# Introduction to Relativistic Quantum Mechanics

Scott Ripperda

April 23, 2012

1 Introduction

There are several quantum phenomena that occur at relativistic speeds that the non-relativistic

regime cannot explain. Some of these phenomena include antiparticles, particle production, and

the origin of spin. It is also highly desirable from a theoretical stand point to describe a relativistic

quantum mechanical system. Unfortunately, the Sch¨odinger Wave Equation only holds for non-

relativistic particles. Thus, a new wave equation must be developed to describe the relativistic

regime.

Schr¨ odinger’s Wave Equation for a free particle is simply

EΨ =

p

2

2m

Ψ (1)

or when quantized:

i

∂Ψ

∂t

= −

2

∇

2

Ψ (2)

This result is only true in the non-relativistic regime. Obviously we need the relativistically corrected

Einstein Energy Equation

E =

_

(mc

2

)

2

+ (pc)

2

. (3)

We can now build the new wave equation.

EΨ =

_

(mc

2

)

2

+ (pc)

2

Ψ (4)

or when quantized:

i

∂Ψ

∂t

=

√

−

2

c

2

∇

2

+ m

2

c

4

Ψ (5)

This form though is not ideal as the the operators are inside the square root! To solve this problem

one could try to Taylor Series expand the square root but would need an inﬁnite set of boundary

conditions which is unrealistic.

1.) Klein-Gordon Equation

a.) Instead of trying to Taylor Series expanding equation (5) simply square

the Einstein Energy Equation, equation (3). Then apply Ψ and quantize

the new wave equation to avoid to square root. Simplify this result to

Klein-Gordon Equation,

1

c

2

∂

2

Ψ

∂t

2

−∇

2

Ψ = −

m

2

c

2

2

Ψ. (6)

The left hand side of equation (6) is often represented by Ψ, where is called the

d’Alembert operator. One immediate observation is that this equation is simply the

wave equation with a constant source so the wave equation holds relativistically as

we saw in electromagnetism. This equation is also Lorentz invariant.

b.) Verify the plane wave solution Ψ

+

= Aexp(

i

( p · r − Et)) is also a solution

to the Klein-Gordon Equation for a free particle, but with the dispersion

relation

ω

2

c

2

= k

2

+

m

2

c

2

2

.

The dispersion relation implies there are both negative and positive energy solutions

so the negative energy wavefunction has the form Ψ

−

= Bexp(

i

( p · r + Et)). You

should be able to see that this is also a solution to the Klein-Gordon Equation. These

negative energies seemed unphysical and we troubling at that time. However, now

we understand the negative energy solution as the solution for antiparticles as you

will see in the next problem.

Schr¨ odinger actually discovered this equation before either Klein or Gordon, but did not publish

it due to several properties associated with the equation that he was unable to account for physically.

One problem from squaring the Einstein equation implies there are both positive and negative

energies. These seemed unphysical, but they cannot be thrown away or else the solutions would

not form a complete set. However there seemed to be a more fundamental ﬂaw with this equation;

_

V

Ψ

∗

ΨdV was no longer a constant value! Due to these “problems” Schr¨ odinger never published

this equation. These new seemingly unphysical properties also caused the equation to be discarded

by the physics community at ﬁrst. However these problems were all accounted for and correctly

interpreted only a few years after the Klein-Gordon Equation was published showing they were

not really problems at all. Klein and Gordon however were incorrect stating their equation could

account for an electron, as we will see that it only correctly describes spin 0 particles.

2.) Properties of the Klein-Gordon equation

a.) Show that the Klein-Gordon Equation reduces down to the Schr¨ odinger

Equation of a free particle in the non-relativistic limit. Do this by

splitting oﬀ the rest energy term so Ψ = Φ(x, t)exp(−

imc

2

t). We are

working in the non-relativistic limit so the energy, E

, is deﬁned as

E

= E −mc

2

⇒E

mc

2

⇒

¸

¸

¸

¸

i

∂Φ

∂t

¸

¸

¸

¸

mc

2

.

This shows that the Klein-Gordon Equation is a generalization of the Schr¨ odinger

equation and that that it does not account for spin. This means that this relativistic

formula can only be used for spin 0 composite particles like the pion, π or the kaon,

K. If we ever ﬁnd the Higgs Boson (spin-0 particle) this equation may become of

more interest.

b.) In non-relativistic quantum mechanics we were able to determine the probability den-

sity function, ρ, and the probability current j that satisﬁed the continuity equation

∇·

j +

∂ρ

∂t

= 0 (7)

by manipulating the Schr¨ odinger equation. Show that the probability density

and probability current are given by

ρ =

i

2mc

2

_

Ψ

∗

∂Ψ

∂t

−

∂Ψ

∗

∂t

Ψ

_

(8)

j =

i

2m

_

Ψ

∇Ψ

∗

−Ψ

∗

∇Ψ

_

(9)

(Hint: The manipulations are outlined at the beginning of Merzbacher Ch. 3, but

multiply by

i

2m

Ψ and

i

2m

Ψ

∗

instead of Ψ and Ψ

∗

)

This has profound implications as we can no longer normalize

_

V

Ψ

∗

ΨdV to 1. This

means that we no longer have particle conservation, but instead we have charge

conservation.

c.) In problem 1b.) we veriﬁed that the free particle had two solutions; One

wave function corresponded to positive energy, Ψ

+

, and the other to nega-

tive energy, Ψ

−

. Calculate the probability density, ρ, for both Ψ

+

and Ψ

−

.

(Hint: One should get positive probability densities for Ψ

+

and negative probability

densities for Ψ

−

.)

Pauli and Weisskopf correctly interpreted eρ as the charge density so negative ρ

values meant the opposite charge of the original particle. This is the theoretical

discovery of antiparticles although this was actually found by Dirac from his own

relativistic formation. One should notice that instead of negative energy, one could

also use negative time, (going backwards in time), as a physical description of these

antiparticles as Feynman describes them in quantum ﬁeld theory.

2 Klein Paradox

So far we have only looked at the Klein-Gordon Equation for a free particle. However, we would

also like to be able to use it when the particle encounters external potentials. The wavefunction

still has the basic properties it had in the Schr¨odinger equation (ie. ψ is continuous and

∂ψ

∂x

is also

continuous). The current density is the same as in Schr¨odinger’s equation so the non-relativistic

formulas for R and T are also still valid. There are a couple of nonintuitive phenomena that occur

in the relativistic regime that one would never see for slow particles. To look at these we will use a

simpliﬁed step function potential to look at the phenomenon called the Klein-Paradox.

3.) Klein Paradox for the Klein-Gordon Equation

a.) Use the 1-D Klein-Gordon equation to describe a relativistic spin 0 right moving

particle that encounters an electrostatic potential barrier at x = 0 of height V

0

, so

V (x) =

_

0 for x < 0

V

0

for x ≥ 0

. As with the Schr¨ odinger equation when someone wants to

include electromagnetic eﬀects one must use the canonical momentum, p →p +

qA

c

,

and E → E − qV . We can simplify it by setting A = 0 and q = 1 for a positively

charge particle in this toy model. Assume that E > 0 so it is not the antiparticle.

Use the continuity of the wave equation and its ﬁrst derivative to ﬁnd

the transmission and reﬂection probabilities for the following potential

heights. Also Verify R + T = 1 and comment on the results.

i.) V

0

< E −mc

2

ii.) E −mc

2

< V

0

< E + mc

2

iii.) V

0

> E + mc

2

(Hints: Make sure the group velocity, v

g

=

1

∂E

∂k

, of the transverse wave is rightward.

This will help you determine the sign of

k and p.)

One should arrive at a R > 1 and T < 0 for case iii.) which seems to make no sense,

but a reinterpretation of the results must be made for relativistic speeds. This result

is essentially because the probability density has a diﬀerent form in the relativistic

case. We have lost particle conservation but instead we have charge conservation.

b.) Calculate the charge densities for the transverse and reﬂected waves in

case (iii.). Check whether these values are positive or negative. (Hint: The

solution to problem 2c.) made be useful.) The charge density should provide a clue

to what is happening when the particle encounters the large potential.

These results are only found in the relativistic regime. As we no longer have particle conservation,

particles can be created and annihilated at these speeds if the energies are large enough. This is

exactly what is happening in case iii.). The particle runs into the large barrier and a particle-

antiparticle pair is formed. These obey the laws of conservation of momentum and energy so the

newly created particle joins together with the original particle in the reﬂected wave term while

the antiparticle tunnels through the potential step and becomes the transverse wave term. This is

highly unintuitive as the antiparticle ﬂows through despite the very large potential! The relativistic

electron (Dirac’s Equation) actually has a similar eﬀect when encountering a similar potential and

its aﬀects are currently being researched in graphene!

As one can see, one must be careful in the interpretation of these relativistic formulations. Much

like special relativity, these equations are fairly simple derivations, but have huge implications due

to the subtle changes made. One of the biggest parts is that Ψ can no longer be interpreted as

a quantum state anymore because the change in probability density. The Klein-Gordon Equation

actually describes the equation of motion for a pseudoscalar ﬁeld instead of a single particle!

3 Dirac’s Equation

The properties of the Klein-Gordon Equation and its limited use (spin 0 composite particles) mo-

tivated Paul Dirac to form his own relativistic equation. The probability density issue in the

Klein-Gordon equation arises due to its second order in time. Thus Dirac wanted his equation to

be ﬁrst order in time and ﬁrst order in space to avoid this issue. However we still will have to

deal with the fact that Dirac’s equation is still a relativistic ﬁeld equation so care must taken in its

interpretation.

4.) Dirac’s Equation

a.) As Dirac wanted ﬁrst order operators in space in time requires Dirac’s equation to

have the form

E =

3

i=1

α

i

p

i

c + βmc

2

(10)

where E →i

∂

∂t

, p

i

→−i

∂

∂x

i

. His equation must also solve the Klein-Gordon equa-

tion so square both sides and equate Dirac’s Equation to determine α

1

, α

2

, α

3

, and β.

Show that α

i

and β cannot not be real or imaginary numbers by writing

down the anti-commutation relations, [AB]

+

= (AB + BA).

b.) It is fairly obvious that α

i

and β cannot be numbers however the Pauli-spin matrices

would satisfy the anti-commutator relations for the αs and seems to be a good

guess. Prove though that there is no β that will satisfy all the necessary

conditions of Dirac’s Equation when α

i

= σ

i

. This strongly implies that α

i

and

β must be at least 4x4 matrices.

c.) The α

i

and β matrices are not uniquely deﬁned. One popular representation is

the α

i

=

_

0 σ

i

σ

i

0

_

and β

_

I 0

0 −I

_

where σ

1

=

_

0 1

1 0

_

, σ

2

=

_

0 −i

i 0

_

, σ

3

=

_

1 0

0 −1

_

, and I is the 2x2 Identity matrix.

Solve Dirac’s Equation for a free particle at rest to see that antiparticles

and spin naturally emerge from Dirac’s Equation (Hint: Multiple states with

the same energy implies diﬀerent spin states.)

Spin now is also a 4x4 vector denoted by S =

2

_

σ 0

0 σ

_

. Convince yourself that S

has eigenvalues of λ = ±

2

. Assuming S = S

z

makes this very easy.

d) Find the probability density and current density for Dirac’s equation which

by following a similar procedure to that in problem 2b.) (Hint: One should

get a similar probability density as Schr¨odinger’s Equation and remember to use

†

instead of

∗

).

Even though one obtains a similar probability density as Schr¨ odinger’s Equation, the

current density has now changed. This will have similar eﬀects to the Klein-Gordon

Equation so the conclusions of the non-relativistic Schr¨ odinger Equation are simply

no longer valid.

The relativistic formulation starts from using Einstein’s Energy Equation to simply derive the

relativistic formulae, but much like the Schr¨ odinger Equation and Special Relativity these relativistic

formulations predict results that strongly diﬀer from classical physics. It also becomes increasingly

more complicated as there are even fewer problems that can be solved analytically. However one can

get a great deal of physics out of the formation of these equations and looking at the basic properties

of the Klein-Gordon Equation and Dirac’s Equation as we have shown. These two equations build

a strong basis in how relativistic quantum mechanics is diﬀerent from the non-relativistic regime,

but are in no way completely describe all systems as spin 1 groups and others must be accounted

for. These equations also should help the reader ease into Quantum Field Theory as many non-

relativistic concepts can be abandoned at a slower pace through studying these equations.

REFERENCES

Dirac P. A. M, 1928a, The Quantum Theory of the Electron, Proc. R. Soc. (London) A, Vol. 117,

pp. 610-612.

Dirac P. A. M, 1928b, The Quantum Theory of the Electron Part II, Proc. R. Soc. (London) A,

Vol. 118, pp. 351-361.

Liu, M., Bundesmann, J., Ritcher, K. , Richter, K., Spin Dependent Klein tunneling in Graphene:

Role of Rashba spin Orbit Coupling, Institut fur Theoretische Physik, Universit at Regensburg

Watcher, A. , 2011, Relativistic Quantum Mechanics, Springer Science + Business Media,

ISBN 978-90-481-3644-5

Winter, R., 1958, Klein-Paradox for the Klein-Gordan Equation Pennsylvania State University

However these problems were all accounted for and correctly interpreted only a few years after the Klein-Gordon Equation was published showing they were not really problems at all. but did not publish o it due to several properties associated with the equation that he was unable to account for physically. One immediate observation is that this equation is simply the wave equation with a constant source so the wave equation holds relativistically as we saw in electromagnetism. You should be able to see that this is also a solution to the Klein-Gordon Equation.
Schr¨dinger actually discovered this equation before either Klein or Gordon. 1 ∂ 2Ψ − c2 ∂t2 m2 c2
2
2
Ψ=−
Ψ.
. i b. This equation is also Lorentz invariant. Klein and Gordon however were incorrect stating their equation could account for an electron. These negative energies seemed unphysical and we troubling at that time. Simplify this result to Klein-Gordon Equation. c The dispersion relation implies there are both negative and positive energy solutions i so the negative energy wavefunction has the form Ψ− = Bexp( (p · r + Et)). but with the dispersion ω2 m2 c2 relation 2 = k 2 + 2 . Then apply Ψ and quantize the new wave equation to avoid to square root. equation (3).) Instead of trying to Taylor Series expanding equation (5) simply square the Einstein Energy Equation.1. but they cannot be thrown away or else the solutions would not form a complete set.
(6)
The left hand side of equation (6) is often represented by Ψ. Ψ∗ ΨdV was no longer a constant value! Due to these “problems” Schr¨dinger never published o V this equation. now we understand the negative energy solution as the solution for antiparticles as you will see in the next problem. where is called the d’Alembert operator. as we will see that it only correctly describes spin 0 particles. These new seemingly unphysical properties also caused the equation to be discarded by the physics community at ﬁrst. One problem from squaring the Einstein equation implies there are both positive and negative energies. However there seemed to be a more fundamental ﬂaw with this equation. However. These seemed unphysical.) Klein-Gordon Equation a.) Verify the plane wave solution Ψ+ = Aexp( (p · r − Et)) is also a solution to the Klein-Gordon Equation for a free particle.

.

ρ. This means that we no longer have particle conservation.2. c. Do this by imc2 t). Ψ− . This means that this relativistic formula can only be used for spin 0 composite particles like the pion. We are splitting oﬀ the rest energy term so Ψ = Φ(x. Calculate the probability density. for both Ψ+ and Ψ− .) we veriﬁed that the free particle had two solutions.) Show that the Klein-Gordon Equation reduces down to the Schr¨dinger o Equation of a free particle in the non-relativistic limit. One should notice that instead of negative energy. 3. K.) Properties of the Klein-Gordon equation a. but instead we have charge conservation. and the other to negative energy.) In problem 1b.) In non-relativistic quantum mechanics we were able to determine the probability density function. b. Ψ+ . (Hint: One should get positive probability densities for Ψ+ and negative probability densities for Ψ− . (going backwards in time). If we ever ﬁnd the Higgs Boson (spin-0 particle) this equation may become of more interest. π or the kaon. and the probability current j that satisﬁed the continuity equation ·j+ ∂ρ =0 ∂t (7)
by manipulating the Schr¨dinger equation.
. E . One wave function corresponded to positive energy. t)exp(− working in the non-relativistic limit so the energy. Show that the probability density o and probability current are given by ρ= i ∂Ψ ∂Ψ∗ − Ψ Ψ∗ 2mc2 ∂t ∂t i Ψ Ψ∗ − Ψ∗ Ψ j= 2m (8) (9)
(Hint: The manipulations are outlined at the beginning of Merzbacher Ch. one could also use negative time. is deﬁned as ∂Φ E = E − mc2 ⇒ E mc2 ⇒ i mc2 .) Pauli and Weisskopf correctly interpreted eρ as the charge density so negative ρ values meant the opposite charge of the original particle. ρ. as a physical description of these antiparticles as Feynman describes them in quantum ﬁeld theory. This is the theoretical discovery of antiparticles although this was actually found by Dirac from his own relativistic formation. but i i multiply by 2m Ψ and 2m Ψ∗ instead of Ψ and Ψ∗ ) This has profound implications as we can no longer normalize V Ψ∗ ΨdV to 1. ∂t This shows that the Klein-Gordon Equation is a generalization of the Schr¨dinger o equation and that that it does not account for spin.

There are a couple of nonintuitive phenomena that occur in the relativistic regime that one would never see for slow particles. Also Verify R + T = 1 and comment on the results. so 0 for x<0 V (x) = . The wavefunction still has the basic properties it had in the Schr¨dinger equation (ie. c and E → E − qV . p → p + qA . of the transverse wave is rightward. (Hint: The solution to problem 2c.) Use the 1-D Klein-Gordon equation to describe a relativistic spin 0 right moving particle that encounters an electrostatic potential barrier at x = 0 of height V0 . b. Assume that E > 0 so it is not the antiparticle. but a reinterpretation of the results must be made for relativistic speeds.) E − mc2 < V0 < E + mc2 iii. Check whether these values are positive or negative. We have lost particle conservation but instead we have charge conservation. i.) The charge density should provide a clue to what is happening when the particle encounters the large potential.) Calculate the charge densities for the transverse and reﬂected waves in case (iii.). However. we would also like to be able to use it when the particle encounters external potentials.2
Klein Paradox
So far we have only looked at the Klein-Gordon Equation for a free particle. As with the Schr¨dinger equation when someone wants to o V0 for x ≥ 0 include electromagnetic eﬀects one must use the canonical momentum.
.
3.) which seems to make no sense. To look at these we will use a simpliﬁed step function potential to look at the phenomenon called the Klein-Paradox. We can simplify it by setting A = 0 and q = 1 for a positively charge particle in this toy model. The current density is the same as in Schr¨dinger’s equation so the non-relativistic o formulas for R and T are also still valid.) made be useful.) V0 < E − mc2 ii. This result is essentially because the probability density has a diﬀerent form in the relativistic case.) Klein Paradox for the Klein-Gordon Equation a. vg = 1 ∂E . ψ is continuous and ∂ψ is also o ∂x continuous).) One should arrive at a R > 1 and T < 0 for case iii. ∂k This will help you determine the sign of k and p.) V0 > E + mc2 (Hints: Make sure the group velocity. Use the continuity of the wave equation and its ﬁrst derivative to ﬁnd the transmission and reﬂection probabilities for the following potential heights.

particles can be created and annihilated at these speeds if the energies are large enough. α3 .) It is fairly obvious that αi and β cannot be numbers however the Pauli-spin matrices would satisfy the anti-commutator relations for the αs and seems to be a good guess. Show that αi and β cannot not be real or imaginary numbers by writing down the anti-commutation relations.These results are only found in the relativistic regime. The particle runs into the large barrier and a particleantiparticle pair is formed. The probability density issue in the Klein-Gordon equation arises due to its second order in time. Thus Dirac wanted his equation to be ﬁrst order in time and ﬁrst order in space to avoid this issue.
b. pi → −i ∂xi .
. and β.). As we no longer have particle conservation. This strongly implies that αi and β must be at least 4x4 matrices. These obey the laws of conservation of momentum and energy so the newly created particle joins together with the original particle in the reﬂected wave term while the antiparticle tunnels through the potential step and becomes the transverse wave term. one must be careful in the interpretation of these relativistic formulations. His equation must also solve the Klein-Gordon equation so square both sides and equate Dirac’s Equation to determine α1 . The Klein-Gordon Equation actually describes the equation of motion for a pseudoscalar ﬁeld instead of a single particle!
3
Dirac’s Equation
The properties of the Klein-Gordon Equation and its limited use (spin 0 composite particles) motivated Paul Dirac to form his own relativistic equation. This is highly unintuitive as the antiparticle ﬂows through despite the very large potential! The relativistic electron (Dirac’s Equation) actually has a similar eﬀect when encountering a similar potential and its aﬀects are currently being researched in graphene! As one can see. This is exactly what is happening in case iii. One of the biggest parts is that Ψ can no longer be interpreted as a quantum state anymore because the change in probability density.
4. α2 . but have huge implications due to the subtle changes made. Much like special relativity.) Dirac’s Equation a. these equations are fairly simple derivations. However we still will have to deal with the fact that Dirac’s equation is still a relativistic ﬁeld equation so care must taken in its interpretation. [AB]+ = (AB + BA).) As Dirac wanted ﬁrst order operators in space in time requires Dirac’s equation to have the form
3
E=
i=1
αi pi c + βmc2
(10)
∂ ∂ where E → i ∂t . Prove though that there is no β that will satisfy all the necessary conditions of Dirac’s Equation when αi = σi .

It also becomes increasingly more complicated as there are even fewer problems that can be solved analytically. Richter. A. . pp. R. These two equations build a strong basis in how relativistic quantum mechanics is diﬀerent from the non-relativistic regime. Proc. Liu. σ2 = . Institut fur Theoretische Physik. Soc. the o current density has now changed.c. Bundesmann. This will have similar eﬀects to the Klein-Gordon Equation so the conclusions of the non-relativistic Schr¨dinger Equation are simply o no longer valid.
2
d) Find the probability density and current density for Dirac’s equation which by following a similar procedure to that in problem 2b. Relativistic Quantum Mechanics. R.) (Hint: One should get a similar probability density as Schr¨dinger’s Equation and remember to use † o instead of ∗ ). Klein-Paradox for the Klein-Gordan Equation Pennsylvania State University
.. Ritcher. A. These equations also should help the reader ease into Quantum Field Theory as many nonrelativistic concepts can be abandoned at a slower pace through studying these equations. 2011. However one can get a great deal of physics out of the formation of these equations and looking at the basic properties of the Klein-Gordon Equation and Dirac’s Equation as we have shown.. Springer Science + Business Media. ISBN 978-90-481-3644-5 Winter. J. 1928a. pp. R. M. A. Vol. One popular representation is 0 σi I 0 0 1 0 −i the αi = and β where σ1 = . Spin Dependent Klein tunneling in Graphene: Role of Rashba spin Orbit Coupling. 1958. . but much like the Schr¨dinger Equation and Special Relativity these relativistic o formulations predict results that strongly diﬀer from classical physics. 351-361. M.) The αi and β matrices are not uniquely deﬁned. M. 610-612.. Assuming S = Sz makes this very easy. Dirac P. K.. (London) A. (London) A. The Quantum Theory of the Electron.) Spin now is also a 4x4 vector denoted by S = σ 0 . Convince yourself that S 0 σ has eigenvalues of λ = ± 2 . The Quantum Theory of the Electron Part II. Even though one obtains a similar probability density as Schr¨dinger’s Equation. 0 −1 Solve Dirac’s Equation for a free particle at rest to see that antiparticles and spin naturally emerge from Dirac’s Equation (Hint: Multiple states with the same energy implies diﬀerent spin states. 118. and I is the 2x2 Identity matrix. Universit at Regensburg Watcher.
The relativistic formulation starts from using Einstein’s Energy Equation to simply derive the relativistic formulae. Vol. Proc. K. 1928b. but are in no way completely describe all systems as spin 1 groups and others must be accounted for. σ3 = σi 0 0 −I 1 0 i 0 1 0 . REFERENCES Dirac P. 117. Soc.