Peeter Joot's (OLD) Blog.

Math, physics, perl, and programming obscurity.

My submission for PHY356 (Quantum Mechanics I) Problem Set 3.

Posted by peeterjoot on November 30, 2010

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Problem 1.


A particle of mass m is free to move along the x-direction such that V(X)=0. The state of the system is represented by the wavefunction Eq. (4.74)

\begin{aligned}\psi(x,t) = \frac{1}{{\sqrt{2\pi}}} \int_{-\infty}^\infty dk e^{i k x} e^{- i \omega t} f(k)\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.1)

with f(k) given by Eq. (4.59).

\begin{aligned}f(k) &= N e^{-\alpha k^2}\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.2)

Note that I’ve inserted a 1/\sqrt{2\pi} factor above that isn’t in the text, because otherwise \psi(x,t) will not be unit normalized (assuming f(k) is normalized in wavenumber space).

(a) What is the group velocity associated with this state?
(b) What is the probability for measuring the particle at position x=x_0>0 at time t=t_0>0?
(c) What is the probability per unit length for measuring the particle at position x=x_0>0 at time t=t_0>0?
(d) Explain the physical meaning of the above results.


(a). group velocity.

To calculate the group velocity we need to know the dependence of \omega on k.

Let’s step back and consider the time evolution action on \psi(x,0). For the free particle case we have

\begin{aligned}H = \frac{\mathbf{p}^2}{2m} = -\frac{\hbar^2}{2m} \partial_{xx}.\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.3)

Writing N' = N/\sqrt{2\pi} we have

\begin{aligned}-\frac{i t}{\hbar} H \psi(x,0) &= \frac{i t \hbar }{2m} N' \int_{-\infty}^\infty dk (i k)^2 e^{i k x - \alpha k^2} \\ &= N' \int_{-\infty}^\infty dk \frac{-i t \hbar k^2}{2m} e^{i k x - \alpha k^2}\end{aligned}

Each successive application of -iHt/\hbar will introduce another power of -it\hbar k^2/2 m, so once we sum all the terms of the exponential series U(t) = e^{-iHt/\hbar} we have

\begin{aligned}\psi(x,t) =N' \int_{-\infty}^\infty dk \exp\left( \frac{-i t \hbar k^2}{2m} + i k x - \alpha k^2 \right).\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.4)

Comparing with 1.1 we find

\begin{aligned}\omega(k) = \frac{\hbar k^2}{2m}.\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.5)

This completes this section of the problem since we are now able to calculate the group velocity

\begin{aligned}v_g = \frac{\partial {\omega(k)}}{\partial {k}} = \frac{\hbar k}{m}.\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.6)

(b). What is the probability for measuring the particle at position x=x_0>0 at time t=t_0>0?

In order to evaluate the probability, it looks desirable to evaluate the wave function integral 1.4.
Writing 2 \beta = i/(\alpha + i t \hbar/2m ), the exponent of that integral is

\begin{aligned}-k^2 \left( \alpha + \frac{i t \hbar }{2m} \right) + i k x&=-\left( \alpha + \frac{i t \hbar }{2m} \right) \left( k^2 - \frac{i k x }{\alpha + \frac{i t \hbar }{2m} } \right) \\ &=-\frac{i}{2\beta} \left( (k - x \beta )^2 - x^2 \beta^2 \right)\end{aligned}

The x^2 portion of the exponential

\begin{aligned}\frac{i x^2 \beta^2}{2\beta} = \frac{i x^2 \beta}{2} = - \frac{x^2 }{4 (\alpha + i t \hbar /2m)}\end{aligned}

then comes out of the integral. We can also make a change of variables q = k - x \beta to evaluate the remainder of the Gaussian and are left with

\begin{aligned}\psi(x,t) =N' \sqrt{ \frac{\pi}{\alpha + i t \hbar/2m} } \exp\left( - \frac{x^2 }{4 (\alpha + i t \hbar /2m)} \right).\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.7)

Observe that from 1.2 we can compute N = (2 \alpha/\pi)^{1/4}, which could be substituted back into 1.7 if desired.

Our probability density is

\begin{aligned}{\left\lvert{ \psi(x,t) }\right\rvert}^2 &=\frac{1}{{2 \pi}} N^2 {\left\lvert{ \frac{\pi}{\alpha + i t \hbar/2m} }\right\rvert} \exp\left( - \frac{x^2}{4} \left( \frac{1}{{(\alpha + i t \hbar /2m)}} + \frac{1}{{(\alpha - i t \hbar /2m)}} \right) \right) \\ &=\frac{1}{{2 \pi}} \sqrt{\frac{2 \alpha}{\pi} } \frac{\pi}{\sqrt{\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 }} \exp\left( - \frac{x^2}{4} \frac{1}{{\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 }} \left( \alpha - i t \hbar /2m + \alpha + i t \hbar /2m \right)\right) \\ &=\end{aligned}

With a final regrouping of terms, this is

\begin{aligned}{\left\lvert{ \psi(x,t) }\right\rvert}^2 =\sqrt{\frac{ \alpha }{ 2 \pi (\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 }) }\exp\left( - \frac{x^2}{2} \frac{\alpha}{\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 } \right).\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.8)

As a sanity check we observe that this integrates to unity for all t as desired. The probability that we find the particle at position x > x_0 is then

\begin{aligned}P_{x>x_0}(t) = \sqrt{\frac{ \alpha }{ 2 \pi (\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 }) }\int_{x=x_0}^\infty dx \exp\left( - \frac{x^2}{2} \frac{\alpha}{\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 } \right)\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.9)

The only simplification we can make is to rewrite this in terms of the complementary error function

\begin{aligned}\text{erfc}(x) = \frac{2}{\sqrt{\pi}} \int_x^\infty e^{-t^2} dt.\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.10)


\begin{aligned}\beta(t) = \frac{\alpha}{\alpha^2 + (t \hbar/2m)^2 },\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.11)

we have

\begin{aligned}P_{x>x_0}(t_0) = \frac{1}{{2}} \text{erfc} \left( \sqrt{\beta(t_0)/2} x_0 \right)\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.12)

Sanity checking this result, we note that since \text{erfc}(0) = 1 the probability for finding the particle in the x>0 range is 1/2 as expected.

(c). What is the probability per unit length for measuring the particle at position x=x_0>0 at time t=t_0>0?

This unit length probability is thus

\begin{aligned}P_{x>x_0+1/2}(t_0) - P_{x>x_0-1/2}(t_0) &=\frac{1}{{2}} \text{erfc}\left( \sqrt{\frac{\beta(t_0)}{2}} \left(x_0+\frac{1}{{2}} \right) \right) -\frac{1}{{2}} \text{erfc}\left( \sqrt{\frac{\beta(t_0)}{2}} \left(x_0-\frac{1}{{2}} \right) \right) \end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.13)

(d). Explain the physical meaning of the above results.

To get an idea what the group velocity means, observe that we can write our wavefunction 1.1 as

\begin{aligned}\psi(x,t) = \frac{1}{{\sqrt{2\pi}}} \int_{-\infty}^\infty dk e^{i k (x - v_g t)} f(k)\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.14)

We see that the phase coefficient of the Gaussian f(k) “moves” at the rate of the group velocity v_g. Also recall that in the text it is noted that the time dependent term 1.11 can be expressed in terms of position and momentum uncertainties (\Delta x)^2, and (\Delta p)^2 = \hbar^2 (\Delta k)^2. That is

\begin{aligned}\frac{1}{{\beta(t)}} = (\Delta x)^2 + \frac{(\Delta p)^2}{m^2} t^2 \equiv (\Delta x(t))^2\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(1.15)

This makes it evident that the probability density flattens and spreads over time with the rate equal to the uncertainty of the group velocity \Delta p/m = \Delta v_g (since v_g = \hbar k/m). It is interesting that something as simple as this phase change results in a physically measurable phenomena. We see that a direct result of this linear with time phase change, we are less able to find the particle localized around it’s original time x = 0 position as more time elapses.

Problem 2.


A particle with intrinsic angular momentum or spin s=1/2 is prepared in the spin-up with respect to the z-direction state {\lvert {f} \rangle}={\lvert {z+} \rangle}. Determine

\begin{aligned}\left({\langle {f} \rvert} \left( S_z - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} \right)^2 {\lvert {f} \rangle} \right)^{1/2}\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.16)


\begin{aligned}\left({\langle {f} \rvert} \left( S_x - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_x {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} \right)^2 {\lvert {f} \rangle} \right)^{1/2}\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.17)

and explain what these relations say about the system.

Solution: Uncertainty of S_z with respect to {\lvert {z+} \rangle}

Noting that S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} = S_z {\lvert {z+} \rangle} = \hbar/2 {\lvert {z+} \rangle} we have

\begin{aligned}{\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} = \frac{\hbar}{2} \end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.18)

The average outcome for many measurements of the physical quantity associated with the operator S_z when the system has been prepared in the state {\lvert {f} \rangle} = {\lvert {z+} \rangle} is \hbar/2.

\begin{aligned}\Bigl(S_z - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} \Bigr) {\lvert {f} \rangle}&= \frac{\hbar}{2} {\lvert {f} \rangle} -\frac{\hbar}{2} {\lvert {f} \rangle} = 0\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.19)

We could also compute this from the matrix representations, but it is slightly more work.

Operating once more with S_z - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} on the zero ket vector still gives us zero, so we have zero in the root for 2.16

\begin{aligned}\left({\langle {f} \rvert} \left( S_z - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} \right)^2 {\lvert {f} \rangle} \right)^{1/2} = 0\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.20)

What does 2.20 say about the state of the system? Given many measurements of the physical quantity associated with the operator V = (S_z - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1})^2, where the initial state of the system is always {\lvert {f} \rangle} = {\lvert {z+} \rangle}, then the average of the measurements of the physical quantity associated with V is zero. We can think of the operator V^{1/2} = S_z - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} as a representation of the observable, “how different is the measured result from the average {\langle {f} \rvert} S_z {\lvert {f} \rangle}”.

So, given a system prepared in state {\lvert {f} \rangle} = {\lvert {z+} \rangle}, and performance of repeated measurements capable of only examining spin-up, we find that the system is never any different than its initial spin-up state. We have no uncertainty that we will measure any difference from spin-up on average, when the system is prepared in the spin-up state.

Solution: Uncertainty of S_x with respect to {\lvert {z+} \rangle}

For this second part of the problem, we note that we can write

\begin{aligned}{\lvert {f} \rangle} = {\lvert {z+} \rangle} = \frac{1}{{\sqrt{2}}} ( {\lvert {x+} \rangle} + {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ).\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.21)

So the expectation value of S_x with respect to this state is

\begin{aligned}{\langle {f} \rvert} S_x {\lvert {f} \rangle}&=\frac{1}{{2}}( {\lvert {x+} \rangle} + {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ) S_x ( {\lvert {x+} \rangle} + {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ) \\ &=\hbar ( {\lvert {x+} \rangle} + {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ) ( {\lvert {x+} \rangle} - {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ) \\ &=\hbar ( 1 + 0 + 0 -1 ) \\ &= 0\end{aligned}

After repeated preparation of the system in state {\lvert {f} \rangle}, the average measurement of the physical quantity associated with operator S_x is zero. In terms of the eigenstates for that operator {\lvert {x+} \rangle} and {\lvert {x-} \rangle} we have equal probability of measuring either given this particular initial system state.

For the variance calculation, this reduces our problem to the calculation of {\langle {f} \rvert} S_x^2 {\lvert {f} \rangle}, which is

\begin{aligned}{\langle {f} \rvert} S_x^2 {\lvert {f} \rangle} &=\frac{1}{{2}} \left( \frac{\hbar}{2} \right)^2 ( {\lvert {x+} \rangle} + {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ) ( (+1)^2 {\lvert {x+} \rangle} + (-1)^2 {\lvert {x-} \rangle} ) \\ &=\left( \frac{\hbar}{2} \right)^2,\end{aligned}

so for 2.22 we have

\begin{aligned}\left({\langle {f} \rvert} \left( S_x - {\langle {f} \rvert} S_x {\lvert {f} \rangle} \mathbf{1} \right)^2 {\lvert {f} \rangle} \right)^{1/2} = \frac{\hbar}{2}\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(2.22)

The average of the absolute magnitude of the physical quantity associated with operator S_x is found to be \hbar/2 when repeated measurements are performed given a system initially prepared in state {\lvert {f} \rangle} = {\lvert {z+} \rangle}. We saw that the average value for the measurement of that physical quantity itself was zero, showing that we have equal probabilities of measuring either \pm \hbar/2 for this experiment. A measurement that would show the system was in the x-direction spin-up or spin-down states would find that these states are equi-probable.

Grading comments.

I lost one mark on the group velocity response. Instead of 3.23 he wanted

\begin{aligned}v_g = {\left. \frac{\partial {\omega(k)}}{\partial {k}} \right\vert}_{k = k_0}= \frac{\hbar k_0}{m} = 0\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(3.23)

since f(k) peaks at k=0.

I’ll have to go back and think about that a bit, because I’m unsure of the last bits of the reasoning there.

I also lost 0.5 and 0.25 (twice) because I didn’t explicitly state that the probability that the particle is at x_0, a specific single point, is zero. I thought that was obvious and didn’t have to be stated, but it appears expressing this explicitly is what he was looking for.

Curiously, one thing that I didn’t loose marks on was, the wrong answer for the probability per unit length. What he was actually asking for was the following

\begin{aligned}\lim_{\epsilon \rightarrow 0} \frac{1}{{\epsilon}} \int_{x_0 - \epsilon/2}^{x_0 + \epsilon/2} {\left\lvert{ \Psi(x_0, t_0) }\right\rvert}^2 dx = {\left\lvert{\Psi(x_0, t_0)}\right\rvert}^2\end{aligned} \hspace{\stretch{1}}(3.24)

That’s a whole lot more sensible seeming quantity to calculate than what I did, but I don’t think that I can be faulted too much since the phrase was never used in the text nor in the lectures.


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