7.9 Position and Linear Momentum

The subsequent sections will be looking at the time evolution of various quantum systems, as predicted by the Schrödinger equation. However, before that can be done, first the eigenfunctions of position and linear momentum must be found. That is something that the book has been studiously avoiding so far. The problem is that the position and linear momentum eigenfunctions have awkward issues with normalizing them.

These normalization problems have consequences for the coefficients of the eigenfunctions. In the orthodox interpretation, the square magnitudes of the coefficients should give the probabilities of getting the corresponding values of position and linear momentum. But this statement will have to be modified a bit.

One good thing is that unlike the Hamiltonian, which is specific to a
given system, the position operator

and the linear momentum operator

are the same for all systems. So, you only need to find their eigenfunctions once.

7.9.1 The position eigenfunction

The eigenfunction that corresponds to the particle being at a precise -position , -position , and -position will be denoted by . The eigenvalue problem is:

(Note the need in this analysis to use for the measurable particle position, since are already used for the eigenfunction arguments.)

To solve this eigenvalue problem, try again separation of variables, where it is assumed that
is of the form .
Substitution gives the partial problem for as

This equation implies that at all points not equal to , will have to be zero, otherwise there is no way that the two sides can be equal. So, function can only be nonzero at the single point . At that one point, it can be anything, though.

To resolve the ambiguity, the function is taken to be the
Dirac delta function,

The delta function is, loosely speaking, sufficiently strongly infinite at the single point that its integral over that single point is one. More precisely, the delta function is defined as the limiting case of the function shown in the left hand side of figure 7.10.

The fact that the integral is one leads to a very useful mathematical
property of delta functions: they are able to pick out one specific
value of any arbitrary given function . Just take an
inner product of the delta function with .
It will produce the value of at the point , in other
words, :

(7.49) |

The problems for the position eigenfunctions and are the same
as the one for , and have a similar solution. The complete
eigenfunction corresponding to a measured position is
therefore:

According to the orthodox interpretation, the probability of finding
the particle at for a given wave function
should be the square magnitude of the coefficient
of the eigenfunction. This coefficient can be found as an inner
product:

It can be simplified to

(7.51) |

However, the apparent conclusion that gives the probability of finding the particle at is wrong. The reason it fails is that eigenfunctions should be normalized; the integral of their square should be one. The integral of the square of a delta function is infinite, not one. That is OK, however; is a continuously varying variable, and the chances of finding the particle at to an infinite number of digits accurate would be zero. So, the properly normalized eigenfunctions would have been useless anyway.

Instead, according to Born's statistical interpretation of chapter
3.1, the expression

gives the probability of finding the particle in an infinitesimal volume around . In other words, gives the probability of finding the particle near location per unit volume. (The underlines below the position coordinates are no longer needed to avoid ambiguity and have been dropped.)

Besides the normalization issue, another idea that needs to be somewhat modified is a strict collapse of the wave function. Any position measurement that can be done will leave some uncertainty about the precise location of the particle: it will leave nonzero over a small range of positions, rather than just one position. Moreover, unlike energy eigenstates, position eigenstates are not stationary: after a position measurement, will again spread out as time increases.

Key Points

- Position eigenfunctions are delta functions.

- They are not properly normalized.

- The coefficient of the position eigenfunction for a position is the good old wave function .

- Because of the fact that the delta functions are not normalized, the square magnitude of does not give the probability that the particle is at position .

- Instead the square magnitude of gives the probability that the particle is near position per unit volume.

- Position eigenfunctions are not stationary, so localized particle wave functions will spread out over time.

7.9.2 The linear momentum eigenfunction

Turning now to linear momentum, the eigenfunction that corresponds to
a precise linear momentum will be indicated as
. If you again assume that this
eigenfunction is of the form , the partial problem for is found to be:

The solution is a complex exponential:

where is a constant.

Just like the position eigenfunction earlier, the linear momentum
eigenfunction has a normalization problem. In particular, since it
does not become small at large , the integral of its square
is infinite, not one. The solution is to ignore the problem and to
just take a nonzero value for ; the choice that works out
best is to take:

(However, other books, in particular nonquantum ones, are likely to make a different choice.)

The problems for the and linear momenta have similar
solutions, so the full eigenfunction for linear momentum takes the
form:

The coefficient of the momentum eigenfunction is
very important in quantum analysis. It is indicated by the special
symbol and called the “momentum space wave function.” Like all coefficients, it can be
found by taking an inner product of the eigenfunction with the wave
function:

(7.53) |

The momentum space wave function does not quite give the probability
for the momentum to be . Instead it turns out
that

gives the probability of finding the linear momentum within a small momentum range around . In other words, gives the probability of finding the particle with a momentum near per unit

momentum space volume.That is much like the square magnitude of the normal wave function gives the probability of finding the particle near location per unit physical volume. The momentum space wave function is in the momentum space what the normal wave function is in the physical space .

There is even an inverse relationship to recover from
, and it is easy to remember:

(7.54) |

If this inner product is written out, it reads:

Key Points

- The linear momentum eigenfunctions are complex exponentials of the form:

- They are not properly normalized.

- The coefficient of the linear momentum eigenfunction for a momentum is indicated by . It is called the momentum space wave function.

- Because of the fact that the momentum eigenfunctions are not normalized, the square magnitude of does not give the probability that the particle has momentum .

- Instead the square magnitude of gives the probability that the particle has a momentum close to per unit momentum space volume.

- In writing the complete wave function in terms of the momentum eigenfunctions, you must integrate over the momentum instead of sum.

- The transformation between the physical space wave function and the momentum space wave function is called the Fourier transform. It is invertible.