# Lecture 2. Observables

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1 Lecture 2 Observables 13

2 14 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES 2.1 Observing observables We have seen at the end of the previous lecture that each dynamical variable is associated to a linear operator Ô, and its expectation value in a quantum state can be computed: Ψ(t) Ô Ψ(t) = Ψ(x, t) ÔΨ(x, t), (2.1) when there is no ambiguity about the state in which the average is computed, we shall simply write: O Ψ(t) Ô Ψ(t). (2.2) Let us now clarify how these expectation values are related to what is observed in experiments. If the observable O is measured several times under identical conditions, the results is a set of values {O 1,O 2,...,O n }. The expectation value defined in Eq. (2.1) is equal to the average n k=1 O k/n in the limit where the number of measurements n. The possible outcomes of experiments, O k, are the eigenvalues of the operator Ô, i.e. the solutions of the eigenvalue equation: Ôψ k = O k ψ k, (2.3) where ψ k is the eigenfunction corresponding to the eigenvalue O k. The eigenfunction represents the wave function of a state in which the measurement of O yields the value O k with probability 1. To check this statement, we can compute the variance of O in the state ψ k : Var k [O] =ψ k Ô2 ψ k ψ k Ô ψ k 2 = = O 2 k ψ k ψ k (O k ψ k ψ k ) 2 =0, (2.4) where we have used the fact that the eigenfunctions are normalized to one. 2.2 Hermitean operators We stated above that every observable is represented by an operator; the correspondence is observable operator total energy Ĥ position ˆX momentum ˆP..

3 2.2. HERMITEAN OPERATORS 15 Observables take real values only. Therefore we must require that the operators that represent observables have only real eigenvalues, since we want to identify the eigenvalues with the possible results of measurements. We can guarantee this if we only use Hermitean operators to represent observables Hermitean conjugate Let us define first the Hermitean conjugate Ô of an operator Ô. Let ψ(x) and φ(x) be arbitrary spatial wave functions (e.g. ψ(x) Ψ(x, 0) and φ(x) Φ(x, 0)), then φ (x) Ô ψ(x) ψ (x) Ôφ(x). We can rewrite this relation using Dirac s notation as: φ Ô ψ = ψ Ô φ (2.5) Mathematical aside Compare Eq. (2.5) with the more familiar expression from linear algebra: O ij = O ji. (2.6) The expressions in Eq. (2.5) are the matrix elements of the operator Ô, justlikeo ij are the matrix elements of a matrix O. The quantum states φ and ψ are the indices that label the matrix elements in quantum mechanics. Using this identification, many equations that we encounter in quantum mechanics become rather familiar. Example Let Ô = d then we can integrate by parts to obtain ψ (x) d φ(x) =[φ(x)ψ (x)] φ(x) d ψ (x) We can discard the constant term on the right hand side, since physically acceptable wave functions vanish at x = ±, and if we then take the complex conjugate of the resulting equation we obtain ψ (x) d φ(x) = φ (x) d ψ(x) d φ (x) ψ(x)

4 16 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES from the definition of Hermitean conjugate. Thus we can make the identification Hermitean operators d = d. We can now define a Hermitean operator; it is an operator for which Example have just shown that Eq. (2.7) is clearly not true for all operators; Ô Ô (2.7) d = d, d is NOT Hermitean since we whereas the operator i d IS Hermitean; the proof is straightforward and is left as an exercise. 2.3 Properties of Hermitean operators Hermitean operators obey three properties that are very important for building the logical framework of Quantum Mechanics. We list these properties here: 1. Hermitean operators have real eigenvalues. The eigenvalue equation is: Ôψ k (x) =O k ψ k (x) k =1,.... ψ k (x) are called eigenfunctions of Ô, O k are the eigenvalues. Then we have: Ô = Ô = O k R 2. The eigenfunctions of a Hermitean operator that belong to different eigenvalues are orthogonal. 3. If Ô is a Hermitean operator acting on a vector space V, there exists an orthogonal basis of V made of eigenvectors of Ô. In other words, every function ψ(x) can be expanded as: ψ(x) = c k ψ k (x), k

5 2.3. PROPERTIES OF HERMITEAN OPERATORS 17 where c k are complex coefficients, computed by taking the projection of ψ onto the states ψ k : c k = ψ k (x) ψ(x) =ψ k ψ. As you can see from the equation above, for each function ψ(x) there is a set of coefficients c k, they are the coordinates of the function ψ(x) in the basis {ψ k (x),k=1,...}. Do not confuse the coefficients c k with the eigenvalues O k! The latter are a characteristic of the operator Ô and have nothing to do with the function ψ. Mathematical aside We shall now prove the first two properties above. The proofs are useful examples of manipulations involving operators acting on wave functions. Familiarity with these kind of manipulations is essential for solving problems in Quantum Mechanics. 1. Hermitean operators have real eigenvalues. Proof: Suppose Ô is a Hermitean operator so that Ô = Ô, and let Ô have an eigenvalue O k, with corresponding eigenfunction ψ k (x): Ôψ k (x) =O k ψ k (x) Then ψk (x) Ôψ k(x) =O k ψk (x)ψ k(x) =O k ψ k (x) 2 = O k If we take the complex conjugate of this equation, we obtain ψk (x) Ôψ k(x) = O but if we make use of the definition of the Hermitean conjugate, we can rewrite the left-hand side of this equation in terms of Ô and use the fact that Ô = Ô by hypothesis: ψk k(x) (x) Ôψ = ψk (x) Ô ψ k (x) = ψk (x) Ôψ k(x). The right-hand side is now just the integral which appears in the first equation and is equal to O k, so we have proved that O k = O k k thus showing that the eigenvalue O k is real as stated. QED.

6 18 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES 2. The eigenfunctions of a Hermitean operator which belong to different eigenvalues are orthogonal. Proof: Suppose that From Eq. (2.8) we have whereas from Eq. (2.9) Ôψ 1 (x) =O 1 ψ 1 (x) and (2.8) Ôψ 2 (x) =O 2 ψ 2 (x) with O 1 = O 2 (2.9) ψ2(x) Ôψ 1(x) =O 1 ψ2(x) ψ 1 (x) (2.10) ψ1(x) Ôψ 2(x) =O 2 ψ1(x) ψ 2 (x) (2.11) Taking the complex conjugate of Eq. (2.11) yields on the left hand side ψ1(x) 2(x) Ôψ ψ2(x) Ô ψ 1 (x) = ψ2(x) Ôψ 1(x), (2.12) whereas the right hand side gives O 2 using the fact that O 2 = O 2. Comparing with Eq. (2.10) we see that ψ 1 (x) ψ2(x) =O 2 ψ2(x) ψ 1 (x), (2.13) O 2 ψ2(x) ψ 1 (x) =O 1 ψ2(x) ψ 1 (x), (2.14) which we can rearrange to yield the result (O 2 O 1 ) Given that O 2 = O 1 by hypothesis, this implies that ψ 2(x) ψ 1 (x) =0. (2.15) ψ 2(x) ψ 1 (x) (2.16) ψ 2 ψ 1 =0, (2.17)

7 2.3. PROPERTIES OF HERMITEAN OPERATORS 19 which is the desired result. QED. A generic state ψ can be expressed as a superposition of eigenstates ψ k : ψ(x) = k c k ψ k (x), (2.18) the latter can be rewritten using Dirac s notation as: ψ = k c k ψ k. (2.19) The set of eigenfunctions is called a complete set of states, or a basis. You can easily prove that a generic linear combination of eigenstates is not an eigenstate. Using the fact that eigenfunctions are orthogonal (see below), you can readily check that: c m = ψ m ψ = ψ m (x) ψ(x), (2.20) and therefore given a state ψ, you can compute c m if the eigenfunctions are known. Given the decomposition in Eq. (2.18), the probability of finding the result O k when measuring O in the state ψ(x) is given by: P k = c k 2. (2.21) Clearly the sum of probabilities should be properly normalized and therefore: P k = c k 2 =1. (2.22) k k Collapse of the wave function following: Another important feature of quantum mechanics is the Immediately after a measurement that gave the result O k,thesystemis in the state ψ k. The state vector has been projected onto the eigenstate by the process of performing the measurement. If we want to express the same concept using equations, we can say that immediately after a measurement yielding the value O k : ψ(x) ψ k (x), (2.23) ψ ψ k. (2.24)

8 20 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES This is sometimes referred to as the collapse of the wave function. The operator that performs the state reduction is called a projection operator: ψ P k ψ. (2.25) After a measurement that yielded the value O k, the wave function of the system coincides with the eigenfunction ψ k. Then, as discussed below Eq. (2.3), if we perform immediately another measurement of f we will find the same value O k with probability 1. Conversely, if the wave function does not coincide with one of the eigenfunctions, then the observable f does not have a given value in the state Ψ. We can only compute the probability for each eigenvalue to be the outcome of the experiment. Mathematical aside A projection operator satisfies: P 2 k = P k, P k P l =0, l = k. (2.26) Verify that you recognize these properties by considering the more familiar case of projectors in three-dimensional Euclidean space. Clearly these phenomena do not have a classical analogue. The description of a physical system in quantum mechanics is radically different from the classical one. You need to practice in order to get familiar with the quantum mechanical framework. 2.4 Commutators The product of two operators is defined as you would expect: Ô 1 Ô 2 ψ = Ô2 Ô1 ψ. (2.27) Note that the order in which the operators are applied to the state is important! The commutator of two operators is: Ô1 Ô2, = Ô1Ô2 Ô2Ô1. (2.28) In general the commutator does NOT vanish, and defines a third operator, acting on quantum states: Ô1, Ô2 ψ = Ô1Ô2 ψ Ô2Ô1 ψ. (2.29)

9 2.5. MOMENTUM OPERATOR Momentum operator The momentum operator is defined as a differential operator: ˆPψ(x) = i d. (2.30) This is a simple realization of de Broglie s duality hypothesis. Remember that according to the wave-particle duality to each particle with momentum p we can associate a wave with wavelength h/p. A wave with a fixed wavelength is a plane wave, described by the function: ψ p (x) =exp[ipx/]. (2.31) When we act with the operator ˆP defined in Eq. (2.30), we see that ψ p (x) is an eigenstate of ˆP with eigenvalue p. So the plane wave corresponds to a state with given momentum p. This justifies the definition of ˆP as a momentum operator. Example We have seen previously that the action of the position operator ˆX is: ˆXψ(x) =xψ(x), (2.32) i.e. the wave function is simply multiplied by the value of x. Consider the case Ô1 = ˆX, Ô 2 = d.then: Ô 1 Ô 2 ψ(x) = ˆX d ψ(x) (2.33) while Ô 2 Ô 1 ψ(x) =Ô2 = x d ψ(x), (2.34) ˆXψ(x) (2.35) = Ô2 (xψ(x)) (2.36) = d (xψ(x)) (2.37) = ψ(x)+x d ψ(x). (2.38) Putting the two results together, we obtain for this particular choice of Ô1 and Ô2: Ô1, Ô2 ψ(x) = ψ(x), (2.39)

10 22 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES i.e. Ô1 Ô2, = 1. (2.40) From the example above we deduce the fundamental canonical commutation relation: ˆX, ˆP = i (2.41) 2.6 Compatible Observables Suppose A and B are observables and we perform the following sequence of measurements in rapid succession on a single system: 1. measure A 2. measure B 3. remeasure A Then if and only if the result of 3 is certain to be the same as the result of 1, we say that A and B are compatible observables. In general, this will not be the case: the measurement of B will spoil the result of 1. In a little more detail, suppose that A and B are represented by operators Â and ˆB respectively, with Âu i (x) = A i u i (x) ˆBv i (x) = B i v i (x) Then measurement 1 yields some eigenvalue, A j say, of Â, forcing the system into the state u j (x). Measurement 2 yields B k say, forcing the system into the state v k (x), so that measurement 3 is made with the system in the state v k (x). The only way that 3 is certain to yield the result A j as obtained in 1 is if v k (x) u j (x). For this to be true in all circumstances it must be the case that each eigenfunction v k (x) of ˆB is identical with some eigenfunction u j (x) of Â. If there is no degeneracy this implies a 1-1 correspondence between the eigenfunctions of Â and the eigenfunctions of ˆB. We say that Â and ˆB have a common eigenbasis. These properties are summarized in the so-called compatibility theorem The Compatibility Theorem Given two observables, A and B, represented by Hermitean operators Â and ˆB, then any one of the following three statements implies the other two: 1. A and B are compatible obervables; 2. Â and ˆB have a common eigenbasis; 3. the operators Â and ˆB commute: [Â, ˆB] =0

11 2.7. COMPLETE SETS OF COMMUTING OBSERVABLES 23 Example proof: Let us show, for instance, that 3 2. We have so that for any eigenfunction of Â Âu i (x) = A i u i (x) ˆBv i (x) = B i v i (x) Â ˆBu i (x) = ˆBÂu i(x) by virtue of 3 = ˆBA i u i (x) = A i ˆBui (x) Thus ˆBu i (x) is an eigenfunction of Â belonging to the eigenvalue A i. If we assume that the eigenvalues are non-degenerate, then ˆBu i (x) must be some multiple of u i (x): ˆBu i (x) =ρu i (x) say This just says that u i (x) is an eigenfunction of ˆB belonging to the eigenvalue ρ, and we must have that, for some j, ρ = B j and u i (x) =v j (x) Thus any eigenfunction of the set {u i (x)} coincides with some member of the set {v j (x)}. The correspondence has to be 1-1 because both sets are orthonormal; if we assume that two functions in one set coincide with a single function in the other set, we are led to a contradiction that two orthogonal functions are identical to the same function. By simply relabelling all the functions in one set we can always ensure that u 1 (x) =v 1 (x), u 2 (x) =v 2 (x), u 3 (x) =v 3 (x),...etc. and this is the common eigenbasis. A more general proof, in the case where the eigenvalues are degenerate is left as an exercise in problem sheet 1. From the theoretical point of view, we can consider two commuting observables as a single observable, whose measurement yields two numbers, the value of A and the value of B. 2.7 Complete sets of commuting observables Consider an observable A, and a basis made of eigenstates of Â, { u 1, u 2,...}. If all the eigenvalues are non-degenerate, each eigenvalue identifies uniquely one eigenstate. Hence we can label the eigenstates by their eigenvalue; if Â u n = a n u n, (2.42)

12 24 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES then we can rename: u n a n. (2.43) In this case, the observable A constitutes by itself a complete set of commuting observables (CSCO), i.e. the eigenvalues of Â are sufficient to identify the eigenfunctions that form a basis of the space of physical states. However this is no longer true if some of the eigenvalues are degenerate, since in this case there are several eigenfunctions corresponding to the same eigenvalues. In order to distinguish these eigenfunctions, we can introduce a second observable B, which commutes with A. According to the compatibility theorem, we can find a basis of common eigenfunctions of Â and ˆB. If each pair of eigenvalues {a n,b p } identifies uniquely one vector of the basis, then the set {A, B} is a CSCO. If this is not the case, then there must be at least one pair {a n,b p } for which there exists more than one eigenvector with these eigenvalues, i.e. there exist at least two vectors w 1 and w 2, such that: Â w 1 = a n w 1, ˆB w1 = b p w 1, (2.44) Â w 2 = a n w 2, ˆB w2 = b p w 2. (2.45) (2.46) In this case specifying the values of a n and b p is not sufficient to identify uniquely one eigenvector, since any linear combination of w 1 and w 2 is also a simultaneous eigenvector of Â and ˆB with the same eigenvalues. In this case, we add to our set of observables one more quantity C, which commutes with both A and B, and we choose a basis made of simultaneous eigenvalues of the three operators Â, ˆB,Ĉ. If this basis is unique, then {A, B, C} is a CSCO, and each eigenfunction in the basis is identified by the set of eigenvalues {a n,b p,c q }. If not, we need to add one more observable to our set, and so on. Let us now introduce a formal definition: A set of observables A, B, C,... is called a CSCO if: (i) all the observables commute by pairs; (ii) specifying the eigenvalues of all the operators in the CSCO identifies a unique common eigenvector. Given a CSCO, we can choose a basis for the space of states made of common eigenvectors of the operators associated to the obervables. Each eigenvector is uniquely identifed by the values of the eigenvalues to which it corresponds.

13 2.7. COMPLETE SETS OF COMMUTING OBSERVABLES 25 Â a n,b p,c q,... = a n a n,b p,c q,..., ˆB a n,b p,c q,... = b p a n,b p,c q,..., Ĉ a n,b p,c q,... = c q a n,b p,c q,...,... (2.47) Mathematical aside An eigenvalue λ n of an operator Ô is called g-fold degenerate if there are exactly g linearly independent eigenvectors corresponding to the same eigenvalue: u (k) n Note that any linear combination, such that Ô u(k) n = λ n u (k) n, for k = 1,...,g. (2.48) g k=1 is also an eigenstate of Ô with the same eigenvalue λ n. c k u (k) n, with c k C, (2.49) Given a CSCO, we can expand any generic wave function in the basis of common eigenstates labeled by the eigenvalues of the observables: ψ = n,p,q c n,p,q a n,b p,c q, ψ(x) = n,p,q c n,p,q u n,p,q (x). The two expressions above are equivalent. In the first line we use Dirac s notation, while in the second we explicitly write the wave function ψ(x). The functions u n,p,q (x) are the eigenfunctions corresponding to the kets a n,b p,c q, i.e. they satisfy the eigenvalue equations: Âu n,p,q (x) =a n u n,p,q (x), ˆBu n,p,q (x) =b p u n,p,q (x), Ĉu n,p,q (x) =c q u n,p,q (x). The modulo square of the coefficients, c n,p,q 2, yields the probability of finding simultaneously the values a n,b p,c q if we measure A, B, C in the state ψ.

14 26 LECTURE 2. OBSERVABLES 2.8 Summary Let us conclude this chapter by summarizing the main concepts introduced in this lecture. The result of a measurement of an observable O is one of the eigenvalues of the linear operator Ô. Properties of Hermitean operators. A measurement that yields a result f k, collapses the wave function into the eigenfunction ψ k. Commutators and compatible obervables. Complete Set of Commuting Observables. Degeneracy.

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