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Klein paradox

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

In 1929, physicist Oskar Klein[1] obtained a surprising result by applying the Dirac
equation to the familiar problem of electron scattering from a potential barrier. In
nonrelativistic quantum mechanics, electron tunneling into a barrier is observed, with
exponential damping. However, Kleins result showed that if the potential is of the
order of the electron mass, , the barrier is nearly transparent. Moreover, as
the potential approaches infinity, the reflection diminishes and the electron is always

The immediate application of the paradox was to Rutherford's protonelectron model

for neutral particles within the nucleus, before the discovery of the neutron. The
paradox presented a quantum mechanical objection to the notion of an electron
confined within a nucleus.[2] This clear and precise paradox suggested that an electron
could not be confined within a nucleus by any potential well. The meaning of this
paradox was intensely debated at the time.[2]

1 Massless particles
2 Massive case
o 2.1 The Klein zone
o 2.2 Resolutions for the massive case
3 Other cases
4 See also
5 References
6 Further reading

Massless particles
Consider a massless relativistic particle approaching a potential step of height with
energy and momentum .
The particle's wave function, , follows the time-independent Dirac equation:

And is the Pauli matrix:

Fig. 1 A depiction of the dispersion relation, the x-axis represents momentum while
the y-axis represents energy.

Assuming the particle is propagating from the left, we obtain two solutions one
before the step, in region (1) and one under the potential, in region (2):
Where the coefficients A, A and B are complex numbers. Both the incoming and
transmitted wave functions are associated with positive group velocity (Blue lines in
Fig.1), whereas the reflected wave function is associated with negative group velocity.
(Green lines in Fig.1)

We now want to calculate the transmission and reflection coefficients, They are
derived from the probability amplitude currents.

The definition of the probability current associated with the Dirac equation is:

In this case:

The transmission and reflection coefficients are:

Continuity of the wave function at , yields:

And so the transmission coefficient is 1 and there is no reflection.

One interpretation of the paradox is that a potential step cannot reverse the direction
of the group velocity of a massless relativistic particle. This explanation best suits the
single particle solution cited above. Other, more complex interpretations are
suggested in literature, in the context of quantum field theory where the unrestrained
tunnelling is shown to occur due to the existence of particleantiparticle pairs at the

Massive case
For the massive case, the calculations are similar to the above. The results are as
surprising as in the massless case. The transmission coefficient is always larger than
zero, and approaches 1 as the potential step goes to infinity.
The Klein zone

If the energy of the particle is in the range , then partial

reflection rather than total reflection will result.

Resolutions for the massive case

While the traditional resolution uses particle/anti-particle pair production in the

context of quantum field theory (Hansen 1981), a simpler resolution exists that
substitutes physical pair production for the scattering of negative energy solutions
under the barrier (Alhaidari 2009). This strategy was also applied to obtain analytic
solutions to the Dirac equation for an infinite square well.

Other cases
These results were expanded to higher dimensions, and to other types of potentials,
such as a linear step, a square barrier, etc. Many experiments in electron transport in
graphene rely on the Klein paradox for massless particles.[3][4]

See also
List of paradoxes

1. Klein, O. (1929). "Die Reflexion von Elektronen an einem
Potentialsprung nach der relativistischen Dynamik von Dirac". Zeitschrift fr
Physik 53 (34): 157. Bibcode:1929ZPhy...53..157K.
2. Stuewer, Roger H. (1985). "Niels Bohr and Nuclear Physics". In
French, A. P.; Kennedy, P. J. Niels Bohr: A Centenary Volume. Harvard
University Press. pp. 197220. ISBN 0674624165.
3. Katsnelson, M. I.; Novoselov, K. S.; Geim, A. K. (2006). "Chiral
tunnelling and the Klein paradox in graphene". Nature Physics 2 (9): 620.
arXiv:cond-mat/0604323. Bibcode:2006NatPh...2..620K.
4. Pendry, J. B. (2007). "PHYSICS: Negative Refraction for Electrons?".
Science 315 (5816): 12267. doi:10.1126/science.1140178. PMID 17332397.

Further reading
Dombey, N; Calogeracos, A. (July 1999). "Seventy years of the Klein
paradox". Physics Reports 315 (13): 4158. Bibcode:1999PhR...315...41D.
Robinson, T. R. (2012). "On Klein tunneling in graphene". American Journal
of Physics 80 (2): 141147. Bibcode:2012AmJPh..80..141R.
Calogeracos, A.; Dombey, N. (1999). "History and physics of the Klein
paradox". Contemporary Physics 40 (5): 313. arXiv:quant-ph/9905076.
Bibcode:1999ConPh..40..313C. doi:10.1080/001075199181387.

Physical paradoxes