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Basic Quantum Mechanics

August 4, 2011


The computer industry has been driven by the urge to make devices more ecient for
handling more complex tasks and to perform the simpler tasks at a brisk pace.

This has

been made possible so far by miniaturization of the integrated circuits (I.C.), so that more
circuits can be fabricated on a chip of a given size, thereby reducing the distance traversed
by an electron to perform a particular task. So far this has been in keeping with Moore's law
[give reference], which says that technology will enable the number of transistors per chip
to increase with time in a log-linear scale. However there will be a limit to this reduction
and before long one would reach a limit when there will be only one electron per device
(say a single electron transistor), and the physics governing the functioning of this device
is quantum physics and not classical physics. At microscopic scale all objects are governed
by quantum mechanics and therefore it becomes imperative to give a bit of background on
quantum mechanics before embarking on a journey of making the quantum computer.

State Vectors and Vector Space


Dimension and basis of a vector space

An n-dimensional quantum state can be represented by a state vector or a state function,

which is a point in n-dimensional linear vector space, dened over


i.e. the coecients of

the basis vectors can in general be a complex number.

A set of n vectors

is said to be linearly independent if and only if the solution of the


xk k = 0



x1 = x2 = ....... = xn = 0,

xk 's


are scalar coecents, which could in general be complex numbers. If there exists

a set of scalars, not all of which are zero, such that one of the vectors in this vector space

can be expressed as the linear combination of others,


xk k ,


then the set

is said to be linearly dependant. The basis of the vector space consists

of a set of the maximum possible numbers of linearly independent vectors belonging to that
space. These vectors

1 , 2 ...n

to be denoted by

are called basis vectors. Generally, for

the sake of convenience, in quantum mechanics, these vectors are chosen to be orthonormal
to each other, i.e., their scalar products satisfy the relation,

(i , j ) = ij


A basis is orthonormal if the base vectors are orthonormal to one another, and complete, if
the base vectors span the entire space. A canonical example of linear vector space that is
Euclidian three dimensional space. Here the basis vectors are the unit vectors,

i, j



a 3 dimensional real space. In 3-D real space, they will be represented in matrix form as,

i = 0 ,

j = 1 ,



k = 0 .

Any arbitrary vector in this case can be expressed as


A = Axi + Ay j + Az k,

which in

this column matrix notation will be given as,


A = Ay ,
where, the coecients,

Ax , Ay




are real numbers. However, for a quantum state in

general they will be complex numbers. Such a vector space dened over

C is called a Hilbert

space. We will encounter applications of the properties of this space in the next chapter,
when we deal with qubits.
In Dirac's bra-ket notation, the state vector and is represented as |i(ket) and its
is represented as h| (bra). Kets are elements of the Hilbert space for

every ket there is an unique bra and vice versa. The bra vectors belong to H which is the

complex conjugate

dual space of the Hilbert space H of the ket vectors. The orthonormality condition in bra-ket
notation is denoted by,





h|i = 1



Properties of this vector space

The properties of this complex n-dimensional vector space are:

(i) The states (or vectors) are commutative under addition,
(ii) Their addition is also associative,
(iii) Inner product of two states exists and the norm of a vector is positive denite,
(iv) The vector space is a complete, i.e.

the basis vectors of this vector space, spans the

whole space.
(v) The basis vectors of this space constitute a linearly independent set of vectors.


quantum mechanics we enforce a further requirement that the basis vectors have to be form
an orthonormal set, i.e. the norm is 1 and they are orthogonal to one another.


In quantum mechanics, any observable quantity is represented by linear operators, which

in general are represented by matrices, whose eigenvectors lie in the Hilbert space dened
above. In classical mechanics, any experimentally observable quantity can be shown to be
represented by a real-valued function on the set of all possible states of the system, which
in general is continuous. However, in quantum mechanics, this set is in general discrete, but
could be continuous in an innite dimensional Hilbert space. For example, representations
of angular momentum are in general discrete, but the representations of momentum are

A crucial dierence between observables in classical mechanics and quantum

mechanics is that in the latter case, two observables may not be simultaneously measurable.
This is mathematically expressed by non-commutativity of the corresponding operators, i.e.,

AB BA 6= O.


This inequality expresses a dependence of the results upon the order in which the measurement of the observables are performed. Observables corresponding to non-commutative
operators are called incompatible.
In general a linear operator
a state


has to satisfy a mathematical rule that when it acts upon

it transforms that state to another state


of the same vector space.


quantum mechanics, observables are postulated to be Hermitian operators mapping Hilbert


onto itself.

This is because, the eigenvalues of Hermitian operators/matrices are

real, signifying that observables are real and measurable quantities. A Hermitian operator
is also known as self-adjoint operator. They posses the following properties:
1. Eigenvalues of observables are real and in fact are possible outcomes of measurements
of a given observable.
2. Corresponding eigenvectors or eigenstates span the Hilbert space, which means, that each
observable generates/constitutes an orthonormal basis. After measurement over an arbitrary
state, we are left with one of the eigenstates of this operator, termed as measurement. We
will study more about measurement in the next section.
Here are some examples of observables:
1. Observables with continuous spectrum (dim(H) =

and coordinate operator as x

= x.
sented as p
= i~ x


Momentum operator is repre-

2. Observables with discrete spectrum

(dim(H) = 2)

: The three operators corresponding

to the the three spin coordinates of a spin- half system is represented by the three Pauli

x =

y =

z =







The Pauli matrices are a set of 2 x 2 complex Hermitian and unitary matrices. They satisfy
the following properties:

i2 = I,
(ii) det(i )=-1,
(iii) Trace(i )=0,
(iv) i , j = 2 i,j I
(v) i , j = 2 i,j,k k ,


i, j, k

= x,y,z and

denotes an identity matrix in two dimension, [,] denotes

commutation of two operators, whereas {,} denotes anti-commutation,

delta and



is the Kronecker

is the Levi-Civita symbol.


A canonical example of an observable used extensively in quantum mechanics is the total

energy operator or the Hamiltonian, which is the sum of kinetic energy (K) and the potential
energy (V). Thus,

= T + V


The eigenvalue equation for this operator is known as the Schrdinger equation and is given


~2 2

|i + V |i
|i =
2m x2


The time independent Schrdinger equation, is given by,

= E|i,


where, E is the energy eigenvalue. Upon solving this equation, one obtains a set of eigenvalues and corresponding eigenvectors {En ,|n i}, such that the {|n i}'s form an orthonormal
set. These solutions are time independent and hence are called stationary states.

Measurement and expectation values

In quantum mechanics and observable is a quantity that can be measured. Each dynamical
variable like spin, orbital angular momentum, can be represented by a Hermitian operator
that acts on the state of a system and whose eigenvalues correspond to the values that
dynamical variable can attain.

We have seen earlier that the eigenvalues of a Hermitian

operator are real and any measurable quantity has to be real. The role of the observable
(operators) in quantum mechanics is to assign real numbers to the outcomes of a particular
measurement and these numbers are eigenvalues of that operator. Since any arbitrary state
in Hilbert space can be a superposition of the basis vectors (which in this case are the eigenstates), an operator acting on this state will project the system into one of its eigenstates,
and this event is probabilistic. One cannot be certain beforehand which of these eigenstates
will be projected during the measurement. If the operator is the Hamiltonian, it will project
the system to one of its energy eigenstates and the system will then remain in this particular
eigenstate if the Hamiltonian is time independent. In a mixed state, we have an ensemble,
where there is a weight associated with each eigenstate, such that a measurement will project
an eigenstate with that particular weight factor. In case of a canonical ensemble, that weight
. If one does a large number of measurements for an opfactor for the state |n i is e
erator, one will obtain an average value for that operator, also known as the expectation
value. Thus if we have an arbitrary state, |i =
k=1 ak k , then the expectation value of
an operator


is given by,




Postulates of quantum mechanics

We will review the fundamental postulates of quantum mechanics in this section.


postulates are as follows:

(i) The state of physical systems are represented by vectors in Hilbert space.
(ii) Any measurable or observable quantity is represented by Hermitian operators.
(iii) When a measurement is performed, the state is projected onto one of the eigenstates of
the operator. This is also known as the collapse of an arbitrary wave-function onto one of
its eigenstates.
(iv) The average value of such a measurement is given by the expectation value of that

Time evolution of expectation values

So far we have been dealing with only time independent Hamiltonians. In such a case, we
have to solve the time dependent Schrdinger equation. Quantum mechanics enables us
to calculate the time evolution of a dynamical system provided the Hamiltonian is dened
and the initial state is suitably specied. The Hamiltonian must include all the interactions
that the system is subjected to and here we will deal with closed systems, where eect of

external elds or forces are neglected.

In the so-called Schrdinger picture of quantum

mechanics, the dynamics is governed by the time evolution of the state, which results from
the solution of the equation,


| (t)i

|(t)i = H |(t)i


H is a densely-dened selfi is the imaginary unit and ~ is the reduced

denotes the state of the system at any one time t,

adjoint operator, called the system Hamiltonian,

Planck constant. H is the total energy of the system.

Alternatively, by Stone's theorem one can state that there is a strongly continuous oneparameter unitary group

U (t) : H?H

such that

|(t + s)i = U (t) |(s)i


for all times s, t. There exists a self-adjoint Hamiltonian H such that

U (t) = e(i/~)tH


is a consequence of Stone's theorem on one-parameter unitary groups. It is assumed that H

does not depend on time and that the perturbation starts at


= 0; otherwise one must use

the Dyson series, formally written as

U (t) = T {exp (i/~)

dt0 H(t0 )} ,



T , is Dyson's time-ordering symbol. This symbol permutes a product of non-commuting

operators of the form B1 (t1 ) B2 (t2 ) Bn (tn ) into the uniquely determined re-ordered
expressionBi1 (ti1 ) Bi2 (ti2 ) Bin (tin ) with ti1 ti2 tin . The result is a causal

chain, the primary cause in the past on the utmost r.h.s., and nally the present eect on
the utmost l.h.s..
An alternative picture of quantum mechanics, known as the Heisenberg picture, focuses
on observables and instead of considering states as varying in time, it regards the states
as xed and the observables as changing. To go from the Schrdinger to the Heisenberg
picture one needs to dene time-independent states and time-dependent operators. Thus,

|i = |(0)i A(t) = U (t)AU (t).


It can easily veried that the expected values of all observables are the same in both pictures,

| i = h(t) | A | (t)i
h | A(t)


and that the time-dependent Heisenberg operators satisfy

It is assumed that

A(t) = [A(t),

is not time dependent in the Schrdinger picture.


The third picture, which is the so-called Dirac picture or interaction picture has timedependent states and observables, evolving with respect to dierent Hamiltonians.


picture is most useful when the evolution of the observables can be solved exactly, conning any complications to the evolution of the states. For this reason, the Hamiltonian for
the observables is called "free Hamiltonian" and the Hamiltonian for the states is called
"interaction Hamiltonian". The time evolution equation is given by,


|(t)i = Hint (t) |(t)i i~ A(t) = [A(t), H0 ].


The Heisenberg picture is the closest to classical Hamiltonian mechanics, for example, the
commutators appearing in the above equations directly translate into the classical Poisson
brackets; and the Schrdinger picture is considered easiest to visualize and understand by
most people, to judge from pedagogical accounts of quantum mechanics. The Dirac picture
is the one used in perturbation theory, and is specially associated to quantum eld theory
and many-body physics.
Similar equations can be written for any one-parameter unitary group of symmetries of
the physical system. Time would be replaced by a suitable coordinate parameterizing the
unitary group, for instance, a rotation angle, or a translation distance and the Hamiltonian would be replaced by the conserved quantity associated to the symmetry, for example,
angular or linear momentum.