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# De Broglie Waves & Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle

DE BROGLIE WAVES
De Broglies hypothesis:
We know interference and diffraction of light can only be explained if we assume that the light behaves
as a wave. The photoelectric effect and Compton scattering can be understood only if light behaves as a
particle. Is this dual particle-wave nature a property only of light or of material objects as well? In a bold
and daring hypothesis in his 1924 doctoral dissertation, de Broglie suggested that associated with any
material particle moving with momentum p there is a wave of wavelength , related to p according to

h
,
p

[1]

The wavelength of a particle computed according to Eq. [1] is called its de Broglie wavelength.
The de Broglie wavelength of a nonrelativistic particle

h
h

## can also be expressed in terms of the

p mv

particles kinetic energy. For example, consider an electron freely accelerated from rest at point a to point
b through a potential increase Vb Va =Vba . The work done on the electron eV ba equals its kinetic
energy K.
Therefore, eVba

h
2me eVba

p2
,
2m e

2me eVba

## The speed of a particle is v h m and the kinetic energy is K

1
mv 2 [m 2][h m] 2 h 2 22 m .
2

This result shows that for a given wavelength, the kinetic energy is inversely proportional to the mass.
Hence, the proton with a smaller mass, has more kinetic energy than the neutron.
Example 1:
Compute the de Broglie wavelength of the following:
[1] A 1000-kg automobile traveling at 100m/s.
[2] A 10 gm bullet traveling at 500 m/s.
[3] A smoke particle of mass 10-9 gm moving at 1cm/s.
[4] An electron with a K. E of 1keV.
[5] An electron with a K.E of 100 MeV.
Solution:
[1]

h
h
6.6 x10 34 J .s

6.6 x10 39 m
p
mv [1000kg ][100m / s ]

[2]

h
h
6.6 x10 34 J .s

1.3 x10 34 m
p mv [10 2 kg ][500m / s]

[3]

h
h
6.6 x10 34 J .s

6.6 x10 20 m
12
2
p mv [10 kg ][10 m / s ]

hc

1240 eV .nm

hc

1240 eV .nm
12.4 x10 15 m 12.4 fm
10 8 eV

1.24 nm
[4] p pc
1.0 x10 3 eV

[5] p pc

Note that the wavelengths computed in parts [1] to [3] are far too small to be observed in the laboratory.
Only in the last two cases, in which the wavelength is of the same order as atomic or nuclear sizes, we
have the chance of observing the wavelength.
Because of the smallness of h, only for particles of atomic or nuclear size will the wave behavior be
observable.
It should be mentioned that as in the case of electromagnetic waves, the wave and particle aspects of
moving bodies can never be observed at the same time.
What kind of wave phenomena:
Let us now look into the question of what kind of wave phenomenon is involved in the matter waves of
de Broglie.
In water waves, the quantity that varies periodically is the height of the water surface. In sound waves, it
is pressure. In light waves, electric and magnetic fields vary. What is that varies in the case of matter
waves?
The quantity whose variations makeup matter waves is called the wave function, symbolically
represented by (psi). The value of the wave function associated with a moving body at the particular
point x,y,z in space at the time t is related to the likelihood of finding the body there at the time.
The probability of experimentally finding the body described by the wave function at the point x,y,z at
the time t is proportional to the value of 2 there.
A large value of 2 means the strong possibility of the bodys presence, while a small value of 2
means the slight possibility of its presence. As long as 2 is not actually zero somewhere, there is a
definite chance, however small, of detecting it there. This interpretation was first made by Max Born in
1926.
While the wavelength of the de Broglie waves associated with a moving body is given by the simple
formula =h/mv, to find their amplitude as a function of position and time is often difficult. How to
calculate will be discussed afterwards in another section.
Phase and group velocities:
How fast do de Broglie waves travel?
If we call the de Broglie wave velocity v p , we can apply the usual formula
vp

to find v p . To find the frequency , we equate the quantum expression E h with the relativistic
formula for total energy E=mc2 to obtain
h mc 2

mc 2
h

## The de Broglie wave velocity is, therefore,

vp [

mc 2 h
c2
][
]
h
mv
v

Because the particle velocity v must be less than the velocity of light c, the de Broglie waves always
travel faster than light! In order to understand this unexpected result, we must look into the distinction
between phase velocity and group velocity. Phase velocity is what we have been calling wave velocity. It
may be noted that a group of waves need not have the same velocity as the waves themselves.
We know that a pure sine wave is completely unlocalized- it extends from - to + . A classical particle,
on the other hand, is completely localized. Our quantum description mixes particles and waves. The
particles are approximately, but not completely, localized. An electron, for example, is bound to a specific
atom. We know its position to within an uncertainty of the order of the diameter of the atom [10 -10 m], but
we dont know exactly where it is within that atom. The method used in physics to describe such a
situation is that of a wave packet. A wave packet can be considered to be the superposition of a large
number of waves, which interfere constructively in the vicinity of the particle, giving the resultant wave a
large amplitude, and interfere destructively far from the particle, so that the resultant wave has a small
amplitude in regions where we do not expect to find the particle.
An ideal wave packet would be one such as is pictured in Fig. 1. Its amplitude is negligibly small, except
for a region of space of dimension x. This corresponds to a particle that is localized in the region of
dimension x.

Fig. 1: The resultant of the addition of many sine waves [of different
wavelengths and possibly different amplitudes]

We expect that the mathematical description of the wave packet will be in terms of the addition
[superposition] of a number of waves of varying wavelengths.
We may represent the original waves by the formulae

y 1 A cos[ t kx ]
y 2 A cos[( )t (k k )x ], [3 ]
where
k=wave number=2/
and

=angular frequency=2

The resultant displacement y at any time t and any position x is the sum of y1 and y2 .
Now using
cos cos 2 cos

[ ]
[ ]
cos
2
2

and
cos[ ] cos[ ]

we get
y y1 y 2
2 A cos

[(2 )t ( 2k k ) x]
[ t kx]
cos
2
2

## Since and k are small compared with and k respectively,

2 2
2k k 2k

and so
y 2 A cos[t kx] cos[

k
t
x]
2
2

## Now the phase velocity vp and group velocity vg are defined as

vp

and

vg

d
dk

The angular frequency and wave number of the de Broglie waves associated with a body of rest mass
m0 moving with the velocity v are
E
,
[a]
h
2 p
2
2
k

, [b]

h p
h

2 2

From [a],
E

h

2

h
k k
2

vg

d
d dE dp
1 dE
dE
[
][
][ ] [ ][
][ ]
dk
dE dp dk
dp
dp

p2
, we can find
2m

p
dE
d p2

[
]
v
dp
dp 2m
m

## which is the velocity of the particle.

We can also find group velocity in the following way:

p
p

p 2 c 2 m02 c 4

pc 2

p 2 c 2 m02 c 4

pc 2
E
mvc 2

mc 2

Therefore,
vg

dE
v
dp

Therefore, the de Broglie wave group associated with a moving body travels with the same velocity as
the body.
Example 2:
An electron has a de Broglie wavelength of 2.00 pm=2.00x10 -12 m. Find its K.E, phase velocity and group
velocity of its de Broglie waves.
Solution:
pc

hc

## [4.136 x10 15 eV .s ][3.00 x10 8 m s ]

6.20 x10 5 eV 620keV
2.00 x10 12 m

Therefore,
K .E E E 0

E 02 ( pc) 2 E 0

E E0 / 1 v 2 c 2

Therefore,
c2
c2

1.30c
p
v
0.77c
vg v
v

## HEISENBERGS UNCERTAINTY PRINCIPLE

To regard a moving particle as a wave group implies that there are fundamental limits to the accuracy
with which we can measure such particle properties as position and momentum.
To make clear what is involved, let us look at the wave group of Fig.1 below:

5
x

## Fig. 1: A wave group

The particle that corresponds to this wave group may be located anywhere within the group at a given
time. Of course, the probability density 2 is a maximum in the middle of the group, so that it is most
likely to be found there. Nevertheless, we may still find the particle anywhere where 2 is not actually
zero.
=?

Fig.: 2a

Fig.: 2b

The narrower its wave group, the more precisely a particles position can be specified (Fig. 2a).
However, the wavelength of the waves in such a narrow packet is not well defined; there are not enough
waves to measure accurately. This means that since h mv , the particles momentum mv is not a
precise quantity.
On the other hand, a wide wave group, such as that in Fig. 2b, has a clearly defined wavelength. The
momentum that corresponds to this wavelength is therefore, a precise quantity. But where is the particle
located? The width of the group is now too great for us to be able to say exactly where it is at a given
time.
Thus we have the uncertainty principle:
It is impossible to know both the exact position and exact momentum of an object at the same
time
This principle, which was discovered by Werner Heisenberg in 1927, is one of the most significant of
physical laws.
Now consider what happens when we add to our original wave another wave of slightly different
wavelength [ i.e. different k]. When we had a single sine wave, k was zero [only one k] and x was
infinite [ the wave extended throughout all space]. As we increased k [by adding more waves], we
decreased x [ the wave became more confined]. We seem to have an inverse relationship between k
and x; as one decreases, the other increases. An approximate mathematical relationship between x
and k is
x k 1

...

..

[a]

where the wavy equal sign is taken to mean of the order of magnitude.
The wave number of the de Broglie wave is given by
k
Therefore,

2
2
p[
]

h
k
2

or, p k

[b]

## Using [b] in [a] we get

xp x

[c]

where the x subscript has been added to the momentum to remind us that Eq. [c] applies to motion in a
given direction and relates the uncertainties in position and momentum in that direction only. Similar and
independent relationships can be applied in other directions as necessary; thus

yp y ,

zp z ,

or,

Another form of uncertainty principle is sometimes useful. Let us consider emission of electromagnetic
radiation, where energy E is being emitted in the time interval t in an atomic process. If the frequency of
the electromagnetic wave is then, there is a possibility that we will make an error of at least one cycle
in counting the frequency ( number of waves). So the error i.e. uncertainty in frequency would be

1
t

## The corresponding uncertainty in energy is

E = h
and so,

h
t

or, E t h

a precise for of calculation based on the nature of wave groups changes this result to
E t

The above expression gives the uncertainty principle in terms of energy and time.