Lecture 12: Periodic Perturbation and Fermi’s Golden Rule

Recall first: Quantum-transition probabilities from 1st-order time-dependent perturbation theory

Simple example first: constant perturbation


is called the transition frequency between the two levels

Time-dependence of transition probability for a fixed pair of initial and final states

At a fixed time t, the transition probability VS the energy difference between initial and final states

Roughly speaking, the transition prob. is significant for ΔE/hbar ~ 1/Δt. Hence ΔE Δt ~ hbar

Periodic perturbation

Plug this time-dependence into the general formula

Continued on the next slide

Continuing the previous slide:

For convenience, we set

1st term

2nd term

let us assume that the driving frequency is quite close to the absolute value of the transition frequency, then:


second term dominates (almost zero denominator)

first term dominates (almost zero denominator)
continued on the next slide

Take the case of

as an example:

This oscillation behavior does exist in the exact solution!

But is there anything missing because of the 1st-order perturbation theory? Answer: multi-photon transitions are not captured. e.g.: two-photon transitions need second-order perturbation theory etc)

Comment I:

Rotating Wave Approximation (RWA)

In our derivations for the transition probability, we dropped either of the two terms. This is equivalent to drop one of the two terms (see above) of the time-periodic potential. This approximation is called rotating wave approximation (RWA), a well-known and important procedure in quantum optics.

Comment II: Excitation VS stimulated de-excitation
Excitation probability:

n m

m n
An oscillating field can also bring quantum states down to lower levels! (think about
time-reversal symmetry)

Example: Hydrogen atom in the presence of a radiation field

Time periodic perturbation: Find the 1st-order perturbation result for quantum probabilities on n=2 states at an arbitrary time, assuming that at t = 0 the atom is in its ground state.

One example of matrix element calculations:


What if the final state is in a continuum?

The total transition probability to all final states in a continuum

plug in

continued on the next slide

Continuing the previous slide:

Note: :

First-order perturbation result
Assumed that driving frequency is close to the transition frequency
assumptions we made here

Hmmm… are you sure? By adding many oscillating terms you get a linearly increasing function?

Assumed that the transition matrix elements and density of states are slowly varying functions of energy

Fermi’s Golden Rule

The rate of transitions to a continuum of final states is proportional to the square of the transition matrix element between the initial and final states. The rate of transitions to a continuum is also proportional to the density of states, evaluated at an energy that differs from the initial state energy by , where ω is the driving frequency of a periodic perturbation.

(same conclusions can be found if you consider transitions to lower levels)


First-order perturbation theory is already very useful to describe quantum transitions induced by periodic fields. Fermi’s golden rule is also derived from our first-order perturbation theory, under the assumptions that the transition matrix elements and density of states are slowly varying functions.

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