7.6 Asymmetric Two-State Systems

Two-state systems are quantum systems for which just two states and are relevant. If the two states have different expectation energy, or if the Hamiltonian depends on time, the two-state system is asymmetric. Such systems must be considered to fix the problems in the description of spontaneous emission that turned up in the previous section.

The wave function of a two state system is of the form

(7.33) |

The coefficients and evolve in time according to

with the Hamiltonian. The Hamiltonian coefficients and are the expectation energies of states and . The Hamiltonian coefficients and are complex conjugates. Either one is often referred to as the

matrix element.To derive the above evolution equations, plug the two-state wave function into the Schrödinger equation and take inner products with and , using orthonormality of the states.

It will be assumed that the Hamiltonian is independent of time. In that case the evolution equations can be solved analytically. To do so, the analysis of chapter 5.3 can be used to find the energy eigenstates and then the solution is given by the Schrödinger equation, section 7.1.2. However, the final solution is messy. The discussion here will restrict itself to some general observations about it.

It will be assumed that the solution starts out in the state . That means that initially 1 and 0. Then in the symmetric case discussed in the previous section, the system oscillates between the two states. But that requires that the states have the same expectation energy.

This section addresses the asymmetric case, in which there is a
nonzero difference between the two expectation energies:

The remainder of this section will use an approximation called “time-dependent perturbation theory.” It assumes that the system stays close to a given state. In particular, it will be assumed that the system starts out in state and stays close to it.

That assumption results in the following probability for the system to
be in the state , {D.38}:

Key Points

- If the states in a two-state system have different expectation energies, the system is asymmetric.

- If the system is initially in the state , it will never fully get into the state .

- If the system is initially in the state and remains close to it, then the probability of the state is given by (7.36)

7.6.1 Spontaneous emission revisited

Decay of excited atomic or nuclear states was addressed in the previous section using symmetric two-state systems. But there were some issues. They can now be addressed.

The example is again an excited atomic state that transitions to a lower energy state by emitting a photon. The state is the excited atomic state. The state is the atomic state of lowered energy plus the emitted photon. These states seem states of definite energy, but if they really were, there would not be any decay. Energy states are stationary. There is a slight uncertainty in energy in the states.

Since there is, clearly it does not make much sense to say that the initial and final expectation energies must be the same exactly.

In practical terms, that means that the energy of the emitted photon can vary a bit. So its frequency can vary a bit.In decay processes, a bit of energy slop must be allowed between the initial and final expectation values of energy.

Now in infinite space, the possible photon frequencies are infinitely close together. So you are now suddenly dealing with not just one possible decay process, but infinitely many. That would require messy, poorly justified mathematics full of so-called delta functions.

Instead, in this subsection it will be assumed that the atom is not in infinite space, but in a very large periodic box, chapter 6.17. The decay rate in infinite space can then be found by taking the limit that the box size becomes infinite. The advantage of a finite box is that the photon frequencies, and so the corresponding energies, are discrete. So you can sum over them rather than integrate.

Each possible photon state corresponds to a different final state
, each with its own coefficient . The square
magnitude of that coefficient gives the probability that the system
can be found in that state . And in the approximation
of time-dependent perturbation theory, the coefficients do not
interact; the square magnitude of each is given by (7.36).
The total probability that the system can be found in some
decayed state at a time is then

The time will again model the time between

collisions,interactions with the surroundings that

measurewhether the atom has decayed or not. The decay rate, the number of transitions per unit time, is found from dividing by the time:

The final factor in the sum for the decay rate depends on the energy slop . This factor is plotted graphically in figure 7.7. Notice that only a limited range around the point of zero slop contributes much to the decay rate. The spikes in the figure are intended to qualitatively indicate the discrete photon frequencies that are possible in the box that the atom is in. If the box is extremely big, then these spikes will be extremely close together.

Now suppose that you plot the energy slop diagram against the actual photon energy instead of the scaled energy slop . Then the center of the diagram will be at the nominal energy of the emitted photon and will be the deviation from that nominal energy. The spike at the center then represents the transition of atoms where the photon comes out with exactly the nominal energy. And those surrounding spikes whose height is not negligible represent slightly different photon energies that have a reasonable probability of being observed. So the energy slop diagram, plotted against photon energy, graphically represents the uncertainty in energy of the final state that will be observed.

Normally, the observed uncertainty in energy is very small in physical terms. The energy of the emitted photon is almost exactly the nominal one; that allows spectral analysis to identify atoms so well. So the entire diagram figure 7.7 is extremely narrow horizontally when plotted against the photon energy.

That suggests that you can simplify things by replacing the energy slop diagram by the schematized one of figure 7.8. This diagram is zero if the energy slop is greater than , and otherwise it is one. And it integrates to the same value as the original function. So, if the spikes are very closely spaced, they still sum to the same value as before. To be sure, if the square matrix element varied nonlinearly over the typical width of the diagram, the transition rate would now sum to something else. But it should not; if the variation in photon energy is negligible, then so should the one in the matrix element be.

Using the schematized energy slop diagram, you only need to sum over
the states whose spikes are equal to 1. That are the states 2 whose
expectation energy is no more than different
from the initial expectation energy. And inside this summation range,
the final factor can be dropped because it is now 1. That gives:

This can be cleaned up further, assuming that is constant and
can be taken out of the sum:

Actually, the original sum (7.37) may be easier to handle in practice since the number of photon states per unit energy range is not needed. But Fermi’s rule is important because it shows that the big problem of the previous section with decays has been resolved. The decay rate does no longer depend on the time between collisions . Atoms can have specific values for their decay rates despite the minute details of their surroundings. Shorter collision times do produce less transitions per unit time for a given state. But they also allow more slop in energy, so the number of states that achieve a significant amount of transitions per unit time goes up. The net effect is that the decay rate stays the same, though the uncertainty in energy goes up.

The other problem remains; the evaluation of the matrix element requires relativistic quantum mechanics. But it is not hard to guess the general ideas. When the size of the periodic box that holds the system increases, the electromagnetic field of the photons decreases; they have the same energy in a larger volume. That results in smaller values for the matrix element . On the other hand, the number of photons per unit energy range increases, chapter 6.3. The net result will be that the decay rate remains finite when the box becomes infinite.

That is verified by the relativistic analysis in addendum {A.24}. That addendum completes the analysis in this section by computing the matrix element using relativistic quantum mechanics. Using a description in terms of photon states of definite linear momentum, the matrix element is inversely proportional to the volume of the box, but the density of states is directly proportional to it. (It is somewhat different using a description in terms of photon states of definite angular momentum, {A.25}. But the idea remains the same.)

One problem of section 7.5.3 that has now disappeared is
the photon being reabsorbed again. For each individual transition
process, the interaction is too weak to produce a finite reversal
time. But quantum measurement

remains required to
explain the experiments. The time-dependent perturbation theory used
does not apply if the quantum system is allowed to evolve undisturbed
over a time long enough for a significant transition probability (to
any state) to evolve, {D.38}. That would affect the
specific decay rate. If you are merely interested in the average
emission and absorption of a large number of atoms, it is not a big
problem. Then you can substitute a classical description in terms of
random collisions for the quantum measurement process. That will be
done in derivation {D.41}. But to describe what
happens to individual atoms one at a time, while still explaining the
observed statistics of many of such individual atoms, is another
matter.

So far it has been assumed that there is only one atomic initial state of interest and only one final state. However, either state might have a net angular momentum quantum number that is not zero. In that case, there are + 1 atomic states that differ only in magnetic quantum number. The magnetic quantum number describes the component of the angular momentum in the chosen -direction. Now if the atom is in empty space, the direction of the -axis should not make a difference. Then these + 1 states will have the same energy. So you cannot include one and not the other. If this happens to the initial atomic state, you will need to average the decay rates over the magnetic states. The physical reason is that if you have a large number of excited atoms in the given energy state, their magnetic quantum numbers will be randomly distributed. So the average decay rate of the total sample is the average over the initial magnetic quantum numbers. But if it happens to the final state, you have to sum over the final magnetic quantum numbers. Each final magnetic quantum number gives an initial excited atom one more state that it can decay to. The general rule is:

The averaging over the initial states is typically trivial. Without a preferred direction, the decay rate will not depend on the initial orientation.Sum over the final atomic states, then average over the initial atomic states.

It is interesting to examine the limitations of the analysis in this subsection. First, time-dependent perturbation theory has to be valid. It might seem that the requirement of (7.36) that is small is automatically satisfied, because the matrix element goes to zero for infinite box size. But then the number of states 2 goes to infinity. And if you look a bit closer at the analysis, {D.38}, the requirement is really that there is little probability of any transition in time interval . So the time between collisions must be small compared to the lifetime of the state. With typical lifetimes in the range of nanoseconds, atomic collisions are typically a few orders of magnitude more rapid. However, that depends on the relative vacuum.

Second, the energy slop diagram figure 7.7 has to be narrow on the scale of the photon energy. It can be seen that this is true if the time between collisions is large compared to the inverse of the photon frequency. For emission of visible light, that means that the collision time must be large when expressed in femtoseconds. Collisions between atoms will easily meet that requirement.

The width of the energy slop diagram figure 7.7 should give
the observed variation in the energy of the final state. The
diagram shows that roughly

Note that this takes the form of the all-powerful energy-time uncertainty equality (7.9). To be sure, the equality above involves the artificial time between collisions, or

measurements,. But you could assume that this time is comparable to the mean lifetime of the state. Essentially that supposes that interactions with the surroundings are infrequent enough that the atomic evolution can evolve undisturbed for about the typical decay time. But that nature will definitely commit itself whether or not a decay has occurred as soon as there is a fairly reasonable probability that a photon has been emitted.

That argument then leads to the definition of the typical uncertainty
in energy, or width,

of a state as
, as mentioned in section 7.4.1. In
addition, if there are frequent interactions between the atom and its
surroundings, the shorter collision time should be
expected to increase the uncertainty in energy to more than the width.

Note that the wavy nature of the energy slop diagram figure
7.7 is due to the assumption that the time between
collisions

is always the same. If you start averaging
over a more physical random set of collision times, the waves will
smooth out. The actual energy slop diagram as usually given is of the
form

Key Points

- Some energy slop occurs in decays.

- Taking that into account, meaningful decay rates may be computed following Fermi’s golden rule.