Wave function

A wave function in quantum physics is a mathematical description of the quantum state of an isolated quantum system. The wave function is a complex-valued probability amplitude, and the probabilities for the possible results of measurements made on the system can be derived from it. The most common symbols for a wave function are the Greek letters ψ and Ψ (lower-case and capital psi, respectively).

Comparison of classical and quantum harmonic oscillator conceptions for a single spinless particle. The two processes differ greatly. The classical process (A–B) is represented as the motion of a particle along a trajectory. The quantum process (C–H) has no such trajectory. Rather, it is represented as a wave; here, the vertical axis shows the real part (blue) and imaginary part (red) of the wave function. Panels (C–F) show four different standing-wave solutions of the Schrödinger equation. Panels (G–H) further show two different wave functions that are solutions of the Schrödinger equation but not standing waves.

The wave function is a function of the degrees of freedom corresponding to some maximal set of commuting observables. Once such a representation is chosen, the wave function can be derived from the quantum state.

For a given system, the choice of which commuting degrees of freedom to use is not unique, and correspondingly the domain of the wave function is also not unique. For instance, it may be taken to be a function of all the position coordinates of the particles over position space, or the momenta of all the particles over momentum space; the two are related by a Fourier transform. Some particles, like electrons and photons, have nonzero spin, and the wave function for such particles include spin as an intrinsic, discrete degree of freedom; other discrete variables can also be included, such as isospin. When a system has internal degrees of freedom, the wave function at each point in the continuous degrees of freedom (e.g., a point in space) assigns a complex number for each possible value of the discrete degrees of freedom (e.g., z-component of spin) – these values are often displayed in a column matrix (e.g., a 2 × 1 column vector for a non-relativistic electron with spin 12).

According to the superposition principle of quantum mechanics, wave functions can be added together and multiplied by complex numbers to form new wave functions and form a Hilbert space. The inner product between two wave functions is a measure of the overlap between the corresponding physical states and is used in the foundational probabilistic interpretation of quantum mechanics, the Born rule, relating transition probabilities to inner products. The Schrödinger equation determines how wave functions evolve over time, and a wave function behaves qualitatively like other waves, such as water waves or waves on a string, because the Schrödinger equation is mathematically a type of wave equation. This explains the name "wave function", and gives rise to wave–particle duality. However, the wave function in quantum mechanics describes a kind of physical phenomenon, still open to different interpretations, which fundamentally differs from that of classic mechanical waves.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

In Born's statistical interpretation in non-relativistic quantum mechanics,[8][9][10] the squared modulus of the wave function, |ψ|2, is a real number interpreted as the probability density of measuring a particle as being at a given place – or having a given momentum – at a given time, and possibly having definite values for discrete degrees of freedom. The integral of this quantity, over all the system's degrees of freedom, must be 1 in accordance with the probability interpretation. This general requirement that a wave function must satisfy is called the normalization condition. Since the wave function is complex-valued, only its relative phase and relative magnitude can be measured—its value does not, in isolation, tell anything about the magnitudes or directions of measurable observables; one has to apply quantum operators, whose eigenvalues correspond to sets of possible results of measurements, to the wave function ψ and calculate the statistical distributions for measurable quantities.


Share this article:

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Wave function, and is written by contributors. Text is available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 International License; additional terms may apply. Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.