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Activities

Small Group Activity

60 min.

Finding Eigenvectors and Eigenvalues

Eigenvalues and Eigenvectors

Each group will be assigned one of the following matrices.

\[ A_1\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 0&-1\\ 1&0\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} A_2\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 0&1\\ 1&0\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} A_3\doteq \begin{pmatrix} -1&0\\ 0&-1\\ \end{pmatrix} \]
\[ A_4\doteq \begin{pmatrix} a&0\\ 0&d\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} A_5\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 3&-i\\ i&3\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} A_6\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 0&0\\ 0&1\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} A_7\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 1&2\\ 1&2\\ \end{pmatrix} \]
\[ A_8\doteq \begin{pmatrix} -1&0&0\\ 0&-1&0\\ 0&0&-1\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} A_9\doteq \begin{pmatrix} -1&0&0\\ 0&-1&0\\ 0&0&1\\ \end{pmatrix} \]
\[ S_x\doteq \frac{\hbar}{2}\begin{pmatrix} 0&1\\ 1&0\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} S_y\doteq \frac{\hbar}{2}\begin{pmatrix} 0&-i\\ i&0\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} S_z\doteq \frac{\hbar}{2}\begin{pmatrix} 1&0\\ 0&-1\\ \end{pmatrix} \]

For your matrix:

  1. Find the eigenvalues.
  2. Find the (unnormalized) eigenvectors.
  3. Describe what this transformation does.
  4. Normalize your eigenstates.

If you finish early, try another matrix with a different structure, i.e. real vs. complex entries, diagonal vs. non-diagonal, \(2\times 2\) vs. \(3\times 3\), with vs. without explicit dimensions.

Instructor's Guide

Main Ideas

This is a small group activity for groups of 3-4. The students will be given one of 10 matrices. The students are then instructed to find the eigenvectors and eigenvalues for this matrix and record their calculations on their medium-sized whiteboards. In the class discussion that follows students report their finding and compare and contrast the properties of the eigenvalues and eigenvectors they find. Two topics that should specifically discussed are the case of repeated eigenvalues (degeneracy) and complex eigenvectors, e.g., in the case of some pure rotations, special properties of the eigenvectors and eigenvalues of hermitian matrices, common eigenvectors of commuting operators.

Students' Task

Introduction

Give a mini-lecture on how to calculate eigenvalues and eigenvectors. It is often easiest to do this with an example. We like to use the matrix \[A_7\doteq\begin{pmatrix}1&2\cr 9&4\cr\end{pmatrix}\] from the https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/activities/2179 https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/activities/2179 Finding Eigenvectors and Eigenvalues since the students have already seen this matrix and know what it's eigenvectors are. Then every group is given a handout, assigned a matrix, and then asked to: - Find the eigenvalues - Find the (unnormalized) eigenvectors - Normalize the eigenvectors - Describe what this transformation does

Student Conversations

  • Typically, students can find the eigenvalues without too much problem. Eigenvectors are a different story. To find the eigenvectors, they will have two equations with two unknowns. They expect to be able to find a unique solution. But, since any scalar multiple of an eigenvector is also an eigenvector, their two equations will be redundant. Typically, they must choose any convenient value for one of the components (e.g. \(z=1\)) and solve for the other one. Later, they can use this scale freedom to normalize their vector.
  • The examples in this activity were chosen to include many of the special cases that can trip students up. A common example is when the two equations for the eigenvector amount to something like \(x=x\) and \(y=-y\). For the first equation, they may need help to realize that \(x=\) “anything” is the solution. And for the second equation, sadly, many students need to be helped to the realization that the only solution is \(y=0\).

Wrap-up

The majority of the this activity is in the wrap-up conversation.

The [[whitepapers:narratives:eigenvectorslong|Eigenvalues and Eigenvectors Narrative]] provides a detailed narrative interpretation of this activity, focusing on the wrap-up conversation.

  • Complex eigenvectors: connect to discussion of rotations in the Linear Transformations activity where there did not appear to be any vectors that stayed the same.
  • Degeneracy: Define degeneracy as the case when there are repeated eigenvalues. Make sure the students see that, in the case of degeneracy, an entire subspace of vectors are all eigenvectors.
  • Diagonal Matrices: Discuss that diagonal matrices are trivial. Their eigenvalues are just their diagonal elements and their eigenvectors are just the standard basis.
  • Matrices with dimensions: Students should see from these examples that when you multiply a transformation by a real scalar, its eigenvalues are multiplied by that scalar and its eigenvectors are unchanges. If the scalar has dimensions (e.g. \(\hbar/2\)), then the eigenvalues have the same dimensions.

Extensions

Students calculate probabilities for a particle on a ring using three different notations: Dirac bra-ket, matrix, and wave function. After calculating the angular momentum and energy measurement probabilities, students compare their calculation methods for notation.
Students calculate probabilities for energy, angular momentum, and position as a function of time for an initial state that is a linear combination of energy/angular momentum eigenstates for a particle confined to a ring written in bra-ket notation. This activity helps students build an understanding of when they can expect a quantity to depend on time and to give them more practice moving between representations.

Small Group Activity

30 min.

Superposition States for a Particle on a Ring
Students calculate probabilities for a particle on a ring whose wavefunction is not easily separated into eigenstates by inspection. To find the energy, angular momentum, and position probabilities, students perform integrations with the wavefunction or decompose the wavefunction into a superposition of eigenfunctions.

Small Group Activity

30 min.

Expectation Values for a Particle on a Ring
Students calculate the expectation value of energy and angular momentum as a function of time for an initial state for a particle on a ring. This state is a linear combination of energy/angular momentum eigenstates written in bra-ket notation.

Small Group Activity

60 min.

Linear Transformations
Students explore what linear transformation matrices do to vectors. The whole class discussion compares & contrasts several different types of transformations (rotation, flip, projections, “scrinch”, scale) and how the properties of the matrices (the determinant, symmetries, which vectors are unchanged) are related to these transformations.
  1. Find the eigenvalues and normalized eigenvectors of the Pauli matrices \(\sigma_x\), \(\sigma_y\), and \(\sigma_z\) (see the Spins Reference Sheet posted on the course website).

Small Group Activity

60 min.

Quantum Calculations on the Hydrogen Atom

Students are asked to find eigenvalues, probabilities, and expectation values for \(H\), \(L^2\), and \(L_z\) for a superposition of \(\vert n \ell m \rangle\) states. This can be done on small whiteboards or with the students working in groups on large whiteboards.

Students then work together in small groups to find the matrices that correspond to \(H\), \(L^2\), and \(L_z\) and to redo \(\langle E\rangle\) in matrix notation.

Computational Activity

120 min.

Kinetic energy
Students implement a finite-difference approximation for the kinetic energy operator as a matrix, and then use numpy to solve for eigenvalues and eigenstates, which they visualize.

Small Group Activity

30 min.

Working with Representations on the Ring
This activity acts as a reintroduction to doing quantum calculations while also introducing the matrix representation on the ring, allowing students to discover how to index and form a column vector representing the given quantum state. In addition, this activity introduces degenerate measurements on the quantum ring and examines the state after measuring both degenerate and non-degenerate eigenvalues for the state.