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120 min.

Gibbs entropy approach
These lecture notes for the first week of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 include a couple of small group activities in which students work with the Gibbs formulation of the entropy.


5 min.

Energy and Entropy review
This very quick lecture reviews the content taught in https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph423, and is the first content in https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441.
(K&K 7.11) Show for a single orbital of a fermion system that \begin{align} \left<(\Delta N)^2\right> = \left<N\right>(1+\left<N\right>) \end{align} if \(\left<N\right>\) is the average number of fermions in that orbital. Notice that the fluctuation vanishes for orbitals with energies far enough from the chemical potential \(\mu\) so that \(\left<N\right>=1\) or \(\left<N\right>=0\).
Consider one particle confined to a cube of side \(L\); the concentration in effect is \(n=L^{-3}\). Find the kinetic energy of the particle when in the ground state. There will be a value of the concentration for which this zero-point quantum kinetic energy is equal to the temperature \(kT\). (At this concentration the occupancy of the lowest orbital is of the order of unity; the lowest orbital always has a higher occupancy than any other orbital.) Show that the concentration \(n_0\) thus defined is equal to the quantum concentration \(n_Q\) defined by (63): \begin{equation} n_Q \equiv \left(\frac{MkT}{2\pi\hbar^2}\right)^{\frac32} \end{equation} within a factor of the order of unity.
Consider a system of fixed volume in thermal contact with a resevoir. Show that the mean square fluctuations in the energy of the system is \begin{equation} \left<\left(\varepsilon-\langle\varepsilon\rangle\right)^2\right> = k_BT^2\left(\frac{\partial U}{\partial T}\right)_{V} \end{equation} Here \(U\) is the conventional symbol for \(\langle\varepsilon\rangle\). Hint: Use the partition function \(Z\) to relate \(\left(\frac{\partial U}{\partial T}\right)_V\) to the mean square fluctuation. Also, multiply out the term \((\cdots)^2\).
  1. Find an expression for the free energy as a function of \(T\) of a system with two states, one at energy 0 and one at energy \(\varepsilon\).

  2. From the free energy, find expressions for the internal energy \(U\) and entropy \(S\) of the system.

  3. Plot the entropy versus \(T\). Explain its asymptotic behavior as the temperature becomes high.

  4. Plot the \(S(T)\) versus \(U(T)\). Explain the maximum value of the energy \(U\).


120 min.

Ideal Gas
These notes from week 6 of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 cover the ideal gas from a grand canonical standpoint starting with the solutions to a particle in a three-dimensional box. They include a number of small group activities.


120 min.

Fermi and Bose gases
These lecture notes from week 7 of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 apply the grand canonical ensemble to fermion and bosons ideal gasses. They include a few small group activities.
These notes from the fifth week of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 cover the grand canonical ensemble. They include several small group activities.
These notes from the fourth week of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 cover blackbody radiation and the Planck distribution. They include a number of small group activities.
These notes, from the third week of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 cover the canonical ensemble and Helmholtz free energy. They include a number of small group activities.


120 min.

Entropy and Temperature
These lecture notes for the second week of https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441 involve relating entropy and temperature in the microcanonical ensemble, using a paramagnet as an example. These notes include a few small group activities.


30 min.

Review of Thermal Physics
These are notes, essentially the equation sheet, from the final review session for https://paradigms.oregonstate.edu/courses/ph441.

In a Stern-Gerlach experiment, the arrival of an atom at a measurement counter is a random process. I would like to use the results of the experiments to answer the question:

What is the probability \(\mathcal{P}\) that an atom will arrive at the top counter?

In the case where all the atoms arrive at the top counter, the probability is 1. However, what if I send 10 atoms through the analyzer and detect 3 atoms in the top counter? How confidently can I conclude that the probability is 0.3? What if I repeat my experiment and send 10 more atoms though the analyzer but detect 4 atoms in the top counter? I probably want to revise my estimate. If I do a bunch of sets of experiments, I will get a distribution of probabilities. Therefore, I'm going to need statistical tools to answer my questions:

  1. What is the best estimate of the probability, given the experimental data?
  2. How confident am I of that estimate?

To find the best estimate of the probability, I'm going to do a bunch of sets of experiments and take the mean. The mean probability will be my best estimate of the probability.

To determine how confident I am in the estimate, I'm going to consider the shape of the distribution. (For random processes like the Stern-Gerlach experiment - or coin flipping experiments, where there are 2 possible outcomes for each experiment - the underlying distribution is a binomial distribution.) To get a distribution, I can't do just one Stern-Gerlach experiment, or even a one set of Stern-Gerlach experiments - I have to do a bunch of sets of Stern-Gerlach experiments.

Some Definitions

\(\mathcal{P}\) is the “true value” of probability of ending up in the top counter for the physical system (measuring \(S_z = \hbar/2\)). (This probability is the number that I'm trying to experimentally estimate.)

In 1 Stern-Gerlach experiment, as single atom passes through the analyzer and is detected at a counter.

I'm going to do a bunch of experiments and organize them into \(N\) sets. Each individual set \(n\) will include \(M\) particles being sent into an analyzer and counted in a counter.

For example, I can click the "10k" button and send 10,000 particles through the analyzer (i.e., 10,000 experiments). I can record the number of particles in the top counter and then repeat so that I end up with 5 sets of experiments.

\(M\) = the number of Stern-Gerlach experiments in each set. This is the number of particles I send through the analyzer in 1 set. I'll assume that each set has the same number of experiments.

\(x_n\) = the (integer) number of atoms in the top counter after \(M\) Stern-Gerlach experiments

\(\mathcal{P}_n\) is the probability I determine for 1 set of \(M\) Stern-Gerlach experiments.

\(N\) = the number of sets of Stern-Gerlach experiments (note: \(n\) is an index that indicates a single set of experiments)

\(\bar{\mathcal{P}}\) is the mean probability determined from \(N\) sets of \(M\) experiments. This will be my estimation of the true probability.

Best Estimate of the Probability: the Mean

The probability I determine for a set of experiments (like in the table above) is:

\[\mathcal{P}_n = \frac{x_n}{M}\]

The mean of these probabilities is:

\[\bar{\mathcal{P}}= \frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^N \mathcal{P}_n\]

If I want to, I can also write the mean probability in terms of the number of atoms counted: \begin{align*} \bar{\mathcal{P}} &= \frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^N \mathcal{P}_n \\ &= \frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^N \frac{x_n}{M}\\ &= \frac{1}{NM}\sum_{n=1}^N x_n\\ &= \frac{1}{M}\bar{x} \end{align*}

Experimental Uncertainty - the Standard Error

In this section I'm going to argue that the standard error is a sensible thing to report as the experimental uncertainty (and for making statistical inferences). In order to understand the standard error, I'm first going to talk about the variance and the standard deviation.

The Variance

In order to quantify how spread out the distribution is, conceptually I'm tempted to find the average of the difference between each probability \(\mathcal{P}\) and the mean of the distribution. The problem with this approach is that this average should be zero - the average is at the center of all the observations!

\begin{align*} \frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^N (\bar{\mathcal{P}}-\mathcal{P}_n) &= \frac{1}{N}\left(\sum_{n=1}^N \bar{\mathcal{P}}\right)-\left(\frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^N\mathcal{P}_n\right)\\[12pt] &= \frac{1}{N}N\bar{\mathcal{P}}-\bar{\mathcal{P}} \\[12pt] &=\bar{\mathcal{P}}-\bar{\mathcal{P}}\\[6pt] &= 0 \end{align*}

One way to get around this is to square all the differences first. The variance is the squared difference between the probability for one set of SG experiments and the mean probability:

\[var = \frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^{N} (\bar{\mathcal{P}} - \mathcal{P}_n )^2\]

All contributions to the variance are positive, so the variance is greater than zero (though a zero variance is still technically possible if the distribution is one number). The larger the variance, the more spread out the distribution.

The Standard Deviation

The standard deviation is the square root of the variance. \begin{align*} SD &= \sqrt{var}\\ &= \sqrt{\frac{1}{N}\sum_{n=1}^{N} (\bar{\mathcal{P}} - \mathcal{P}_n )^2}\\ &\rightarrow \sqrt{\frac{1}{N-1}\sum_{n=1}^{N} (\bar{\mathcal{P}} - \mathcal{P}_n )^2} \quad \mbox{ for small N} \end{align*}

(For N < 30ish, there are theoretical arguments about how the standard deviation of the sample underestimates the true standard deviation of the system, so the prefactor is front is made a smidge larger.)

  • The standard deviation does not decrease with more sets of experiments. The standard deviation does not vary with \(N\). The standard deviation comes from taking an average (you add up N things and then divide by \(N\)). As \(N\) increases, the standard deviation does not change with the number of experiments (it might fluctuate a little because of the random nature of additional experiments, especially if the total number of experiments is small, but if you plot \(SD\) vs. \(N\) (e.g., the number of particles in the top counter), the best fit line should have a near-zero slope). Therefore, the standard deviation is a characteristic of the system.

  • The standard deviation is a characteristic of the combined physical and measurement system, including information about the distribution of the physical system and sources of random uncertainty during the measurement process.

  • Binomial vs “normal” distribution For large numbers of experiments (\(M\)), a binomial distribution is very close to a normal (or Gaussian) distribution. For a normal distribution, 68% of measurements will lie within 1 standard deviation from the mean.

  • The standard deviation is a special kind of average, an rms average. The \(rms\) stands for “root mean square” and describes the order of operations in the calculation (first you square, then you average, then you take a square root). So, the rms average allows me to get a sense of how far away individual probabilities \(\mathcal{P}_n\) are from \(\bar{\mathcal{P}}\) without running into the problem with doing a regular average, as described above.

  • Subtle difference between the distributions of number of atoms and probability. The standard deviation does depend on the number of measurements in each set (which conceptually makes sense to me because the standard deviation is a characteristic of the combined physical and measurement system). For binomial distributions, the standard deviation for the distribution of the number of atoms is

    \[SD_{x_n} = \sqrt{M\mathcal{P}(1-\mathcal{P})}\]

    where \(\mathcal{P}\) is the true probability I'm trying to measure. This equation for standard deviation is not general; it is only true for binomial distributions, where each experiment is a coin flip, atom through a Stern-Gerlach analyzer, etc. This equation tells me a system with a characteristic probability \(\mathcal{P}\), the standard deviation will be twice as large if each set includes 100 experiments than if each set includes 25 experiments. (The mean will also be bigger because here I'm counting particles.)

    In contrast, the standard deviation of the distribution of the probabilities is different by a factor of \(M\)

    \begin{align*} SD_{\mathcal{P}} &= \sqrt{\frac{1}{N} \sum_{n=1}^N (\bar{\mathcal{P}_n}-\mathcal{P}_n)^2} \\[12pt] &= \sqrt{\frac{1}{N} \sum_{n=1}^N \left(\frac{\bar{x_n}}{M}-\frac{x_n}{M}\right)^2}\\[12pt] &= \sqrt{\frac{1}{M^2N} \sum_{n=1}^N (\bar{\mathcal{x}_n}-\mathcal{x}_n)^2} \\[12pt] &= \frac{1}{M}\sqrt{\frac{1}{N} \sum_{n=1}^N (\bar{x_n}-x_n)^2} \\[12pt] &= \frac{1}{M} s_{x_n} \\[12pt] &= \frac{1}{M}\sqrt{M\mathcal{P}(1-\mathcal{P})}\\[12pt] &= \sqrt{\frac{\mathcal{P}(1-\mathcal{P})}{M}} \end{align*}

    This tells me that the distribution of probabilities will get narrower as the number of experiments in each set gets larger.

The Standard Error

The standard error (a.k.a. the standard deviation of the mean) \(\sigma\) is an a measure of how well I know the mean. In this lab, I'm estimating the true value of the probability by doing many (N) sets of Stern-Gerlach experiments and finding the mean of these sets. Now imagine that I repeat this whole process many times (N times) so that I get many means. Each mean is a better estimate of the true value of the probability than any individual probabily I measure, and the distribution of these means is much narrower than the distribution of the probabilities that I determined from each set of Stern-Gerlach experiments. If I compute the standard deviation of the distribution of means, it turns out that:

\[StErr_{\mathcal{P}} = \frac{SD_{\mathcal{P}}}{\sqrt N}\]

(see Taylor, pp. 147-148 for a nice derivation) If I only find one mean (\(\bar{\mathcal{P}}\) from my original \(N\) sets of Stern-Gerlach experiments), I can be confident that there is a 68% chance that my mean lies is within 1 standard error from the true value of the probability.

In the case of Stern-Gerlach experiments (which following a binomial distribution):

\begin{align*} StErr_{\mathcal{P}} &= \frac{\sqrt{\frac{\mathcal{P}(1-\mathcal{P})}{M}}}{\sqrt{N}} \\ &= \sqrt{\frac{\mathcal{P}(1-\mathcal{P})}{MN}} \end{align*}

  • The standard error of the probability varies with the total number of experiments. Notice that \(MN\) is the total number of Stern-Gerlach experiments that I run (\(M\) experiments in each set for \(N\) sets). The standard error is inversely proportionally to the square root of the total number of Stern-Gerlach experiments. It doesn't matter how I group them. If I do 10,000 Stern-Gerlach experiments, the standard error is the same as if I do 10 sets of 100 experiments, 20 sets of 50 experiments, or 10,000 sets of 1 experiment. It's hard to tell from looking at the plot alone that the standard error is the same:

  • The standard error as a measure of uncertainty The standard error tells me about how well my mean probability estimates the true value of the probability. Conceptually, it makes sense that the more experiments I do, the more confidence I should have in my estimate.

Reporting Uncertainty

To answer the question of how confident I am in my estimates, I could choose to report the uncertainty as the standard deviation or the standard error. These two options have different meanings (for this discussion, I'm going to assume that \(M\) is large and we have an approximately normal distribution):

\(\bar{\mathcal{P}} \pm SD_{\mathcal{P}}\)
Meaning: If I do one more set of SG experiments, there is a 68% chance that the probability I measure will fall in this range.

\(\bar{\mathcal{P}} \pm StErr_{\mathcal{P}}\)
Meaning: If I repeat the entire exercise, doing \(N\) sets of \(M\) SG experiments, there is a 68% change that the average probability I determine will fall in this range.

In this case, the standard error of the mean is closer to the thing I mean by my confidence in my estimate.

Comparing Values

If I wanted to compare my estimate of the probability to either (1) someone else's measurement or (2) a theoretically expected answer, both of which I'll call \(\mathcal{P}_{exp}\), I might describe the difference between values in terms of the number of standard errors.

\[ t = \frac{|\bar{\mathcal{P}} - \mathcal{P}_{exp}|}{StErr}\]

A smaller \(t\) corresponds to a higher likelihood that the two values come from the same normal distribution. The boundary between acceptable and unacceptable differences is a matter of opinion, to be decided by the experimenter (and the reader). For normal distributions, many scientists consider differences of:

\(t<2\) to be acceptable (“the discrepancy is insignificant”) and

\(t>2\) to be unacceptable (“the discrepancy between values is significant.”).

Differences that are \(t\approx 2\) (1.9-2.6) are generally considered inconclusive.

For a normal distribution, there is a 95% likelihood that the true values lies with 2 standard errors of mean, meaning \(t<2\).

For Your Information:

Inferential statistical tests can be used to formally compare values, for example:

  • One Sample T-Test: A one sample t-test allows us to test whether a sample mean (of a normally distributed variable) significantly differs from a hypothesized value.
  • Independent Samples T-Test: An independent samples t-test is used when you want to compare the means of a normally distributed dependent variable for two independent groups.
  • Binomial Test: A one sample binomial test can be used to determine whether the proportion of successes on a two-level categorical dependent variable significantly differs from a hypothesized value. (Remember that for large values of \(M\), a binomial distribution approximates a normal distribution, so the first two tests might be applicable.)

For each statistical test, a set of assumptions need to be met in order for the test to give reliable, meaningful results. For example, a one sample t-test assumes that the data are normally distributed.


5 min.

Dirac Practice
For this problem, use the vectors \(|a\rangle = 4 |1\rangle - 3 |2\rangle\) and \(|b\rangle = -i |1\rangle + |2\rangle\).
  1. Find \(\langle a | b \rangle\) and \(\langle b | a \rangle\). Discuss how these two inner products are related to each other.
  2. For \(\hat{Q}\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 2 & i \\ -i & -2 \end{pmatrix} \), calculate \(\langle1|\hat{Q}|2\rangle\), \(\langle2|\hat{Q}|1\rangle\), \(\langle a|\hat{Q}| b \rangle\) and \(\langle b|\hat{Q}|a \rangle\).
  3. What kind of mathematical object is \(|a\rangle\langle b|\)? What is the result if you multiply a ket (for example, \(| a\rangle\) or \(|1\rangle\)) by this expression? What if you multiply this expression by a bra?


Consider a two-state quantum system with a Hamiltonian \begin{equation} \hat{H}\doteq \begin{pmatrix} E_1&0\\ 0&E_2 \end{pmatrix} \end{equation} Another physical observable \(M\) is described by the operator \begin{equation} \hat{M}\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 0&c\\ c&0 \end{pmatrix} \end{equation} where \(c\) is real and positive. Let the initial state of the system be \(\left|{\psi(0)}\right\rangle =\left|{m_1}\right\rangle \), where \(\left|{m_1}\right\rangle \) is the eigenstate corresponding to the larger of the two possible eigenvalues of \(\hat{M}\). What is the frequency of oscillation of the expectation value of \(M\)? This frequency is the Bohr frequency.


  1. Let \[|\alpha\rangle \doteq \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \begin{pmatrix} 1\\ 1 \end{pmatrix} \qquad \rm{and} \qquad |\beta\rangle \doteq \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \begin{pmatrix} 1\\ -1 \end{pmatrix}\] Show that \(\left|{\alpha}\right\rangle \) and \(\left|{\beta}\right\rangle \) are orthonormal. (If a pair of vectors is orthonormal, that suggests that they might make a good basis.)
  2. Consider the matrix \[C\doteq \begin{pmatrix} 3 & 1 \\ 1 & 3 \end{pmatrix} \] Show that the vectors \(|\alpha\rangle\) and \(|\beta\rangle\) are eigenvectors of C and find the eigenvalues. (Note that showing something is an eigenvector of an operator is far easier than finding the eigenvectors if you don't know them!)
  3. A operator is always represented by a diagonal matrix if it is written in terms of the basis of its own eigenvectors. What does this mean? Find the matrix elements for a new matrix \(E\) that corresponds to \(C\) expanded in the basis of its eigenvectors, i.e. calculate \(\langle\alpha|C|\alpha\rangle\), \(\langle\alpha|C|\beta\rangle\), \(\langle\beta|C|\alpha\rangle\) and \(\langle\beta|C|\beta\rangle\) and arrange them into a sensible matrix \(E\). Explain why you arranged the matrix elements in the order that you did.
  4. Find the determinants of \(C\) and \(E\). How do these determinants compare to the eigenvalues of these matrices?
Students use their arms to act out two spin-1/2 quantum states and their inner product.
Students use their arms to act out stationary and non-stationary states of a quantum particle on a ring.

In this unit, you will explore the quantum mechanics of a simple system: a particle confined to a one-dimensional ring.

Motivating Questions

  • What are the energy eigenstates, i.e. eigenstates of the Hamiltonian?
  • What physical properties of the energy eigenstates can be measured?
  • What other states are possible and what are their physical properties?
  • How do the states if this system and their physical properties depend on time?

Key Activities/Problems

Unit Learning Outcomes

At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  • Describe the energy eigenstates for the ring system algebraically and graphically.
  • List the physical measurables for the system and give expressions for the corresponding operators in bra/ket, matrix, and position representations.
  • Give the possible quantum numbers for the quantum ring system and describe any degeneracies.
  • For a given state, use the inner product in bra/ket, matrix, and position representations, to find the probability of making any physically relevant measurement, including states with degeneracy.
  • Use an expansion in energy eigenstates to find the time dependence of a given state.

Equation Sheet for This Unit

  • Found in: Central Forces course(s)

Small Group Activity

10 min.

Sequential Stern-Gerlach Experiments
  1. Set-Up a Sequential Measurement

    1. Add an analyzer to the experiment by:

      1. Break the links between the analyzer and the counters by clicking on the boxes with up and down arrow labels on the analyzer.
      2. Click and drag a new connection from the analyzer to empty space to create a new element. A new analyzer is one of the options.

    2. Measure \(S_z\) twice in succession.

      What is the probability that a particle leaving the first analyzer with \(S_z=\frac{+\hbar}{2}\) will be measured by the second analyzer to have \(S_z=\frac{-\hbar}{2}\)?

    3. Try all four possible combinations of input/outputs for the second analyzer.

      What have you learned from these experiments?

  2. Try All Combinations of Sequential Measurements

    In the table, enter the probability of a particle exiting the 2nd analyzer with the spin indicated in row if the particle enters the 2nd analyzer with the spin indicated in each column.

  3. You can rotate the Stern-Gerlach analyzers to any direction you want (using spherical coordinates).

    Choose an arbitrary direction (not along one of the coordinate axes) for the 1st analyzer and measure the spin along the coordinate directions for the 2nd analyzer.

Small Group Activity

30 min.

\(|\pm\rangle\) Forms an Orthonormal Basis
Student explore the properties of an orthonormal basis using the Cartesian and \(S_z\) bases as examples.
With the Spins simulation set for a spin 1/2 system, measure the probabilities of all the possible spin components for each of the unknown initial states \(\left|{\psi_3}\right\rangle \) and \(\left|{\psi_4}\right\rangle \). (Since \(\left|{\psi_3}\right\rangle \) has already been covered in class, please only do \(\left|{\psi_4}\right\rangle \) )
  1. Use your measured probabilities to find each of the unknown states as a linear superposition of the \(S_z\)-basis states \(\left|{+}\right\rangle \) and \(\left|{-}\right\rangle \).
  2. Articulate a Process: Write a set of general instructions that would allow another student in next year's class to find an unknown state from measured probabilities.
  3. Compare Theory with Experiment: Design an experiment that will allow you to test whether your prediction for each of the unknown states is correct. Describe your experiment here, clearly but succinctly, as if you were writing it up for a paper. Do the experiment and discuss your results.
  4. Make a Conceptual Connection: In general, can you determine a quantum state with spin-component probability measurements in only two spin-component-directions? Why or why not?

Lecture about finding \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _x\) and then \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _y\). There are two conventional choices to make: relative phase for \(_x\left\langle {+}\middle|{-}\right\rangle _x\) and \(_y\left\langle {+}\middle|{+}\right\rangle _x\).

So far, we've talked about how to calculate measurement probabilities if you know the input and output quantum states using the probability postulate:

\[\mathcal{P} = | \left\langle {\psi_{out}}\middle|{\psi_{in}}\right\rangle |^2 \]

Now we're going to do this process in reverse.

I want to be able to relate the output states of Stern-Gerlach analyzers oriented in different directions to each other (like \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _x\) and \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _x\) to \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle \)). Since \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle \) forms a basis, I can write any state for a spin-1/2 system as a linear combination of those states, including these special states.

I'll start with \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _x\) written in the \(S_z\) basis with general coefficients:

\[\left|{+}\right\rangle _x = a \left|{+}\right\rangle + be^{i\phi} \left|{-}\right\rangle \]

Notice that:

(1) \(a\), \(b\), and \(\phi\) are all real numbers; (2) the relative phase is loaded onto the second coefficient only.

My job is to use measurement probabilities to determine \(a\), \(b\), and \(\phi\).

I'll prepare a state \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _x\) and then send it through \(x\), \(y\), and \(z\) analyzers. When I do that, I see the following probabilities:

Input = \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _x\) \(S_x\) \(S_y\) \(S_z\)
\(P(\hbar/2)\) 1 1/2 1/2
\(P(-\hbar/2)\) 0 1/2 1/2

First, looking at the probability for the \(S_z\) components:

\[\mathcal(S_z = +\hbar/2) = | \left\langle {+}\middle|{+}\right\rangle _x |^2 = 1/2\]

Plugging in the \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _x\) written in the \(S_z\) basis:

\[1/2 = \Big| \left\langle {+}\right|\Big( a\left|{+}\right\rangle + be^{i\phi} \left|{-}\right\rangle \Big) \Big|^2\]

Distributing the \(\left\langle {+}\right|\) through the parentheses and use orthonormality: \begin{align*} 1/2 &= \Big| a\cancelto{1}{\left\langle {+}\middle|{+}\right\rangle } + be^{i\phi} \cancelto{0}{\left\langle {+}\middle|{-}\right\rangle } \Big|^2 \\ &= |a|^2\\[12pt] \rightarrow a &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \end{align*}

Similarly, looking at \(S_z = -\hbar/2\): \begin{align*} \mathcal(S_z = +\hbar/2) &= | \left\langle {-}\middle|{+}\right\rangle _x |^2 = 1/2 \\ 1/2 = \Big| \left\langle {-}\right|\Big( a\left|{+}\right\rangle + be^{i\phi} \left|{-}\right\rangle \Big) \Big|^2\\ 1/2 &= \Big| a\cancelto{0}{\left\langle {-}\middle|{+}\right\rangle } + be^{i\phi} \cancelto{1}{\left\langle {-}\middle|{-}\right\rangle } \Big|^2 \\ &= |be^{i\phi}|^2\\ &= |b|^2 \cancelto{1}{(e^{i\phi})(e^{-i\phi})}\\[12pt] \rightarrow b &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \end{align*}

I can't yet solve for \(\phi\) but I can do similar calculations for \(\left|{-}\right\rangle _x\):

Input = \(\left|{-}\right\rangle _x\) \(S_x\) \(S_y\) \(S_z\)
\(P(\hbar/2)\) 0 1/2 1/2
\(P(-\hbar/2)\) 1 1/2 1/2
\begin{align*} \left|{-}\right\rangle _x &= c \left|{+}\right\rangle + de^{i\gamma} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \mathcal(S_z = +\hbar/2) &= | \left\langle {+}\middle|{-}\right\rangle _x |^2 = 1/2\\ \rightarrow c = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\\ \mathcal(S_z = +\hbar/2) &= | \left\langle {-}\middle|{-}\right\rangle _x |^2 = 1/2\\ \rightarrow d = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\\ \end{align*}

So now I have: \begin{align*} \left|{+}\right\rangle _x &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}e^{i\beta} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _x &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}e^{i\gamma} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \end{align*}

I know \(\beta \neq \gamma\) because these are not the same state - they are orthogonal to each other: \begin{align*} 0 &= \,_x\left\langle {+}\middle|{-}\right\rangle _x \\ &= \Big(\frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left\langle {+}\right| + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}e^{i\beta} \left\langle {-}\right| \Big)\Big( \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}e^{i\gamma} \left|{-}\right\rangle \Big)\\ \end{align*}

Now FOIL like mad and use orthonormality: \begin{align*} 0 &= \frac{1}{2}\Big(\cancelto{1}{\left\langle {+}\middle|{+}\right\rangle } + e^{i\gamma} \cancelto{0}{\left\langle {+}\middle|{-}\right\rangle } + e^{i\beta} \cancelto{0}{\left\langle {-}\middle|{+}\right\rangle } + e^{i(\gamma - \beta)}\cancelto{1}{\left\langle {-}\middle|{-}\right\rangle } \Big)\\ &= \frac{1}{2}\Big(1 + e^{i(\gamma - \beta} \Big) \\ \rightarrow & \quad e^{i(\gamma-\beta)} = -1 \end{align*}

This means that \(\gamma-\beta = \pi\). I don't have enough information to solve for \(\beta\) and \(\gamma\), but there is a one-time conventional choice made that \(\beta = 0\) and \(\gamma = 1\), so that: \begin{align*} \left|{+}\right\rangle _x &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\cancelto{1}{e^{i0}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _x &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\cancelto{-1}{e^{i\pi}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\[12pt] \rightarrow \left|{+}\right\rangle _x &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle \color{red}{+} \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _x &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle \color{red}{-} \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\left|{-}\right\rangle \\[12pt] \end{align*}

When \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _y\) is the input state:

Input = \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _y\) \(S_x\) \(S_y\) \(S_z\)
\(P(\hbar/2)\) 1/2 1 1/2
\(P(-\hbar/2)\) 1/2 0 1/2
Input = \(\left|{-}\right\rangle _y\) \(S_x\) \(S_y\) \(S_z\)
\(P(\hbar/2)\) 1/2 0 1/2
\(P(-\hbar/2)\) 1/2 1 1/2

The calculations proceed in the same way. The \(S_z\) probabilities give me: \begin{align*} \left|{+}\right\rangle _y &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\cancelto{1}{e^{i\alpha}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _y &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\cancelto{-1}{e^{i\theta}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \end{align*}

The orthongality between \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _y\) and \(\left|{-}\right\rangle _y\) mean that \(\theta - \alpha = \pi\).

But I also know the \(S_x\) probabilities and how to write \(|ket{\pm}_x\) in the \(S_z\) basis. For an input of \(\left|{+}\right\rangle _y\): \begin{align*} \mathcal(S_x = +\hbar/2) &= | \,_x\left\langle {+}\middle|{+}\right\rangle _y |^2 = 1/2 \\ 1/2 &= \Big| \Big(\frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left\langle {+}\right| + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\left\langle {-}\right|\Big) \Big( \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}e^{i\alpha} \left|{-}\right\rangle \Big) \Big|^2\\ 1/2 &= \Big| \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \cancelto{1}{\left\langle {+}\middle|{+}\right\rangle } + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}e^{i\alpha} \cancelto{1}{\left\langle {-}\middle|{-}\right\rangle } \Big|^2 \\ &= \frac{1}{4}|1+e^{i\alpha}|^2\\ &= \frac{1}{4} \Big( 1+e^{i\alpha}\Big) \Big( 1+e^{-i\alpha}\Big)\\ &= \frac{1}{4} \Big( 2+e^{i\alpha} + e^{-i\alpha}\Big)\\ &= \frac{1}{4} \Big( 2+2\cos\alpha\Big)\\ \frac{1}{2} &= \frac{1}{2} + \frac{1}{2}\cos\alpha \\ 0 &= \cos\alpha\\ \rightarrow \alpha = \pm \frac{\pi}{2} \end{align*}

Here, again, I can't solve exactly for alpha (or \(\theta\)), but the convention is to choose \(alpha = \frac{\pi}{2}\) and \(\theta = \frac{3\pi}{2}\), making \begin{align*} \left|{+}\right\rangle _y &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\cancelto{i}{e^{i\pi/2}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _y &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\cancelto{-i}{e^{i3\pi/2}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \rightarrow \left|{+}\right\rangle _y &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle \color{red}{+} \frac{\color{red}{i}}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _y &= \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{+}\right\rangle \color{red}{-} \frac{\color{red}{i}}{\sqrt{2}} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \end{align*}

If I use these two convenctions for the relative phases, then I can write down \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _n\) in an arbitrary direction described by the spherical coordinates \(\theta\) and \(\phi\) as:

Discuss the generalize eigenstates: \begin{align*}\ \left|{+}\right\rangle _n &= \cos \frac{\theta}{2} \left|{+}\right\rangle + \sin \frac{\theta}{2} e^{i\phi} \left|{-}\right\rangle \\ \left|{-}\right\rangle _n &= \sin \frac{\theta}{2} \left|{+}\right\rangle - \cos \frac{\theta}{2} e^{i\phi} \left|{-}\right\rangle \end{align*}

And how the \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _x\) and \(\left|{\pm}\right\rangle _y\) are consistent.

  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).
Consider the arbitrary Pauli matrix \(\sigma_n=\hat n\cdot\vec \sigma\) where \(\hat n\) is the unit vector pointing in an arbitrary direction.
  1. Find the eigenvalues and normalized eigenvectors for \(\sigma_n\). The answer is: \[ \begin{pmatrix} \cos\frac{\theta}{2}e^{-i\phi/2}\\{} \sin\frac{\theta}{2}e^{i\phi/2}\\ \end{pmatrix} \begin{pmatrix} -\sin\frac{\theta}{2}e^{-i\phi/2}\\{} \cos\frac{\theta}{2}e^{i\phi/2}\\ \end{pmatrix} \] It is not sufficient to show that this answer is correct by plugging into the eigenvalue equation. Rather, you should do all the steps of finding the eigenvalues and eigenvectors as if you don't know the answer. Hint: \(\sin\theta=\sqrt{1-\cos^2\theta}\).
  2. Show that the eigenvectors from part (a) above are orthogonal.
  3. Simplify your results from part (a) above by considering the three separate special cases: \(\hat n=\hat\imath\), \(\hat n=\hat\jmath\), \(\hat n=\hat k\). In this way, find the eigenvectors and eigenvalues of \(\sigma_x\), \(\sigma_y\), and \(\sigma_z\).


5 min.

Spin Matrix
The Pauli spin matrices \(\sigma_x\), \(\sigma_y\), and \(\sigma_z\) are defined by: \[\sigma_x= \begin{pmatrix} 0&1\\ 1&0\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} \sigma_y= \begin{pmatrix} 0&-i\\ i&0\\ \end{pmatrix} \hspace{2em} \sigma_z= \begin{pmatrix} 1&0\\ 0&-1\\ \end{pmatrix} \] These matrices are related to angular momentum in quantum mechanics.
  1. By drawing pictures, convince yourself that the arbitrary unit vector \(\hat n\) can be written as: \[\hat n=\sin\theta\cos\phi\, \hat x +\sin\theta\sin\phi\,\hat y+\cos\theta\,\hat z\] where \(\theta\) and \(\phi\) are the parameters used to describe spherical coordinates.
  2. Find the entries of the matrix \(\hat n\cdot\vec \sigma\) where the “matrix-valued-vector” \(\vec \sigma\) is given in terms of the Pauli spin matrices by \[\vec\sigma=\sigma_x\, \hat x + \sigma_y\, \hat y+\sigma_z\, \hat z\] and \(\hat n\) is given in part (a) above.
A beam of spin-\(\frac{1}{2}\) particles is prepared in the initial state \[ \left\vert \psi\right\rangle = \sqrt{\frac{2}{5}}\; |+\rangle_x - \sqrt{\frac{3}{5}}\; |-\rangle_x \](Note: this state is written in the \(S_x\) basis!)
  1. What are the possible results of a measurement of \(S_x\), with what probabilities?
  2. Repeat part a for measurements of \(S_z\).

  3. Suppose you start with a particle in the state given above, measure \(S_x\), and happen to get \(+\hbar /2\). You then take that same particle and measure \(S_z\). What are the possible results and with what probability would you measure each possible result?


Consider the three quantum states: \[\left\vert \psi_1\right\rangle = \frac{1}{\sqrt{3}}\left\vert +\right\rangle+ i\frac{\sqrt{2}}{\sqrt{3}} \left\vert -\right\rangle\] \[\left\vert \psi_2\right\rangle = \frac{1}{\sqrt{5}}\left\vert +\right\rangle- \frac{2}{\sqrt{5}} \left\vert -\right\rangle\] \[\left\vert \psi_3\right\rangle = \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}}\left\vert +\right\rangle+ i\frac{e^{\frac{i\pi}{4}}}{\sqrt{2}} \left\vert -\right\rangle\]
  1. For each of the \(\vert \psi_i\rangle\) above, find the normalized vector \(\vert \phi_i\rangle\) that is orthogonal to it.
  2. Calculate the inner products \(\langle \psi_i\vert \psi_j\rangle\) for \(i\) and \(j=1\), \(2\), \(3\).


5 min.

Orthogonal Brief

Consider the quantum state: \[\left\vert \psi\right\rangle = \frac{1}{\sqrt{3}}\left\vert +\right\rangle+ i\frac{\sqrt{2}}{\sqrt{3}} \left\vert -\right\rangle\]

Find the normalized vector \(\vert \phi\rangle\) that is orthogonal to it.


Phase 2
Consider the three quantum states: \[\left\vert \psi_1\right\rangle = \frac{4}{5}\left\vert +\right\rangle+ i\frac{3}{5} \left\vert -\right\rangle\] \[\left\vert \psi_2\right\rangle = \frac{4}{5}\left\vert +\right\rangle- i\frac{3}{5} \left\vert -\right\rangle\] \[\left\vert \psi_3\right\rangle = -\frac{4}{5}\left\vert +\right\rangle+ i\frac{3}{5} \left\vert -\right\rangle\]
  1. For each of the \(\left|{\psi_i}\right\rangle \) above, calculate the probabilities of spin component measurements along the \(x\), \(y\), and \(z\)-axes.
  2. Look For a Pattern (and Generalize): Use your results from \((a)\) to comment on the importance of the overall phase and of the relative phases of the quantum state vector.
The following two problems ask you to make Fermi estimates. In a good Fermi estimate, you start from basic scientific facts you already know or quantities that you can reasonably estimate based on your life experiences and then reason your way to estimate a quantity that you would not be able guess. You may look up useful conversion factors or constants. Use words, pictures, and equations to explain your reasoning:
  1. Imagine that you send a pea-sized bead of silver through a Stern-Gerlach device oriented to measure the z-component of intrinsic spin. Estimate the total z-component of the intrinsic spin of the ball you would measure in the HIGHLY improbable case that every atom is spin up.
  2. Protons, neutrons, and electrons are all spin-1/2 particles. Give a (very crude) order of magnitude estimate of the number of these particles in your body.
First complete the problem Diagonalization. In that notation:
  1. Find the matrix \(S\) whose columns are \(|\alpha\rangle\) and \(|\beta\rangle\). Show that \(S^{\dagger}=S^{-1}\) by calculating \(S^{\dagger}\) and multiplying it by \(S\). (Does the order of multiplication matter?)
  2. Calculate \(B=S^{-1} C S\). How is the matrix \(E\) related to \(B\) and \(C\)? The transformation that you have just done is an example of a “change of basis”, sometimes called a “similarity transformation.” When the result of a change of basis is a diagonal matrix, the process is called diagonalization.


10 min.

Spin 1/2 with Arms
Students, working in pairs, use their left arms to represent each component in a two-state quantum spin 1/2 system. Reinforces the idea that quantum states are complex valued vectors. Students make connections between Dirac, matrix, and Arms representation.
This handout lists Motivating Questions, Key Activities/Problems, Unit Learning Outcomes, and an Equation Sheet for a Unit on Classical Mechanics Orbits. It can be used both to introduce the unit and, even better, for review.
  • Found in: Central Forces course(s)
Students see probability density for eigenstates and linear combinations of eigenstates for a particle on a ring. The three visual representations: standard position vs probability density plot, a ring with colormapping, and cylindrical plot with height and colormapping, are also animated to visualize time-evolution.
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

30 min.

Time Evolution of a Spin-1/2 System
In this small group activity, students solve for the time dependence of two quantum spin 1/2 particles under the influence of a Hamiltonian. Students determine, given a Hamiltonian, which states are stationary and under what circumstances measurement probabilities do change with time.
Students, working in pairs, use the Arms representations to represent states of spin 1/2 system. Through a short series of instructor-led prompts, students explore the difference between overall phase (which does NOT distinguish quantum states) and relative phase (which does distinguish quantum states).

Whole Class Activity

10 min.

Air Hockey
Students observe the motion of a puck tethered to the center of the airtable. Then they plot the potential energy for the puck on their small whiteboards. A class discussion follows based on what students have written on their whiteboards.

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


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 \(y=0\).


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.


Small White Board Question

30 min.

Magnetic Moment & Stern-Gerlach Experiments
Students consider the relation (1) between the angular momentum and magnetic moment for a current loop and (2) the force on a magnetic moment in an inhomogeneous magnetic field. Students make a (classical) prediction of the outcome of a Stern-Gerlach experiment.

Small Group Activity

30 min.

Gravitational Force
Students examine a plastic "surface" graph of the gravitational potential energy of a Earth-satellite system to make connections between gravitational force and gravitational potential energy.

Small Group Activity

60 min.

Gravitational Potential Energy
Students examine a plastic “surface” graph of the gravitational potential energy of an Earth-satellite system to explore the properties of gravitational potential energy for a spherically symmetric system.

Computational Activity

120 min.

Mean position
Students compute probabilities and averages given a probability density in one dimension. This activity serves as a soft introduction to the particle in a box, introducing all the concepts that are needed.

Computational Activity

120 min.

Sinusoidal basis set
Students compute inner products to expand a wave function in a sinusoidal basis set. This activity introduces the inner product for wave functions, and the idea of approximating a wave function using a finite set of basis functions.

Computational Activity

120 min.

Position operator
Students find matrix elements of the position operator \(\hat x\) in a sinusoidal basis. This allows them to express this operator as a matrix, which they can then numerically diagonalize and visualize the eigenfunctions.