Equivalence between free quantum particles and those in harmonic potentials and its application to instantaneous changes

Ole Steuernagel

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9 Citations (Scopus)
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In quantum physics the free particle and the harmonically trapped particle are arguably the most important systems a physicist needs to know about. It is little known that, mathematically, they are one and the same. This knowledge helps us to understand either from the viewpoint of the other. Here we show that all general time-dependent solutions of the free-particle Schrodinger equation can be mapped to solutions of the Schrodinger equation for harmonic potentials, both the trapping oscillator and the inverted `oscillator'. This map is fully invertible and therefore induces an isomorphism between both types of system, they are equivalent. A composition of the map and its inverse allows us to map from one harmonic oscillator to another with a different spring constant
and different center position. The map is independent of the state of the system, consisting only of a coordinate transformation and multiplication by a form factor, and can be chosen such that the state is identical in both systems at one point in time. This transition point in time can be chosen freely, the wave function of the particle evolving in time in one system before the transition point can therefore be linked up smoothly with the wave function for the other system and its
future evolution after the transition point. Such a cut-and-paste procedure allows us to describe the instantaneous changes of the environment a particle finds itself in. Transitions from free to trapped systems, between harmonic traps of different spring constants or center positions, or, from harmonic binding to repulsive harmonic potentials are straightforwardly modelled. This includes some time dependent harmonic potentials. The mappings introduced here are computationally more efficient than either state-projection or harmonic oscillator propagator techniques conventionally employed when describing instantaneous (non-adiabatic) changes of a quantum particle's environment
Original languageEnglish
Article number114
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Physical Journal Plus
Issue number6
Early online date11 Jun 2014
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


  • quant-ph


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