

dx

3

3!

x

3

+ . . .

(11)

Comparing the coecients of dierent orders of the dierential dx on the LHS

and RHS in the above equation, we arrive at the relation

p

x

=

i

x

(12)

Similarly (Problem 1), you will nd that

p

y

=

i

y

, and p

z

=

i

z

(13)

and therefore p = i.

Of course, this is just one of many ways in which a derivation has been

proposed for the Schr

odinger used

the classical Hamilton-Jacobi equation

H

q,

S

q

= E (14)

1

For a discussion on how to arrive at this relation, we need to go into something called

Lie algebra, where you will nd statement like p

x

is the generator for T, or p

x

is the Lie

algebra element for the Lie group element T. These type of statements pertain to a very

important branch of Physics called Group Theory. Basically, it is a study of symmetries of

nature, and it can be shown that all the concepts of energy and momentum arise from these

symmetries, even their conservation laws.

4

for the time-independent case. Here, E is the energy of the system, H is the

Hamiltonian, and S is the Hamiton principle action functon

2

.

Problems

1. Derive the expressions for p

y

and p

z

using the argumet presented above

and show that p = i.

2. How can you go about deriving the operator relation for H? What eect

does it have on the wavefunction?

3. Up till now, you have only seem , the reduced Plancks length, in all the

expressions. Why is p = i, and not p = ih? (h = 2)

0.3 Applications of Schrodingers Equation

Now that we know of (at least) one way to derive and understand the role of

the Schrodinger equation, I will show its use through some standard examples.

I will consider here examples of so called stationary states, where the

solutions for are standing waves, i.e., waves that are localised in a region of

space, without any propagation.

As it will turn out, these are the kind of states that dene the existence of

the electron bound to the nucleus in an atom. In CM, an electron orbiting the

nucleus must always radiate energy since it is under constant acceleration. But

this would have implied that the electrons distance from the nucleus would have

decreased exponentially, as it inevitably crashed into it. Among many others,

this was one of the fundamental crisis in Physics in the early 20th century,

and the standing wave solutions of QM helped reolsved this and many other

paradoxes of the time (while introducing some of its own

3

).

Since stationary states are standing wave solutions, the energy of the system

remains constant, and the wavefunction itself does not have any time depen-

dence, save for the time-dependent phase factor, as well see.

I start the discussion, with the simples case you have already heard of in

your second semester course: the innite square well.

0.3.1 Innite Square Well

I only consider the 1D case, the potential for which is dened as:

V (x) =

0, 0 x a

, x < 0, x > a

(15)

2

S here is a cousin of the functional, the Action S, which takes a function and returns a

real number. It is a very important concept in Physics, and all the equations of motions can

be derived from S and the Action Principle.

3

to wit, wave collapse, entanglement, tunnelling, etc.

5

Outside the well, the wavefunction has to be zero, as no nite-value function

can satisfy the potential conditon there. Inside the well, we have:

2

2m

x

2

+ V

0

= i

t

(16)

To nd the solution of this partial dierential equation (PDE), I will use the

method of separation of variables, which implies that I can write the complete

solution as

(x, t) = X(x)T(t), 0 x a, 0 t < (17)

which gives us

2

2m

X

X

+ V

0

= i

T

T

(18)

6

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