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SERIES  ARTICLE

Snippets of Physics
3. Quantum Mechanics on the Run*

T Padmanabhan

H o w d o e s o n e stu d y q u a n tu m m e c h a n ic s in a n
a c c e le ra te d fra m e ? T h e a n sw e r to th is q u e s tio n
le a d s to so m e su rp risin g in sig h ts in to th e so lu -
tio n s o f th e S ch rÄo d in g e r e q u a tio n fo r h a r m o n ic
o sc illa to r!
T Padmanabhan works at
IUCAA, Pune and is In a n y in ertia l fra m e (S¹ ), th e w av e fu n ctio n d escrib -
interested in all areas in g a free p a rticle o f u n it m a ss sa tis¯ es th e sta n d a rd
of theoretical physics,
S ch rÄo d in g er eq u a tio n
especially those which
have something to do with
@Ã 1 @ 2Ã
gravity. i = ¡ ; (1 )
@t 2 @ x¹ 2
w h ere w e h av e u sed u n its in w h ich ~ = 1 a n d h av e co n -
¯ n ed o u r a tten tio n to o n e d im en sio n w ith a co o rd in a te
x¹ . C o n sid er n ow a n o th er o b serv er (S ), w h o is m ov -
*
This is based on an article
in g a lo n g th e x -a x is in a n a rb itra ry m a n n er. T h is o b -
originally published by the au- serv er ca n u se a co o rd in a te x w ith x¹ ´ x + l(t), w h ere
thor in Physics Education, Vol. l(t) is a n a rb itra ry fu n ctio n o f tim e. (In th e sp irit o f
23, No.2, p.139, 2006. n o n -rela tiv istic m ech a n ics, w e a ssu m e th a t th e tim e co -
o rd in a te is th e sa m e fo r b o th th e o b serv ers.). V iew ed
fro m S¹ , th e o rig in o f S m ov es w ith th e tra jecto ry l(t).
W h a t h a p p en s to th e S ch rÄo d in g er eq u a tio n a n d its so lu -
tio n s in th is a ccelera ted fra m e? S o m ew h a t su rp risin g ly,
sta n d a rd tex tb o o k s d o n o t d iscu ss th is issu e. It tu rn s
o u t th a t th e co o rd in a te tra n sfo rm a tio n s to n o n -in ertia l
fra m es p rov id e so m e in terestin g in sig h ts in to q u a n tu m
m ech a n ics w h ich w e w ill d iscu ss in th is in sta llm en t.
O n e w ay to a tta ck th is p ro b lem is a s fo llow s: W e k n ow
2
th a t th e free p a rticle L a g ra n g ia n L¹ = (1 = 2 )x¹_ ex p ressed
_ 2 in S .
in term s o f th e x co o rd in a te is ju st L¹ = (1 = 2 )(x_ + l)
Keywords (T h e ov erd o t d en o tes th e tim e d eriva tiv e.) E x p a n d in g
Quantum mechanics. th e sq u a re a n d m a n ip u la tin g th e ex p ressio n a little, w e

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SERIES  ARTICLE

ca n rew rite th e L a g ra n g ia n in th e fo rm
1 d h i df 1 _2
L¹ = x_2 ¡ Äl(t)x + t K + x l_ ´ L + ; K_ = l:
2 d dt 2
(2 )
In cla ssica l m ech a n ics, w e k n ow th a t tw o L a g ra n g ia n s
rela ted b y th e L¹ = L + (d f (x ;t)= d t) w ill lea d to th e sa m e
eq u a tio n s o f m o tio n . S o , th e a ccelera ted o b serv er co u ld
ig n o re th e (d f = d t) term in th e L a g ra n g ia n in (2 ) a n d
ju st u se th e L a g ra n g ia n L = (1 = 2 )x_2 ¡ Äl(t)x to d escrib e
th e p h y sics. T h is m a k es sen se, b eca u se L d escrib es a
p a rticle m ov in g u n d er th e a ctio n o f a (tim e d ep en d en t)
fo rce a (t) ´ Äl(t). T h is is p recisely th e p seu d o -fo rce o n e
ex p ects to see in th e a ccelera ted fra m e.
T h e co rresp o n d in g q u a n tu m th eo ry, b a sed o n th e L a -
g ra n g ia n L , h ow ev er, w ill lea d to th e S ch rÄo d in g er eq u a -
tio n :
@Ã 1 @ 2Ã
i = ¡ + a (t)x à (3 )
@t 2 @x2
w h ich , in g en era l, ca n b e d i± cu lt to so lv e. O u r ¯ rst ta sk
is to u n d ersta n d th e p h y sics b eh in d th is eq u a tio n .
T o d o th is, let u s ta k e a clo ser lo o k a t th e q u a n tu m
m ech a n ics b a sed o n th e tw o L a g ra n g ia n s rela ted b y a
to ta l tim e d eriva tiv e, lik e L¹ = L + (d f (x ;t)= d t). T h e
ex tra term does ch a n g e th e fo rm o f ca n o n ica l m o m en tu m
[p = @ L = @ x_] a n d H a m ilto n ia n [H = p x_ ¡ L ]. U sin g
(d f = d t) = (@ f = @ t) + x_(@ f = @ x ), it is ea sy to see th a t th e
n ew m o m en tu m a n d H a m ilto n ia n a re rela ted to th e o ld
o n es b y :
p¹ = p + (@ f = @ x ) ´ p + f 0; H¹ = H ¡ (@ f = @ t) = H ¡ f_: Transformation of
(4 ) Schrödinger
W h a t h a p p en s to a so lu tio n à (t;x ) o f th e S ch rÄo d in g er equation to non-
eq u a tio n in q u a n tu m th eo ry, w h en w e g o fro m L to L¹ ? inertial frames can
C lea rly, Ã h a s to ch a n g e su ch th a t th e ex p ecta tio n va lu es
provide same
o f th e o p era to rs p = ¡ i@ = @ x ;H = i@ = @ t ch a n g e a cco rd -
interesting insights
in g to eq u a tio n (4 ). It is ea sy to see th a t th is req u ires
to quantum
à to b e m o d i¯ ed b y a p h a se fa cto r: à ! à ¹ = e if à . F o r
mechanics.
ex a m p le,

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SERIES  ARTICLE

Z
hp in ew = d x à ¹ ¤ [¡ i(@ = @ x¹ )] à ¹
Z
£ ¡ if
¤
¤ @f
= dxà e [¡ i(@ = @ x )]e if à = hp io ld + ; (5 )
@x
w h ere w e h av e u sed th e sta n d a rd resu lt:

e ¡ if [¡ i(@ = @ x )]e if = ¡ i(@ = @ x ) + f 0: (6 )

[N o te th a t (@ = @ x¹ )t = (@ = @ x )t , etc.] T h u s th e a d d itio n
o f a to ta l tim e d eriva tiv e to th e L a g ra n g ia n , L ! L¹ =
L + (d f = d t), lea d s to th e w av e fu n ctio n p ick in g u p a
p h a se fa cto r à ! à ¹ = e if à .
W e ca n u se th ese resu lts to so lv e th e S ch rÄo d in g er eq u a -
tio n s o f th e fo rm in (3 ) w ith a n a rb itra ry tim e-d ep en d en t
fu n ctio n a (t)! S u p p o se w e h ave so lv ed th e S ch rÄo d in g er
eq u a tio n (1 ) fo r a free p a rticle a n d it h a s a so lu tio n
à ¹ free (¹x ;t). T h e co rresp o n d in g so lu tio n in th e a cceler-
a ted co o rd in a tes, o f co u rse, ca n b e o b ta in ed b y ju st a
sh ift x ! x¹ = x + l(t), so th a t à ¹ = à ¹ free (x + l;t) in
th e n ew co o rd in a tes. B u t sin ce, L¹ is rela ted to L b y th e
a d d itio n o f a to ta l tim e d eriva tiv e term , th e so lu tio n à ¹
d i® ers fro m th e so lu tio n à o f (3 ) o n ly b y a p h a se fa cto r!
T h a t is, à ¹ = à ¹ free (x + l;t) = e if à . T h u s w e ca n n ow
w rite a so lu tio n to (3 ) a s a free p a rticle so lu tio n w ith a
sh ift in x a n d a n a d d itio n o f a p h a se:

à (t;x ) = à ¹ free [x + l(t);t]ex p ¡ i(K + x l);


_ (7 )

w h ere à ¹ free is a n y so lu tio n to th e free p a rticle S ch rÄo d in g er


eq u a tio n . [O f co u rse, y o u ca n d irectly v erify th a t th e
fu n ctio n in (7 ) so lv es (3 ).] H en ce y o u ca n n ow so lv e (3 )
fo r a n y g iv en a (t)!
Y o u w ill a lso n o tice th a t jà j2 = jà free (x + l(t);t)j2 , so
th a t th e p ro b a b ility ju st g ets sh ifted b y th e cla ssica l
tra jecto ry l(t) a s w e w o u ld h ave ex p ected . If à free rep re-
sen ts, say, a d isp ersin g w av e p a ck et cen tered a ro u n d th e
o rig in , th e n ew p ro b a b ility d istrib u tio n w ill rep resen t a

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w av e p a ck et m ov in g a lo n g th e tra jecto ry ¡ l(t) w ith th e


sa m e d isp ersio n .
W e w ill n ow a p p ly th is resu lt to tw o sim p le ex a m p les,
to illu stra te its p ow er. A s a ¯ rst ex a m p le, co n sid er a
p a rticle m ov in g in a u n ifo rm fo rce ¯ eld w ith a = co n -
sta n t. T h e H a m ilto n ia n H = (1 = 2 )p 2 + a x is tim e in -
d ep en d en t a n d h en ce a llow s fo r sta tio n a ry sta tes w h ich
sa tisfy H Á E = E Á E . T h e eig en fu n ctio n Á E , h ow ev er,
h a p p en s to b e A iry fu n ctio n 1 in x -sp a ce. T h is, h ow ev er, 1
Airy function is a special func-
is o n e p ro b lem in w h ich th e m o m en tu m sp a ce rep resen - tion Ai(x) which is a solution of
ta tio n o f th e o p era to rs w ith x = i(@ = @ p ) tu rn s o u t to the equation y'' – xy = 0.

b e ea sier to h a n d le! T h e S ch rÄo d in g er eq u a tio n in th e


p -rep resen ta tio n is n ow ia (@ Á = @ p ) = (E ¡ p 2 = 2 )Á . In te-
g ra tin g th is eq u a tio n a n d th en F o u rier tra n sfo rm in g w e
g et th e so lu tio n in th e x -rep resen ta tio n to b e
Z1
Á E (x ) = d p ex p i[p (x ¡ E = a ) + (p 3 = 6 a )]; (8 )
¡1

w h ich is in d eed a n in teg ra l rep resen ta tio n fo r th e A iry


fu n ctio n [1 ].
L et u s n ow so lv e th e sa m e p ro b lem b y o u r a p p ro a ch .
W e b eg in w ith th e sim p lest free p a rticle so lu tio n to th e
S ch rÄo d in g er eq u a tio n , w h ich a re th e m o m en tu m eig en -
fu n ctio n s à free (t;x ) = ex p (¡ ip x + ip 2 t= 2 ). W e n ex t o b -
ta in th e so lu tio n to (3 ) b y th e sim p le tra n sfo rm a tio n
x ! x + l(t), w h ere Äl = a = co n sta n t a n d th e a d d itio n
o f a p h a se a s in d ica ted in (7 ). T h is g iv es th e so lu tio n :

à = ex p ¡ i[x (p ¡ a t) + (1 = 2 )p a t2 ¡ (1 = 2 )p 2 t ¡ (1 = 6 )a 2 t3 ]:
(9 )
(Y o u ca n d irectly v erify th a t th is fu n ctio n sa tis¯ es (3 )).
T h is is, o f co u rse, n o t a n en erg y eig en fu n ctio n . H ow ev er,
a F o u rier tra n sfo rm o f th is ex p ressio n w ith resp ect to t
Z1
Á E (x ) = d t à (t;x ) ex p iE t (1 0 )
¡1

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This analysis w ill g iv e th e en erg y eig en fu n ctio n s fo r a p a rticle m ov in g


provides a way of in a u n ifo rm fo rce ¯ eld . C h a n g in g th e va ria b le o f in te-
understanding the g ra tio n fro m t to » ´ (a t ¡ p ), y o u w ill ¯ n d th a t va rio u s
coherent excited
term s ca n cel o u t n icely, lea d in g to
Z1
states of a harmonic
oscillator.
Á E (x ) / d » ex p i[» (x ¡ E = a ) + (» 3 = 6 a )]; (1 1 )
¡1

w h ich a re th e sa m e en erg y eig en fu n ctio n s a s in (8 ) ex -


cep t fo r a n u n im p o rta n t p h a se.
O u r a p p ro a ch a lso lea d s to a n o th er in terestin g resu lt,
w h ich o ccu rs in th e ca se o f th e q u a n tu m h a rm o n ic o scil-
la to r. T h e g ro u n d sta te o f a h a rm o n ic o scilla to r is d e-
scrib ed b y a G a u ssia n w av e fu n ctio n w ith th e p ro b a b ility
d istrib u tio n jÁ 0 (x )j2 / ex p [¡ ! x 2 ]. W e a lso k n ow th a t
th e h a rm o n ic o scilla to r a d m its co h eren t sta tes w ith th e
p ro b a b ility d istrib u tio n jÁ A (x )j2 / ex p [¡ ! (x ¡ A co s ! t)2 ],
w h ich is o b ta in ed b y ju st sh iftin g th e g ro u n d sta te p ro b -
a b ility d istrib u tio n b y x ! x ¡ A co s ! t. W h a t is m o re
su p risin g is th a t su ch co h eren t sta tes ex ist even for the
excited states o f th e o scilla to r w ith th e sa m e sh ift! T h e
ex isten ce o f su ch sta tes is a b it o f a m y stery in th e
co n v en tio n a l a p p ro a ch to q u a n tu m m ech a n ics b u t o u r
a n a ly sis g iv es a n in terestin g in sig h t in to th is issu e.
T o u n d ersta n d th is, let u s a p p ly th e tra n sfo rm a tio n x !
x¹ = x + l(t) to th e h a rm o n ic o scilla to r L a g ra n g ia n L =
(1 = 2 )(x_2 ¡ ! 2 x 2 ). E lem en ta ry a lg eb ra sh ow s th a t th e
n ew L a g ra n g ia n h a s th e stru ctu re
df
L¹ = (1 = 2 )(x_2 ¡ ! 2 x 2 ) ¡ (Äl + ! 2 l)x + ; (1 2 )
dt
w h ere f is a g a in a fu n ctio n d eterm in ed b y l(t) b u t its ex -
p licit fo rm is n o t im p o rta n t. L et u s n ow ch o o se l(t) to b e
a so lu tio n to th e cla ssica l eq u a tio n o f m o tio n Äl+ ! 2 l = 0 .
T o b e sp eci¯ c, w e w ill ta k e l = ¡ A co s ! t. If y o u w a n t,
y o u ca n th in k o f th is a s sh iftin g to a fra m e w h ich is
o scilla tin g w ith th e p a rticle. W e th en see th a t th e sec-
o n d term in (7 ) va n ish es a n d L¹ h a s th e sam e fo rm a s

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SERIES  ARTICLE

th e o rig in a l h a rm o n ic o scilla to r L a g ra n g ia n ex cep t fo r


th e to ta l d eriva tiv e. (T h is m ira cle o ccu rs o n ly fo r th e
q u a d ra tic p o ten tia l!) T h e so lu tio n s to th e S ch rÄo d in g er
eq u a tio n a re, th erefo re, th e sam e a s th e sta n d a rd so -

x ! x + l(t) a n d a n ex tra p h a se fa cto r!


lu tio n s to th e h a rm o n ic o scilla to r p ro b lem w ith a sh ift

fa cto r a n d w e h a v e th e resu lt jà ¹ j2 = jà (x + l(t);t)j2 .


F u rth erm o re, th e p ro b a b ilities d o n o t ca re fo r th e p h a se

If à is th e g ro u n d sta te th en th is sh ift lea d s to th e


sta n d a rd co h eren t sta te. B u t if y o u ta k e th e n th ex -
cited sta te o f th e o scilla to r à n (x ;t), sh ift th e co o rd in a te

e if à n (x ¡ A co s ! t;t). A s fa r a s th e p ro b a b ility g o es,


a n d a d d a p h a se, th en w e g et a n o th er va lid so lu tio n

jà n (x ¡ A co s ! t;t)j2 m erely tra ces th e o rig in a l p ro b a -


b ility d istrib u tio n w ith th e m ea n va lu e o scilla tin g a lo n g
th e cla ssica l so lu tio n . In o u r a p p ro a ch , w e see th a t a
h a rm o n ic o scilla to r g ets m a p p ed b a ck to a h a rm o n ic o s-
cilla to r w h en w e m ov e to a fra m e w ith Äl + ! 2 l = 0 w ith
ju st a sh ift in x (a n d a p h a se w h ich is irreleva n t fo r Address for Correspondence
th e p ro b a b ilities). T h a t is w h y su ch co h eren t sta tes ex - T Padmanabhan
ist ev en fo r th e excited sta tes o f th e h a rm o n ic o scilla to r. IUCAA, Post Bag 4
H o p efu lly o u r a n a ly sis m a k es th is resu lt so m ew h a t m o re Pune University
Campus
tra n sp a ren t.
Ganeshkhind
Pune 411 007, India.
Suggested Reading Email:
paddy@iucaa.ernet.in
[1] L D Landau and E M Lifshitz, Quantum Mechanics, Third Edition, nabhan@iucaa.ernet.in
Pergamon Press, p.76, 1977.

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