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WKB Method and Some Applications

Gilad Amar - Student No. 319288


Supervisor - Alan S. Cornell
October 31, 2012
Abstract
In quantum mechanics the wave function gives a complete description
of a system through time. This function can be described by the famous
Schrodinger Equation. The second order dierential equation poses a
challenge to be solved for various dierent potentials. In this project,
the aim is to investigate the WKB method, an approximation method
to solve the time-independent Schr odinger Equation, and to employ it in
numerous examples giving an insight into the physics involved in quantum
mechanics.
Contents
1 Introduction 2
1.1 Mathematical Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
1.2 Validity of the WKB Method . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
2 Example 1: Tunneling 6
3 Matching Generalization 8
4 Example 2: Potential Well 11
5 Example 3: Alpha Decay 14
6 Example 4: Spherical Solution 18
7 Concluding Remarks 21
1
1 Introduction
The WKB Approximation is named after three physicists Gregor Wentzel, Hans
Kramers and Lon Brillouin who discovered it in 1926. However the often over-
looked mathematician Harold Jereys had already developed this method for
solving linear, second-order dierential equations such as the Schrodinger Equa-
tion(SE) in 1926. The important contribution from Wentzel, Kramers and Bril-
louin was how to patch two good solutions together at turning points where
the WKB solution is invalid, which will be explained in detail later.[1] The
method provides quasi classical means for obtaining an approximate solution
to the time-independent one-dimensional SE. The limitation of only working
with one dimension is not as restrictive as one might expect, because in many
higher dimensional cases there are symmetries in the potential which make the
problem eectively one dimensional, such as the radial variable in the spherically
symmetric potential of the Hydrogen atom. The WKB approximation method
provides a very close match to the actual wavefuntion which other approxima-
tion tools such as perturbation theory, do not, but can only give an upper bound
on the ground state energy.[2] This makes the WKB method useful for calcu-
lating expectation values, bound state energies, tunneling probabilities and in
the case of alpha decay, the expected half-life.
I will begin this project with the mathematical introduction of the WKB
method. How the 1st order terms are derived and a detailed description as to
where these terms are valid. In the following example, I will tackle the common
one-dimensional potential barrier with a stepwise potential. This example will
be used as a basis for the next section titled Matching Generalization. This
section details the specics of how to patch over a region in which the WKB
terms are invalid for all the remaining examples. All that remains are a further
three problems: The Potential Well, Gamows model of Alpha Decay and my
own solution for a specied Spherical Potential.
1.1 Mathematical Introduction
The way the SE is solved in the WKB method is by assuming that the answer
is of an innite converging series. The one-dimensional SE is:

h
2
2m

(x) + [V (x) E](x) = 0. (1)


The ansatz is:
e
iS(x)
h
(2)
Where
S(x) = S
0
(x) +
h
i
S
1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S
2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S
3
(x)... (3)
To justify why this is a reasonable guess consider a case where the potential is
a constant V . [3] Restricting ourselves for the moment to where kinetic energy
2
is positive.
h
2
2m

(x) + [V E](x) = 0 (4)


where E > V We have the simple solution where p =
_
2m(E V )/h:
= A

e
ipx
(5)
The general solution to the dierential equation would be a linear combination
of the two independent solutions. = A
+
e
ipx
corresponds with a wave moving
to the right and = A

e
ipx
with a wave moving to the left. Here the symbol
p is used as this is the momentum. These solutions are oscillatory functions
with wavelength =
2
p
and amplitude A in both the real and imaginary plane.
The crucial point that gives the hint to our choice of ansatz is this: Suppose
that V (x) is not a constant but varies only slightly with . It makes sense
that the solution is still largely sinusoidal except that both its wavelength and
amplitude are now functions of x. In fact by comparing both the ansatz with
the solution for a constant V we see that S(x) now describes as an innite
converging series. The many resulting terms add up to give an eective varying
amplitude and wavelength as one would expect.[4] Substituting the ansatz into
the SE one obtains, after canceling the common exponential factors:
[S

(x)]
2
= 2m[E V (x)] + hiS

(x) (6)
and:
S

(x) = S

0
(x) +
_
h
i
_
S

1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x) +... (7)
Now for
(S

(x))
2
=
_
S

0
(x) +
_
h
i
_
S

1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x) +...
_
2
(S

(x))
2
= S

0
(x)
_
S

0
(x) + (
h
i
)S

1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x) +...
_
+
h
i
S

1
(x)
_
S

0
(x) + (
h
i
)S

1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x) +...
_
+
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x)
_
S

0
(x) + (
h
i
)S

1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x) +...
_
+
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x)
_
S

0
(x) + (
h
i
)S

1
(x) +
_
h
i
_
2
S

2
(x) +
_
h
i
_
3
S

3
(x) +...
_
+ ... (8)
3
Substituting =
h
i
for convenience and rearranging in powers of
(S

(x))
2
= [S

0
(x)]
2
+ [2S

0
(x)S

1
(x)]
+
2
[S

1
(x)
2
+ 2S

0
(x)S

2
(x)]
+
3
[2S

0
(x)S

3
(x) + 2S

1
(x)S

2
(x)]
+ ... (9)
We see that in order for the left hand side to be equal to the right hand side
of SE, each power of h, term must add to zero. This gives us the following
equations:
[S

0
(x)]
2
= p(x)
2S

0
(x)S

1
(x) +S

0
(x) = 0
[S

1
(x)]
2
+ 2S

0
(x)S

2
(x) +S

1
(x) = 0
2S

0
(x)S

3
(x) + 2S

1
(x)S

2
(x) +S

2
(x) = 0
... (10)
That means each term of S(x) can be found by going down the equations and
solving individually for S
0
(x), then S
1
(x) ad innitum. Of course only the rst
few terms are needed for good accuracy and the more terms one chooses to
work with the more dicult it becomes to apply to solving the SE for dierent
potentials and this approximation method is no longer practical. Solving for
the rst four terms with respect to the potential we obtain: Using Q(x) =
2m[E V (x)] = p(x)
2
for convenience
S
0
(x) =
_
x
x0
_
Qdx

S
1
(x) =
1
4
ln Q
S
2
(x) =
i
8
_
x
x0
_
Q

Q
3
2

(
5
4
)Q
2
Q
5
2
_
dx

S
3
(x) =
1
16
_
Q

Q
2

5
4
Q
2
Q
3
_
(11)
Clearly the expressions for higher order terms become more and more complex.
The 1st order solutions to the SE by substituting for S
0
(x) =
_
x
x0
dx

p(x

)
are:

+
(x) =
a
+
_
p(x)
exp
_
i
h
_
x
x0
dx

p(x

)
_
(12)

(x) =
a

_
p(x)
exp
_

i
h
_
x
x0
dx

p(x

)
_
(13)
One thing which can be noticed right away is what happens when p(x) becomes
equal to zero, at the points where E = V . This makes all the terms diverge and
4
we see the WKB method is invalid at those points. The divergence at classical
turning points (where a classical particle would stop and turn around because
of the potential hill) where E = V is the reason why good solutions from
either side must be patched over the WKB breakdown region. For some added
insight note that
2

|C|
2
p(x)
which shows that in regions where the momentum
is high the probability of the particle being found there is smaller than other
regions where the momentum is low. This has a simple physical interpretation
as the odds of nding a particle is proportional to the time it spends there and
therefore inversely proportional to its velocity.
1.2 Validity of the WKB Method
Concerning the validity of WKB methods solution we need to make sure that
the magnitude higher order terms decreases rapidly, where the the 1st order
term is most inuential. [5] Expressed mathematically we need to know where:

dS
0
dx

h
dS
1
dx

(14)
Some work needs to be done to check what conditions must be met for the
above equation to hold true. So referring to Eq. 11 from the mathematical
introduction for h of order 1:
d
dx
dS
0
dx
= 2
dS
0
dx
dS
1
dx
(15)
Using the previously determined result
dS0
dx
=

Q = p(x) and substituting


into the previous equation and rearranging for dS
1
=
1
2
dp(x)
p(x)
and putting this
in out inequality
|p(x)|

1
2p
dp
dx

(16)
The de Broglie wavelength is =
2
p
Therefore |

4
d
dp
| This means that
the change in is small over a distance of

4
. This is true where the potential
varies slowly; or, stated dierently, where the momentum of the particle is nearly
constant over numerous wavelengths. As mentioned before, the WKB solutions
are invalid at points where the momentum is equal to zero. Approaching these
points as p(x) becomes small, the wavelength becomes large and the above
inequality is no longer true. This validity concern is the motivating feature that
compels us to patch over the point in which V = E and the very close region
nearby.
5
2 Example 1: Tunneling
Here we shall consider the simple case of a particle with momentum p
0
=

2mE
moving from left to right in the following potential:
V (x) =
_
_
_
0 < x < x
1
region I
V (x) x
1
x x
2
region II
0 x
2
< x < + region III
(17)
E is greater than V (x) everywhere except x
1
< x < x
2
where E < V . For
a nite potential step which is also a turning point, the WKB solutions can
be used right up to the discontinuity, provided that the potential varies slowly
as always. This means that the magnitudes and slopes of the WKB solutions
can be matched at the turning point. This will not be the case in the latter
examples as the WKB solutions break down near the turning point and so are
inadmissible for use. In the next section we shall use this example to generalize
what to do for more dicult potentials where there is a point at which E = V .
Classically the transmission coecient giving a measure of the likelihood of
traversing the potential barrier would be zero. Lets investigate this with the
WKB method. In both regions I and III we use the solution we used earlier
for where V = 0.

I
(x) = Ae
ip0x/ h
+Be
ip0x/ h
(18)

III
(x) = E e
ip0x/ h
. (19)
In region III the same solution exists as in Region I, however there is only a
transmitted, right traveling wave. Now in Region II, using the combination of
solutions obtained earlier:

II
(x) =
C
_
p(x)
exp
_

1
h
_
x
x1
dx

p(x

)
_
+
D
_
p(x)
exp
_
1
h
_
x
x1
dx

p(x

)
_
,
(20)
where p(x) =
_
2m(E V (x)). Here we make D = 0 for physical reasons.
Should D = 0 the second term which is an increasing exponential will meet at
x
2
with the solution in region III so
III
will have an amplitude greater than
in region I. When substituted into the Transmission coecient T
|trans|
|inc|
=
|E|
2
|A|
2
. it would be greater than one. This would not make sense as the particles
motion is hindered not enhanced by the potential barrier. To solve for the
coecients A, B, C and D, in order to determine the Transmission coecient
we need to apply the boundary conditions at x
1
and x
2
.There the wave function
must be continuous, and so must its derivative. At x
1
we have
_
x1
x1
dx

p(x

) = 0
:

II
(x
1
) =
C
_
p(x)
(21)

I
(x
1
) = Ae
ip0x1/ h
+Be
ip0x1/ h
(22)
6
Therefore
C
_
p(x)
= Ae
ip0x1/ h
+Be
ip0x1/ h
(23)
We require that the rst derivatives must be continuous at x
1
:

I
(x
1
) =
ip
0
h
(Ae
ip0x1/ h
Be
ip0x1/ h
) =

II
(x
1
) (24)

II
(x
1
) =
C p(x)
h
_
p(x)
(25)
where p

(x
1
) 0. It follows:
ip
0
h
_
Ae
ip0x1/ h
Be
ip0x1/ h
_
=
p(x)C
h
_
p(x)
(26)
Similarly for point x
2
we obtain:
C
_
p(x
2
)
exp
_

1
h
_
x2
x1
dx

p(x

)
_
= E e
ip0x2/ h
(27)
p(x
2
) C
h
_
p(x
2
)
exp
_

1
h
_
x2
x1
dx

p(x

)
_
=
ip
0
h
E e
ip0x2/ h
(28)
With the objective being to nd
E
A
. Using Eq. 23 times
ip0
h
plus Eq. 26 to get
C in terms of A:
C =
2A
1 a/(ip
0
)

a e
ip0x1/ h
(29)
Now substituting this result into the third equation, and keeping things tidy we
say a = p(x
1
) and b = p(x
2
)
E
A
=
2
1 a/(ip
0
)
_
a
b
e
ip0(x1x2)/ h
exp
_

1
h
_
x2
x1
dx

p(x

)
_
(30)
which allows to compute the transition coecient
T =
|E|
2
|A|
2
=
4
b/a +ab/p
2
0
exp
_

2
h
_
x2
x1
dx

p(x

)
_
. (31)
And so we can see the Transmission is hindered exponentially. As expected by
the analytic solution for a constant potential.
The wave functions are not completely solved. For this example, and all the
remaining examples, the normalization constant has not been determined. This
would be done by using the wave function requirement that:
_
+

dx|(x)|
2
= 1 (32)
7
3 Matching Generalization
It was seen that the 1st order WKB solution is

(x) =
a

_
p(x)
exp
_
i
h
_
x
x0
dx

p(x

)
_
(33)
where p(x) is real. In a region where a particle would not be allowed classically,
i.e. where p(x) is imaginary, the solutions will be exponential functions

(x) =
a

_
|q(x)|
exp
_
1
h
_
x
x0
dx

q(x

)
_
(34)
Where q(x) =
_
2m[V (x) E]. The i in the solutions disappears since it is
multiplied from the i coming from the root of
_
p(x). Here we begin to see
a peep of the quantum physics, as the WKB method allows for non-classical
solutions.
In the Tunneling example done previously there was no issue of the momen-
tum going to zero as V E and so the solution on either side of potential wall
works ne without the WKB solution breaking down. Now we shall look at
what happens when the classical region (E > V ) joins the non-classical region
(V > E). At E = V the WKB method breaks down. In this section we shall
provide a general method of how to patch over that discontinuity in the wave
function at x = 0 for all further examples. Like for the tunneling example, the
solutions for either side of the wall are:
1

p(x)
_
Be
i
h
_
0
x
dx

p(x

)
+Ce
i
h
_
0
x
dx

p(x

)
_
if x < 0
1

q(x)
De
i
h
_
x
0
dx

q(x

)
if x > 0
(35)
Except the potential V (x) is not a constant on either side of the turning point
and is not yet dened so the integral as the exponent of e remains. The potential
remains greater than E for all x > 0 and the constants B, C and D have yet to
be determined.
Patching regions x < 0 and x > 0 is done by directly solving the SE at this
point. However we will not solve the actual SE, instead the SE is solved by
expanding around x = 0 where the turning point is, and assuming the change
in the potential around that point to be very small. After solving for the wave
function at these turning point locations the solutions asymptotic expressions
can be matched to the WKB solutions further away and thereby determine the
complete wave function. Taking the term V (x) this can be expanded as a Taylor
series[6] at the point of the discontinuity x = 0 losing no generality should the
point be at x
1
.
V (x) = V (0) + (x)V

(0) +
1
2!
(x)
2
V

(0)... (36)
Locally, in the vicinity of turning points, we reasonably assume the variation
in V (x) will be approximately linear up the point where the short wavelength
8
description is acceptable. So we ignore all second order and higher order terms.
Therefore we have E V (x) = (x)V

(0). Taking the appropriate change


of variables in order to solve this equation z =
2m
h
2
V

(x)
1
3
(x) And taking the
moment to dene =
_
2m
h
2
V

(x)
1
3
for convenience. We obtain:
d
2

p
dz
2
z
p
= 0 (37)
The underscore p refers to the patching region. The Airy Functions Ai(z)
and Bi(z) represented in integral form are
Ai(z) =
1

_

0
_
cos
_
s
3
3
+sz
__
ds (38)
Bi(z) =
1

_

0
_
e

s
3
3
+sz
+ sin
_
s
3
3
+sz
__
ds (39)
These have the asymptotic forms of:
Ai(z)
1
2

z
1
4
e

2
3
z
3
2
(40)
Bi(z)
1

z
1
4
e
2
3
z
3
2
(41)
for z 0 and;
Ai(z)
1

(z)
1
4
sin
_
2
3
(z)
3
2
+

4
_
(42)
Bi(z)
1

(z)
1
4
cos
_
2
3
(z)
3
2
+

4
_
(43)
for z 0.
The analytic solution in the region where the potential is approximately
linear is
p
(x) = aAi(x) + bBi(x) where a and b are constants. The asymp-
totic expressions are of little use unless we can connect the oscillating WKB
solution on the one side to the exponential WKB solution on the other side
of the classical turning point where the potential can be modeled as linear.[7]
Finding the integral of
_
x
x1
[p

(x)]dx which is part of the WKB solution on


the right hand side can be done by substituting in for the potential with in
p(x) =
_
2m[E V (x)] this gives us:
p(x) = h
3
2

x (44)
_
x
0
[p(x

)]dx

= h
3
2
_
x
0

dx

=
2
3
h(x)
3
2
(45)
Giving us the WKB solution as:
(x) =
D

h
3
4
x
1
4
e
2
3
(x)
3
2
(46)
9
This needs to be compared to the asymptotic forms of Airys functions at large
z which is
(x) =
a
2

(x)
1
4
e
2
3
(x)
3
2
+
b

(x)
1
4
e
2
3
(x)
3
2
(47)
Comparing the two solutions we see that they will match if b = 0 and a =
_
4
h
D
But now the comparison must be made on the left hand side of x = 0. Here the
integral
_
0
x
p

(x)dx

=
2
3
h(x)
3
2
. The resulting WKB wave function at the
patching region is:
(x) =
1

h
3
4
(x)
1
4
_
Be
i
2
3
(x)
3
2
+Ce
i
2
3
(x)
3
2
_
(48)
Comparing this again to the patching Airys solution for negative large Z

p
(x) =
a

(x)
1
4
sin
_
2
3
(x)
3
2
+

4
_
(49)
Which can be rewritten as

p
(x) =
a

(x)
1
4
1
2i
_
e
i

4
e
i
2
3
(x)
3
2
e
i

4
e
i
2
3
(x)
3
2
_
(50)
Comparing these with our WKB solution on the left hand side we nd
a
2i

e
i

4
=
B

h
(51)
and
a
2i

e
i

4
=
C

h
(52)
that for the constants B and C:
B = ie
i

4
D (53)
C = ie
i

4
D. (54)
Substituting for both B,C and A into the WKB solution of the left hand side
we nd

I
(x) =
2D
_
p(x)
sin
_
1
h
_
x2
x
p

(x)dx

+

4
_
(55)

I
(x) =
2D
_
p(x)
cos
_
1
h
_
x2
x
[p

(x)]dx



4
_
(56)
In general if we have a turning point x
1
for a barrier on the right with
E > V (x) for x < x
1
E < V (x) for x > x
1
. (57)
10
The matching relations at the turning point is given by:
2
_
p(x)
cos
_
1
h
_
x1
x
dx

p(x

)

4
_

1
_
q(x)
exp
_

1
h
_
x
x1
dx

q(x

)
_
(58)
1
_
p(x)
sin
_
1
h
_
x1
x
dx

p(x

)

4
_

1
_
q(x)
exp
_
1
h
_
x
x1
dx

q(x

)
_
.
In the same fashion we can nd the general connection formula for a barrier on
the left:
1
_
q(x)
exp
_

1
h
_
x1
x
dx

q(x

)
_

2
_
p(x)
cos
_
1
h
_
x
x1
dx

p(x

)

4
_
(59)
1
_
q(x)
exp
_
1
h
_
x1
x
dx

q(x

)
_

1
_
p(x)
sin
_
1
h
_
x
x1
dx

p(x

)

4
_
.
In practice, it is of little importance to know the particular form of the wave
function in the small region of the turning point, provided the WKB solutions
for either side are joined properly. In fact it is no longer necessary to refer to
the Airys functions anymore now that matching has been done.
4 Example 2: Potential Well
Using the results of the WKB patch generalization we shall tackle the potential
well which has two classical turning points at x
1
and x
2
. We may now consider
three regions dened by the intervals (, x
1
)(x
1
, x
2
)(x
2
, ) as regions I, II
and III respectively. In Region I we have the simple, exponential solution of

I
(x) =
C
_
q(x)
e

1
h
_
x
1
x
q(x

)dx

(60)
Picking the solution that goes to zero as x so that () = 0 This is di-
rectly matched to region II by the use of the generalization relations. Therefore
the wave function in region II is:

II
(x) =
2C
_
p(x)
cos
_
1
h
_
x
x1
p(x

)dx



4
_
(61)
With no hard work as this has been done already. However, matching region
II to region III is slightly more dicult. Looking at the equation we have
the integral in the argument of cosine of
_
x
x1
p(x

)dx

this is the wrong way


round in comparison to out matching relations. If one were to try correcting
this by using cos() = cos() then the constant in the argument of cosine
would be

2
; again not being the correct sign to use in out matching relations.
This diculty is overcome using the cosine addition formula cos(A + B) =
11
cos(A) cos(B)sin(A) sin(B) in such a way that the correct integral is preserved
with the correct accompanying constant. We make the substitution:
=
1
h
_
x2
x1
p(x

)dx



2
. (62)
Then it follows by splitting the integral:
1
h
_
x
x1
p(x

)dx

= +

2

_
x2
x
p(x

)dx

(63)
Substituting this result into the wave function

II
(x) =
2C
_
p(x)
cos
_
1
h
_
x2
x
p(x

)dx



4

_
(64)
And using the addition formula mentioned

II
(x) =
2C
_
p(x)
_
cos() cos
_
1
h
_
x2
x
p(x

)dx



4
_
+ sin() sin
_
1
h
_
x2
x
p(x

)dx



4
__
(65)
Using the matching relations we can convert this into the equation for region
III

III
(x) =
C
_
p(x)
_
cos()e

1
h
_
x
x
2
q(x

)dx

2 sin()e
1
h
_
x
x
2
q(x

)dx

_
(66)
At this point it might seem acceptable to have both terms in the solution for any
value of . However an important subtlety is that we require the wave funtion to
go to zero as x approaches innity. This means that the second term, a growing
exponential function, is not allowed. This imposes the limit that sin() = 0 or
= n, where n is an integer. Rearranging for the integral and using h =
h
2
:
_
x2
x1
p(x

)dx

=
(n +
1
2
)h
2
(67)
This result corresponds with the Bohr-Sommerfeld quantization condition where
n can be interpreted as the number of nodes of the wave function between
the classical turning points. This gives an insight into the physics, boundary
conditions naturally impose quantized energies. To be more specic, we apply
the WKB method to a commonly known problem in undergraduate quantum
mechanics courses we consider; the harmonic oscillator where the potential is
the parabolic equation of V (x) =
1
2
x
2
To evaluate the quantization condition
we must know the turning points x
1
and x
2
where the momentum is zero.
p(x) =
_
2mE mx
2
= 0 (68)
x
2
=
2mE
m
(69)
12
x
1
=
_
2mE

(70)
x
2
=
_
2mE

(71)
However noticing we are integrating an even function
_
x2
x1
p(x)dx = 2
_
x2
0
p(x)dx =
_
x2
0
_
2mE mx
2
dx (72)
Using the solution for integrals[8]:
_
_
a
2
u
2
du =
u
2
_
a
2
u
2
+
a
2
2
arcsin
_
u
a
_
+C (73)
In this case
a =
_
2E

(74)
u = x (75)
Therefore
_
x2
x1
p(x

)dx

= 2

m
_
x
2
_
2E

x
2
+
E

arcsin
_
x

2E
_
+C
_
x2
0
(76)
Using the result for x
2
we conclude with:
E
n
=
_
n +
1
2
_
h (77)
where
=
1

_
m

(78)
This semiclassical approximation gives us the same result for the possible en-
ergies as the exact solution. In general we expect the WKB method to give
accurate solutions several wavelengths from the turning point, or for very high
quantum numbers ie. near classical. So the exact expression for the energy
levels of the harmonic oscillator can, in a way, be viewed as something of an acci-
dent considering that it even works exactly for the ground state energy (n = 0).
13
5 Example 3: Alpha Decay
In 1928 George Gamow used the idea of quantum tunneling to explain alpha
decay by certain radioactive nuclei. The alpha particle, consisting of two pro-
tons and two neutrons can be considered to be repelled by the remainder of
the nucleus charge electrically once it gets far enough from the nucleus that it
experiences the Coulomb Potential[9] and not the Strong and Weak forces of the
nucleus. The process can now be viewed as an alpha particle tunneling through
the potential barrier. This is incidentally the rst time that quantum mechanics
had been used to explain results in nuclear physics. The potential at far from
the nucleus will be:
V (r) =
2(Z 2)e
2
r
. (79)
using basic electrostatics. Take note that we are working with a particle in three
dimensions, however due to spherical symmetry the radial dierential equation
can be separated from the angular components and so r is the eective one
dimensional variable[10]. It must be said that we are also considering only the
case of zero orbital angular momentum (l = 0), otherwise there would be an
angular momentum barrier in addition to the coulomb barrier. This will all
be shown explicitly in the next example. The potential can be divided into
three qualitatively dierent regions. Region I where V is a negative constant,
representing the approximate nite square well of the attractive nuclear force.
Region II, where E < V and tunneling occurs followed by region III where
the potential is of the same Coulomb potential as region II but E > V where
classically the alpha particle would be repelled from the nucleus.
V (x) =
_
_
_
V
0
E > V region I 0 < r < b
2(Z2)e
2
r
E < V region II b < r < c
2(Z2)e
2
r
E > V region III c < r <
(80)
b is the radius of the nucleus and shall represent the width of the potential
well. Point c is the classical turning point on the outside of the nucleus. In
region I we have as the general WKB solution

I
(r) =
A

p
0
exp(
i
h
_
r
0
p(r

)dr

) +
B

p
0
exp(
i
h
_
r
0
p(r

)dr

) (81)
Dening p
0
=
_
2m

(E V
0
) and using Eulers formula to express this in terms
of sin and cos:

I
(r) =
A

p
0
_
cos
_
p
0
r
h
_
+i sin
_
p
0
r
h
__
+
B

p
0
_
cos
_
p
0
r
h
_
i sin
_
p
0
r
h
__
(82)
As
_
r
0
p(r

)dr

=
_
r
0
_
2m

(E V
0
)dr

= p
0
r We know that, due to the spher-
ical symmetry
I
(r) =
I
(r).

I
(r) =
A

p
0
_
cos
_
p
0
r
h
_
i sin
_
p
0
r
h
__
+
B

p
0
_
cos
_
p
0
r
h
_
+i sin
_
p
0
r
h
__
(83)
14
This will be true should A = B Therefore the wave function in region I reads:

I
(r) =
2iA

p
0
sin
_
p
0
r
h
_
(84)
Absorbing the 2i into the normalization constant

I
(r) =
A

p
0
sin
_
p
0
r
h
_
(85)
Again we encounter the same diculty as in the potential well. Our wave
function is not in a form conducive to using the matching relations. So we
employ the same trick and use the addition formula. Rewriting the wave
function as:

I
(r) =
A

p
0
sin
__
p
0
(r b)
h
+

4
_
+
_
p
0
b
h


4
__
(86)
Applying the trigonometric addition formula:

I
(r) =
A

p
0
_
sin
_
p
0
(b r)
h


4
_
+ cos
_
p
0
b
h


4
_
+ cos
_
p
0
(b r)
h


4
_
+ sin
_
p
0
b
h


4
__
(87)
using sin() = sin(). Applying the matching relations as mere routine at
this point, returning the wave function in region II:

II
(r) =
A

p
_
cos
_
p
0
b
h


4
_
exp
_
1
h
_
r
b
dr

p(r

)
_
+
1
2
sin
_
p
0
b
h


4
_
exp
_

1
h
_
r
b
dr

p(r

)
_
_
, (88)
The only item to be careful with is that nowp
0
is a function of r.
p =
_
2m

(V (r) E) . (89)
This in turn is matched to the wave function in region III in the usual way:

III
(r) =
A

p
_
2 cos
_
p
0
b
h


4
_
exp
_
1
h
_
c
b
dr p(r)
_
cos
_
1
h
_
r
c
dr

p(r

)

4
_

1
2
sin
_
p
0
b
h


4
_
exp
_

1
h
_
c
b
dr p(r)
_
sin
_
1
h
_
r
c
dr

p(r

)

4
_
_
,
(90)
Where
p =
_
2m

(E V (r)) , (91)
The minor subtlety to take care of; in region II the exponential parts exp(
1
h
_
r
b
dr

p(r

))
would extend into region III if not for the matching relations. In region III
these exponentials could be written as
exp(
1
h
_
c
b
dr

p(r

)
1
h
_
r
c
dr

p(r

)) , (92)
15
It is only the piece of the exponential extending from c to r which is trans-
formed according to the matching relations. The piece extending from b to c
is a constant.
II
is the sum of two exponential functions; one increasing and
the other decreasing. While this may make consistent mathematical sense it
is lacking in physical sense. This is because the increasing exponential function
will quickly come to dominate over the decreasing one for any non-zero coe-
cient. This would mean that the sinusoidal wave in region III would have a
greater amplitude than in region I and is more likely to be there.[11] Mean-
ing we must impose a constraint of the system such that the coecient of the
increasing term must be zero:
cos(
p
0
b
h


4
) , (93)
And so the metastable state condition is:
p
0
=
(4n + 3)h
4b
, (94)
Giving the lowest (n = 0) state requiring that:
p
0
=
3h
4b
, (95)
As we established in the Tunneling example, the transmission is related to the
barrier potential in the following way:
T

= e
2
, (96)
where
=
1
h
_
c
b
dx

p(x

) , (97)
The variable c can be determined because we know that at the turning point
V (c) = E
c =
2e
2
(z 2)
E
(98)
Substituting for c into the integral we see:
=
1
h
_
c
b
dr

2mE
_
c
r
1 , (99)
This can be easily solved using the trigonometric substitution r = c sin
2
(u) and
the approximation c b and so c b c; skipping to the answer:
=

2mE
h
[c

2
2

bc] , (100)
At this point Gamow considered the alpha particle to be rattling inside the
inside the nucleus with a velocity .[12] This would the the average time between
16
collisions with the potential barrier will be
2b

so the frequency of collisions is

2b
. Hence the probability of the particle escaping per second is:

2b
e
2
, (101)
Using the denition of the lifetime of the particle as the inverse of the previous
function:
=
2b

e
2
, (102)
Taking the natural logarithm of this obtain after some manipulation:
ln() = ln
_
2b

_
+
2e
2
(z 2)
h
_
2m

E

8
h
_
(z 2)e
2
bm

, (103)
Finally we can see how well this theory correlates with the experimentally deter-
mined half-lives. First we shall need to make a few approximations. The velocity
can be estimated by using the classical kinetic energy E =
1
2
m

2
. The value
for b can be approximated by using the liquid drop model of the nucleus.[13]
This means b 1.2A
1
3
.10
13
cm In fact the entire logarithmic expression can
be further approximated by noticing that the ln
_
b
_
2m
E
_
is eectively con-
stant for the very small range of E (about 4 to 10MeV). The result is a linear
relationship, when plotting log() against
1

E
where:
log(
sec
)
148

E
54 (104)
The above graph is the graph of log() against
1

E
for experimentally measured
values. We clearly see that the Gamows theory of alpha decay compares ex-
tremely well for the isotopes of Uranium and Thorium. A very useful result of
employing the WKB method.
17
6 Example 4: Spherical Solution
To nd a solution for SE in a spherical potential it makes sense to adopt spherical
co-ordinates to exploit the symmetry. The SE for multiple dimensions is:
h
2
2m

2
+ [E V ] = 0 , (105)
The Laplacian in spherical co-ordinates is:

2
=
1
r
2

r
_
r
2

r
_
+
1
r
2
sin()

_
sin()

_
+
1
sin
2
()
_

2

2
_
, (106)
Where is the polar angle and , the azimuthal angle. In spherical coordinates
the SE reads as:

h
2
2m
_
1
r
2

r
_
r
2

r
_
+
1
r
2
sin()

_
sin()

_
+
1
sin
2
()
_

2
__
+V = E ,
(107)
In fact this can be solved by using the procedure known as Separation of Vari-
ables. [electrodynamics textbook]Following this procedure we assume the solu-
tion for (r, , ) is separable into products of functions such that (r, , ) =
R(r)Y (, ) substituting this the SE equation we obtain:

h
2
2m
_
Y
r
2
R
r
_
r
2
R
r
_
+
R
r
2
sin()
Y

_
sin()
Y

_
+
R
sin
2
()
_

2
Y

2
__
+V RY = ERY ,
(108)
Multiplying by
2mr
2
RY h
2
:
_
1
R

r
_
r
2
R
r
_

2mr
2
h
2
[V (r) E]
_
+
1
Y
_
1
sin()
Y

_
sin()
Y

_
+
1
sin
2
()

2
Y

2
_
= 0 ,
(109)
The rst term is dependant on only the variable r. The second dependant
on only and . Therefore each term must be constant for the equation to
always be true. Using the separation constant as l(l +1). The reason for the
constant to be exactly that is only due to foresight of the solutions and the most
convenient way of expressing them.
_
1
R

r
_
r
2
R
r
_

2mr
2
h
2
[V (r) E]
_
= l(l + 1)
1
Y
_
1
sin()

_
sin()
Y

_
+
1
sin
2
()

2
Y

2
_
= l(l + 1) , (110)
The interest of the report is to investigate the WKB method. To do this we
require that the wave function is eectively one dimensional, in particular for
spherical symmetry that the wave function be dependant solely on r. Since r is
18
the variable of interest I will not consider the whole argument to solve for the
general solution of Y (, ), but will instead quote the general solution as:
Y
m
l
(, ) = (1)
m

(2l + 1)(l |m|)!


4(l +|m|)!
e
im
P
m
l
(cos ) , (111)
In the derivation to the solution it is discovered that l, the azimuthal quantum
number, turns out to be only integer values (l = 0, 1, 2...) and the magnetic
quantum number m = l, l + 1...l 1, l. In addition P
m
l
(cos ) is the Leg-
endre polynomial as one would expect in spherical symmetry, with cos as its
argument. To suit our requirement that be entirely independent on of both
and we must work with the quantum numbers l and m, equal to zero. This
makes out P
0
0
= 1 and so:
Y
0
0
(, ) =
_
1
4
, (112)
The entire wave function, as a result, is:
(r, , ) = R(r) , (113)
After having absorbed the the constant
_
1
4
into R(r). Now to solve for the ra-
dial part of the equation using the WKB method. The radial equation simplies
if we use the change of variable (r) = rR(r). [14] Then R =

r
,
dR
dr
=
r
d
dr

r
2
and
d
dr
= r
2
(
dR
dr
) = r
2 d
2

dr
2
, with some manipulation gives us:
d
2

dr
2
+
2m
h
2
_
E V (r)
h
2
l(l + 1)
2mr
2
_
= 0 , (114)
As we said, l must equal zero. Of course if we were satised with nding only
the radial part of the wave function, by using the WKB method, we could relax
the condition thatY
m
l
be equal to a constant. But the result would not be
the wave function, only its one product R(r) from the separation of variables.
In that case, the equation looks just like the one dimensional case, except the
potential, V (x) is replaced by the eective potential. V
eff
(r) = V (r) +
h
2
l(l+1)
2mr
2
,
where the additional term is known as the centrifugal barrier term, alluded to
in the Alpha Decay example. In fact we can see that Gamows explanation of
Alpha Decay is merely the solution to this SE for the specied Coulomb and
Nuclear Force potential.
To make things interesting, the solution that we shall consider is for a po-
tential:
V (r) = K|r| , (115)
an absolute potential wall, where the constant K is positive and of the appro-
priate dimensions. Determining the wave function in Region I, where E > V
follows exactly the same as for Gamows Alpha Decay except the integral,
19
_
r
0
p(r

)dr

= p
0
r where p
0
=
_
2m(E K|r|). Therefore in region I, we
have:

I
(r) =
A
_
p(r)
sin
_
1
h
_
r
0
p(r

)dr

_
, (116)
Requiring the same trick as in Alpha Decay to make this function amenable
to matching to the wave function in region II. Rewriting
I
:

I
(r) =
A
_
p(r)
[sin
_
1
h
_
a
r
p(r

)dr



4
_
cos
_
1
h
_
a
0
p(r

)dr



4
_
+cos
_
1
h
_
a
r
p(r

)dr



4
_
sin
_
1
h
_
a
0
p(r

)dr



4
_
] , (117)
Which carries to region II like so:

II
(r) =
A
_
q(r)
[cos
_
1
h
_
a
0
p(r

)dr



4
_
exp
_
1
h
_
r
a
q(r

)dr

_
+
1
2
sin
_
1
h
_
a
0
p(r

)dr



4
_
exp
_

1
h
_
r
a
q(r

)dr

_
] , (118)
We require the rst, growing exponential, term to have a coecient of zero in
order for the wave function to make sense.
cos
_
1
h
_
a
0
p(r

)dr



4
_
= 0 , (119)
1
h
_
a
0
p(r

)dr



4
=

2
+n , (120)
Where n is an integer. This leads to the requirement:
_
a
a
p(r

)dr

= h
_
n +
3
4
_
, (121)
This diers from the Bohr-Sommerfeld quantization conditions we achieved ear-
lier:
_
a
a
p(r

)dr

=
h
2
_
n +
1
2
_
, (122)
The relation between the n
0
, (subscript 0 to indicate it comes from the require-
ment that the coecient be equal to zero) and n
B
, of the Bohr-Sommerfeld
quantization condition , must then be n
0
= 2n
B
+ 1. I am not sure of the
dierence and why there is one.
As we expect, due to boundary conditions there will be quantized energies.
Utilizing the quantization condition:
_
a
a
p(r

)dr

=
h
2
_
n +
1
2
_
=
_
a
a
_
2m
h
2
_
E K|r|dr

, (123)
20
Using the fact that the integral is of an even function, and using the substitution
of u = E K|x|, so du = Kdx, we get:
4

2mE
3
3K
=
n +
1
2
h
2
, (124)
Therefore:
E
n
= m

1
3
_
3K(n +
1
2
)h
8

2
_
2
3
, (125)
As an interesting aside, should we instead have a potential:
V (r) =
_
_
_
K|r| |r| z region I
2Kz K|r|z z r 2z region II
0 2z < r < + region III
(126)
Where z is a positive constant. Essentially a triangular potential barrier. We
see that if the particles energy is less than the maximum potential of Kz the
energy must be quantized. Higher energies however, have no such limitation.
7 Concluding Remarks
The WKB method, has been seen to provide neat and accurate solutions for a
range of problems, particularly the potential barrier and the potential well when
compared to the analytically determined solutions. In fact, should one desire,
the accuracy of the WKB method can be enhanced by using second or even
third order terms. The WKB method works best for slowly varying potentials,
but has the strict requirement that the problem be eectively one dimensional.
This is quite a limitation to its usefulness, however by exploiting symmetries of
a problem the WKB method can actually be applied to more situations than
this limitation might suggest. In my opinion, though the method can be applied
to many circumstances, they are all qualitatively the same problem, requiring
them to all be reduced to a one-dimensional problem. The WKB method is not
very useful at all should the potential at hand not be convenient. Of course,
this does not mean it is useless, only that it can, at best, only be one of the
tools in the toolbox.
In conclusion, the WKB method has met the aims of this project, giving an
insight into the physics of quantum mechanics. It has been explicitly seen that
boundary conditions have to be imposed for the wave function to be solved in
a physically meaningful way. As a consequence of these boundary conditions;
quantized energies appear. In addition the WKB method was used to explain
the perplexing half-life of heavy unstable elements, as in Gamows alpha decay,
giving a convincing argument that Quantum Mechanics theory greatly correlates
with the real world.
21
References
[1] http://www.tcm.phy.cam.ac.uk/ bds10/aqp/handout approx.pdf Date Ac-
cessed 05-09-2011;
[2] Applications of Quantum Mechanics, by B J Cole, published by University
of the Witwatersrand, 2002.;
[3] Griths, David J. Introduction to Quantum Mechanics (2nd Edition),
Pearson, Reed College(2005);
[4] Dynamics at the Horsetooth Volume 2A, Focused Issue: Asymptotics and
Perturbations, 2010. Perturbation Theory and the WKB Method Jaime
Shinn Department of Mathematics Colorado State University Fall 2010;
[5] http://electron6.phys.utk.edu/QM1/modules/m7/wkb.htm Last Date Ac-
cessed 05-09-2011;
[6] Abramowitz, Milton; Stegun, Irene A. (1970), Handbook of Mathematical
Functions with Formulas, Graphs, and Mathematical Tables, New York:
Dover Publications, Ninth printing;
[7] Quantum Mechanics, Leonard I. Schi, Mcgraw Hill, 1949;
[8] Calculus (6th Edition), James Stewart, BrooksCole Publishers, 2008 ;
[9] Introduction to Electrodynamics(3rd Edition), David J. Griths, Pearson
Prentice Hall, 2005;
[10] Schaums Outline of theory and problems of Quantum Mechanics, Peleg
and Pinni and Zaarur, Mcgraw Hill, 1998;
[11] Quantum Mechanics (Vol. 1), Albert Messiah, North-Holland Publishing
Company, 1961;
[12] Quantum Mechanics, Professor John W. Norbury, University of Wisconsin-
Milwaukee, 2000;
[13] Concepts of Modern Physics(6th Edition), Arthur Beiser, Mcgraw Hill,
2003;
[14] A Textbook of quantum mechanics, Piravonu Mathews Mathews, K.
Venkatesan, Mcgraw Hill, 1979;
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