|San José State University|
& Tornado Alley
Analysis of a Free Electron
A free electron is one moving in a space in which there is no field affecting it. Conventional quantum analysis arrives at what is called the plane-wave solution for a free electron. The plane-wave solution has the probability density function from Schroedinger's equation consisting of a squared sinusoidal function along an axis that incorporates the velocity vector of the electron. The planes involved in the solution are those perpendicular to the direction of motion of the electron.
This solution in conventional quantum analysis called the Copenhagen Interpretation always puzzled me because it seemed to mean that an electron, or at least its probability density function, was spread over all of space and thus the electron could quantum jump from a point anywhere in space to any other point in space. This seems improbable to say the least.
While the plane wave solution doesn't make any sense in the conventional Copenhagen Interpretation it makes perfect sense when the probability density function (PDF) from Schroedinger's equation is interpreted as the time-spent probability density function. A free electron travels across space at a constant velocity which in quantum terms is a pattern of fast-slow-fast-slow movement, what Schroedinger called "zitterbewegung" (trembling motion). Its path extends from the infinite past to the infinite future so the extension of the PDF over an infinite range of space is no puzzle. However the probability density does not extend an indefinite distance away from the x-axis.
The Hamiltonian function for a free electron is
where p is the mometum of the electron and m is its mass.
If a Cartesian coordinate system is used with the x-axis coinciding with the momentum vector then the Hamiltonian operator H^ for a free electron is
This arrived at by replacing the momentum in the x-direction by i
thus p² is replaced by − h((∂$sup2;/∂x²). This is the prescription
for forming the Hamiltonian operator.
The time-independent Schroedinger equation for the free electron is then
There are no momenta in the directions of the y-axis or the z-axis so no second derivatives with respect to y or z appear in in the Hamiltonian operator.
The above equation has a sinusoidal solution which leads to the PDF being a squared sinusoidal function. The width of the nonzero probability density function (PDF) is unresolved but a reasonable speculation is that is equal to the width of the particle. Let ρ be the radius of the particle. Then the relative density function for a free particle would be
P(x, y, z) = 0
if y>ρ or z>ρ .
This is more in the nature of a stacked disks solution.
The normalization of P(x) would result in it being zero everywhere. The function cos²(k(x−x0) could be called the relative probability density function.
The conventional analysis takes the time-independent Schroedinger equation for the free electron to be
where ∇² is the Laplacian operator for the coordinate system. For the Cartesian coordinate system
The Schroedinger equation above reduces to
This can be solved through the use of the separation-of-variables assumption to give
h²) and B and x0 are constants. The attempt to normalize this
function results in PC(x, y, z) being equal to zero for all x, y and z.
As in the alternative case the above function may be considered the relative
probability density function.
The nature of the solution for the PDF being for all y an z as well as x comes entirely from the Hamiltonian operator containing the second derivatives with respect to y and z even though there are no momenta in the y and z direction.
The treatment of the squared magnitude of the solution to the Schroedinger equation as an intrinsic probability density function under the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum theory is obviously problematical, but as a time-spent probability density function there is no problem. The nature of the plane-wave solution for a free electron appears to be entirely due to using an unjustified general form as the Hamiltonian operator for a free electron.
(To be continued.)
HOME PAGE OF Thayer Watkins