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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the model of the quantum harmonic oscillator
  • Identify differences between the classical and quantum models of the harmonic oscillator
  • Explain physical situations where the classical and the quantum models coincide

Oscillations are found throughout nature, in such things as electromagnetic waves, vibrating molecules, and the gentle back-and-forth sway of a tree branch. In previous chapters, we used Newtonian mechanics to study macroscopic oscillations, such as a block on a spring and a simple pendulum. In this chapter, we begin to study oscillating systems using quantum mechanics. We begin with a review of the classic harmonic oscillator.

The classic harmonic oscillator

A simple harmonic oscillator is a particle or system that undergoes harmonic motion about an equilibrium position, such as an object with mass vibrating on a spring. In this section, we consider oscillations in one-dimension only. Suppose a mass moves back-and-forth along the

x -direction about the equilibrium position, x = 0 . In classical mechanics, the particle moves in response to a linear restoring force given by F x = k x , where x is the displacement of the particle from its equilibrium position. The motion takes place between two turning points, x = ± A , where A denotes the amplitude of the motion. The position of the object varies periodically in time with angular frequency ω = k / m , which depends on the mass m of the oscillator and on the force constant k of the net force, and can be written as

x ( t ) = A cos ( ω t + ϕ ) .

The total energy E of an oscillator is the sum of its kinetic energy K = m u 2 / 2 and the elastic potential energy of the force U ( x ) = k x 2 / 2 ,

E = 1 2 m u 2 + 1 2 k x 2 .

At turning points x = ± A , the speed of the oscillator is zero; therefore, at these points, the energy of oscillation is solely in the form of potential energy E = k A 2 / 2 . The plot of the potential energy U ( x ) of the oscillator versus its position x is a parabola ( [link] ). The potential-energy function is a quadratic function of x , measured with respect to the equilibrium position. On the same graph, we also plot the total energy E of the oscillator, as a horizontal line that intercepts the parabola at x = ± A . Then the kinetic energy K is represented as the vertical distance between the line of total energy and the potential energy parabola.

A graph of the potential U of x and energy E is shown. The vertical axis is energy and the horizontal axis is x. The energy E is positive and constant. The potential U of x is the function one half k times x squared, a concave up parabola whose value is zero at x=0. The region below the U of x curve is shaded. U of x is equal to E at x equal to minus A and x equal to plus A.
The potential energy well of a classical harmonic oscillator: The motion is confined between turning points at x = A and at x = + A . The energy of oscillations is E = k A 2 / 2 .

In this plot, the motion of a classical oscillator is confined to the region where its kinetic energy is nonnegative, which is what the energy relation [link] says. Physically, it means that a classical oscillator can never be found beyond its turning points, and its energy depends only on how far the turning points are from its equilibrium position. The energy of a classical oscillator changes in a continuous way. The lowest energy that a classical oscillator may have is zero, which corresponds to a situation where an object is at rest at its equilibrium position. The zero-energy state of a classical oscillator simply means no oscillations and no motion at all (a classical particle sitting at the bottom of the potential well in [link] ). When an object oscillates, no matter how big or small its energy may be, it spends the longest time near the turning points, because this is where it slows down and reverses its direction of motion. Therefore, the probability of finding a classical oscillator between the turning points is highest near the turning points and lowest at the equilibrium position. (Note that this is not a statement of preference of the object to go to lower energy. It is a statement about how quickly the object moves through various regions.)

Questions & Answers

For the question about the scuba instructor's head above the pool, how did you arrive at this answer? What is the process?
Evan Reply
as a free falling object increases speed what is happening to the acceleration
Success Reply
of course g is constant
acceleration also inc
which paper will be subjective and which one objective
photo electrons doesn't emmit when electrons are free to move on surface of metal why?
Rafi Reply
What would be the minimum work function of a metal have to be for visible light(400-700)nm to ejected photoelectrons?
Mohammed Reply
give any fix value to wave length
40 cm into change mm
Arhaan Reply
40cm=40.0×10^-2m =400.0×10^-3m =400mm. that cap(^) I have used above is to the power.
i.e. 10to the power -2 in the first line and 10 to the power -3 in the the second line.
there is mistake in my first msg correction is 40cm=40.0×10^-2m =400.0×10^-3m =400mm. sorry for the mistake friends.
40cm=40.0×10^-2m =400.0×10^-3m =400mm.
this msg is out of mistake. sorry friends​.
what is physics?
sisay Reply
why we have physics
Anil Reply
because is the study of mater and natural world
because physics is nature. it explains the laws of nature. some laws already discovered. some laws yet to be discovered.
is this a physics forum
Physics Reply
explain l-s coupling
Depk Reply
how can we say dirac equation is also called a relativistic equation in one word
preeti Reply
what is the electronic configration of Al
usman Reply
what's the signeficance of dirac equetion.?
Sibghat Reply
what is the effect of heat on refractive index
Nepal Reply
As refractive index depend on other factors also but if we supply heat on any system or media its refractive index decrease. i.e. it is inversely proportional to the heat.
you are correct
law of multiple
if we heated the ice then the refractive index be change from natural water
can someone explain normalization condition
Priyojit Reply
please tell
1 millimeter is How many metres
Darling Reply
1millimeter =0.001metre

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