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Operator Methods Harmonic Oscillator

Operator Methods Harmonic Oscillator

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Published by Gökhan Gömek

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Published by: Gökhan Gömek on Nov 29, 2011
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The operator method for solvingthe harmonic oscillatorin quantum mechanics
Anders Blom
Division of Solid State TheoryDepartment of Physics, Lund Universityolvegatan 14 A, S–223 62 Lund, Sweden
Anders.Blom@teorfys.lu.se
March 19, 2003
1 Introduction
This paper is a comprehensive review of the operator method formalism for thelinear, one-dimensional harmonic oscillator in quantum mechanics. Any basic leveltextbook on quantum mechanics contains similar discussions, and we do not claimto bring forth any new material here; it is merely a compilation, with comments,of the material found in books such as J. J. Sakuari,
Modern Quantum Mechanics
(Addison-Wesley, New York, 1994).The harmonic oscillator is a problem of fundamental importance in quantummechanics
1
. Apart from being one of the few exactly solvable quantum mechanicalproblems, its physical relevance reaches far beyond the most obvious interpretationof the oscillator as an analogue of the classical spring force problem. Any potential,of arbitrarily complicated form, which possesses a minimum or equilibrium can – tolowest non-trivial order – be treated as a harmonic oscillator. Higher order terms inthe expansion of the physical potential can then be added as perturbations.
1
Of course the harmonic oscillator is a very fundamental problem also in classical mechanics;see e.g. the extensive discussions of the classical oscillator in H. Goldstein,
Classical Mechanics
,2nd Ed. (Addison-Wesley, New York, 1980).
1
 
To solve the Schr¨odinger wave equation with the harmonic oscillator potential,and thereby obtain the wave function and the eigenenergies, is by no means ex-tremely complicated. It does however involve some differentiating and integrating,and one needs to master the properties of Hermite polynomials, in order to makeorder of things. In contrast, the operator method offers an almost effortless road toobtaining the eigenstates and their properties, and is also rather straightforward toapply to perturbation theory. In general, the operator formalism offers many advan-tages over the wave picture, by focusing on the physical properties of the quantummechanical states, instead of any particular representation of them, as the wavefunction is
2
.
2 Transforming the Hamiltonian
The potential energy of the harmonic oscillator is often written as
12
kx
2
, where
k
isthe force constant. However, since there are many occasions where there is no real”force” acting, but yet the relevant potential is that of an oscillator, we shall preferto express things in the mass
m
of the particle and the oscillator frequency
ω
. Thusthe Hamiltonian we set out to diagonalize is
=
p
2
2
m
+12
2
x
2
,
(2.1)where
p
and
x
are the momentum and position operators, respectively.The usefulness of the operator method lies in the definition of two new, dimen-sionless operators,
a
=
 
2
x
+
i
 
12
m
ω p,
(2.2)
a
=
 
2
x
i
 
12
m
ω p.
(2.3)Note that these two operators are non-Hermitian, since obviously (
a
)
=
a
. Byusing the canonical commutation relation [
x,p
] =
i
, it can immediately be shownfrom the definitions above that
a,a
= 1 (2.4)
2
See the first chapters of Sakuarai’s book for a most enlightening discussion, in which the wavefunction is not given any particular status, as is the case in Schr¨odinger’s wave mechanics, butinstead is shown to be just the representation of the state in the basis of the position eigenstates.
2
 
which, as will become apparent during the following discussion, is the propertywhich defines almost all the important physical properties of the harmonic oscillator.It is generally the case that the commutation relationships between the operatorsdetermine the physics – or perhaps one should say that it is the opposite which istrue. Nevertheless, once the commutators are known, the other properties of theeigenstates and eigenvalues usually follow, almost automatically.The question one may ask at this point is, how do we know that
a
(and
a
),defined above, will help us solve the problem? Of course, as we will see, this isin fact so, but how does one arrive at these definitions? Without claiming to berigorous or complete, let us consider how one can get at least a reasonable idea fora new operator that may be helpful.The first observation to make is that the Hamiltonian (2.1) contains a sum of squares, and our general experience tells us that if we can complete the square, wemay be in better shape to solve the problem. Let us therefore define a new operator
b
=
β 
x
x
+
iβ 
 p
 p,
since
b
2
then will contain both
x
2
and
p
2
, as desired. Complex numbers arise morenaturally in quantum mechanics than in classical mechanics, and we know that thetwo wave functions Ψ and Ψ
must be treated as separate quantities, for instancewhen we deal with probability currents. Thus the Hermitian conjugate of this op-erator,
b
=
β 
x
x
iβ 
 p
 p,
is yet another, independent operator. We have now actually made a canonicaltransformation from
p
and
x
to
b
and
b
without ”losing anything”, meaning thatthe volume of the phase space remains intact.If we the relationships,
x
= (
b
+
b
)
/
2
β 
x
,
(2.5)
 p
= (
b
b
)
/
2
iβ 
 p
.
(2.6)and insert this into the Hamiltonian (2.1), we get after some re-arrangements
=18
bb
+
b
b
1
mβ 
2
 p
+
2
β 
2
x
18
b
2
+
b
2
1
mβ 
2
 p
2
β 
2
x
.
Thus, if we take
β 
x
=
mωβ 
 p
(2.7)the Hamiltonian simplifies to
=14
mβ 
2
 p
bb
+
b
b
.
(2.8)3

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