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Introduces the bra and ket notation and gives some examples of its

use.

When you change the description of the world from the inutitive and every-

day classical mechanics to the more abstract quantum mechanical description,

you will usually have gone from a description of a world as composed of particles

to one composed of wavefunctions. Instead of describing a physical system with

coordinates and momenta, x and p (Dirac called them c-numbers), the quantum

mechanical description is based on operators x and p (q-numbers) that operate

on a wavefunction .

The wave function can be a function of coordinates or of momenta and yet

describe the same system. Basically, the wavefunction in momentum space is

the Fourier transform of the wavefunction in coordinate space, and it describes

the same physical system in both cases. Likewise, one may write a wavefunction

as a sum of energy eigenfunctions as long as the set of them is complete (it will

be). This way we can represent a wavefunction as a vector of coefficients. In

fact, the wavefunction for a specific system can be written in any number ways

that can look very different but are in reality different expressions of the same

state.

It must be possible to express the state of the system without explicit ref-

erence to coordinates or momenta, much the same way we can express a plane

wave with a few parameters such as the wave vector, the amplitude and the

phase. Once these are given we do not need to give the amplitude at all points

in space explicitly to describe the wave.

Here is how we do it. The state of a system (atom, molecule, superconductor,

whatever) is described by a ket: |...i. The dots denote the quantities that that

characterizes the state. Example: A harmonic oscillator with precisely three

quanta of vibrations is described as |3i, where it is understood that in this

case we are looking at a harmonic oscillator with some given frequency , say.

17

18 CHAPTER 7. |KETi AND hBRA| NOTATION

Because the state is specified with respect to the energy we can easily find the

energy by application of the Hamiltonian operator on this state,

if we chose the zero of energy equal to the classical potential energy zero.

We need to be able to write superpositions of eigenstates also. This is done

in a manner very similar to superpositions of wavefunctions. Give the state a

name, S for example. Then

jX

max

j=1

where |qj i is the state with the jth eigenvalue of some operator Q. jmax is the

highest of these indices. It may be infinity. Compare this expression to the

expansion of a wavefunction.

jX

max

j=1

mechanics. A matrix element can be expressed in terms of wavefucntions and

in the bra-ket notation as

Z

A (x) B (x)d = hA|Bi. (7.4)

over, and x is the complete set of coordinates used to describe the systems A

and B. The denotes complex conjugation. (We will not write hA||Bi. To

save ink we use just one vertical bar hA|Bi.) Whereas it may initially be a little

difficult to get an understanding of the nature of |Bi, the object hA|Bi is much

simpler: It is a complex number. For consistency we must require that

We can understand the definition in Eq.(7.4) in terms of another definition

and an application of an operator. We write hA|Bi as a sum over all intermediate

states. Any set of complete states can be used. Lets begin with the set of all

position eigenstates. Insertion of this set is accompliced with the operator

X

1= |xihx|. (7.6)

x

This is another object you will have to get used to. Insertion of this gives

X X

hA|Bi = hA|( |xihx)|Bi = hA|xihx|Bi. (7.7)

x x

19

Z

hA|Bi = hA|xihx|Bidx. (7.8)

x

The two quantities hA|xi and hx|Bi are complex numbers, and hA|xi = hx|Ai .

We can therefore identify them with the wavefunctions in coordinate space:

Expectation values are taken by sandwiching the ket with a bra, to give us a

bra-ket (which is the origin of the name, if you didnt already notice this). The

expectation value of some operator Q for state A is

hA|Q|Ai = hA|a|Ai. (7.12)

Because a is just a number we can take it outside the bra-ket and we get (the

state is normalized, hA|Ai = 1),

hA|Q|Ai = a. (7.13)

This can be generalized to states that are not eigenstates of Q. Write the state

as a superposition of the eigenstates of Q;

X

|Ai = cj |qj i, (7.14)

j

where the cj s are complex numbers that obey the normalization condition

X

|cj |2 = 1. (7.15)

j

X X

hA|Q|Ai = hqk |ck Q cj |qj i. (7.16)

k j

Note the complex conjugation of the coefficients on the bras. The Q operating

on the kets can be calculated because the states are eigenstates of Q:

X X

Q cj |qj i = cj qj |qj i. (7.17)

j j

20 CHAPTER 7. |KETi AND hBRA| NOTATION

X X

hA|Q|Ai = hqk |ck cj qj |qj i. (7.18)

k j

The eigenstates of Q are orthogonal and normalized. This means that hqk |qj i =

j,k (= 1 if j = k and zero otherwise, the Kronecker delta). The double sum

therefore reduces to a single sum

X X

hA|Q|Ai = hqj |cj cj qj |qj i = hqj ||cj |2 qj |qj i. (7.19)

j j

Here |cj |2 qj are just numbers, not operators, and can e taken outside the bra-ket.

Because the states are normalized we finally get

X

hA|Q|Ai = |cj |2 qj . (7.20)

j

Apart from the fact that the left hand side is written differently from what you

may be used to, this is precisely what you have already learned in quantum

mechanics about expectation values.

A complete set does not have to be spanned by coordinates. It can be every

complete set, as the momentum states. The overlap hA|Bi can be calculated as

X Z

hA|Bi = hA|pihp|Bi = A

(p)B (p)dp, (7.21)

p

The use of bras and kets does not do anything to the fundamental equations

of quantum mechanics. But they have two advantages; they provide an easier

way to handle the equations, and they remind us that the world is not made out

of wavefunctions that move around in space but of vectors that move around in

Hilbert spaces.

A few examples. The inner product hx|pi is the wavefunction of the momen-

tum eigenstate p (in one dimension),

We may or may not include the time in this expression. The proportionality

sign indicates that plane waves are non-trivial to normalize because they are

infinite in extension. The inner product hp1 |p2 i is calculated to

Z Z

hp1 |p2 i = dxhp1 |xihx|p2 i dxeip1 x/~ eip2 x/~ = 2~(p2 p1 ), (7.23)

We can also use the formalism to find out how we convert from the coordinate

representation of the wavefunction, hx|Ai, to the momentum representation,

21

X Z Z

A (p) = hp|Ai = hp| |xihx|Ai = dxhx|pi hx|Ai

dxeipx/~ A (x).

x x x

(7.24)

The momentum space wavefunction is a Fourier transform of the coordinate

space wavefunction, as you may know already.

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