# Excited state to ground state

by TeTeC
Tags: ground, state
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 P: 49 Hello, Non-relativistic quantum mechanics doesn't explain why the electron in the hydrogen atom (for example) "decays" from excited states to the ground state. Which theory does explain this phenomenon (from basic principles) ? Thanks.
 P: 1 All systems in nature tend to be in a state of minimum energy. For example, if you have a ball at a height of a level and go down her loose, because the lower level has a lower energy than the top. A drop of liquid, for example, in the vacuum acquires a spherical shape and this is because this configuration is a state of minimum energy. It is a law of nature.
P: 200
 Quote by TeTeC Hello, Non-relativistic quantum mechanics doesn't explain why the electron in the hydrogen atom (for example) "decays" from excited states to the ground state. Which theory does explain this phenomenon (from basic principles) ? Thanks.
I suspect that quantum electrodynamics explains it, though I don't know too much about it.

 Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 2,262 Excited state to ground state Yes, QED can explain it as long as you allow for coupling to vacuum states (effectivly the enivornment). You can find a discussusion about this in e.g. Cohen-Tannoudji's book "atom-photon interactions"
 P: 49 I bought this book a few weeks ago, but I still have to read it. Thanks !
 Sci Advisor P: 1,866 You'd need to pose that question more specifically. Is the question: "How can that transition occur, in non-relativistic QM?" then the answer is that there's no real problem with that, you can calculate the transition probability and everything without knowing one thing about photons. Or is your question: "Why do things tend to a lower energy level?" - that's general thermodynamics Or is your question: "How, _exactly_ are the photons emitted/absorbed?" - that's QED.
P: 4,663
 Quote by TeTeC Hello, Non-relativistic quantum mechanics doesn't explain why the electron in the hydrogen atom (for example) "decays" from excited states to the ground state. Which theory does explain this phenomenon (from basic principles) ? Thanks.
It is a little more complicated than a simple minimum energy principal. In Bethe and Salpeter "Quantum Mechanics of One and Two Electron Atoms", there is a Table on page 266 showing the theory and calculated transition rates and lifetimes for all the levels in hydrogen up to 6h.

Of particular interest are the transition rates from the n=2 levels. The only lower state is the 1s, so the energy difference and transition energy is about 10.2 eV. The calculated lifetime for the 2p state is 1.6 nanoseconds (the 2p -> 1s transition), but the lifetime of the 2s state is infinity!!! The 2s -> 1s transition is forbidden. Only after resorting to other transitions can the 2s state eventually get to the 1s.
 P: 398 I don't know why people seem reluctant to put forward the obvious explanation for these transitions. The mixture of a ground state with an excited state gives you an oscillating charge distribution, which radiates energy like an ordinary antenna. It's not really mysterious.
P: 4,663
 Quote by conway I don't know why people seem reluctant to put forward the obvious explanation for these transitions. The mixture of a ground state with an excited state gives you an oscillating charge distribution, which radiates energy like an ordinary antenna. It's not really mysterious.
But why doesn't the hydrogen 2s state decay to the 1s state by the same method all the other states decay?
P: 1,160
 Quote by conway I don't know why people seem reluctant to put forward the obvious explanation for these transitions. The mixture of a ground state with an excited state gives you an oscillating charge distribution, which radiates energy like an ordinary antenna. It's not really mysterious.
It is wrong and right at the same time.

Let me explain. In the initial non perturbed state you have only an excites atomic state. If there is no other interaction, of any kind, no transition to or superposition with the ground state can arise.
Now, let us remember that charges are coupled to the electromagnetic field. In the non-relativistic case the interaction energy (perturbation term) is jA_rad. This interaction is always on but it is small in many cases so one can prepare the initial atomic exited state and wait.

What happens due to the interaction? The quantized electromagnetic field in our simple case can be represented by a harmonic (resonant) oscillator in its ground state. Then the probability of its exciting (populating its level) starts to "grow" with time and the probability to find the atom in its initial state "decreases" with time. Finally the atom gets in its ground state and the photon oscillator gets excited. I took the words in double commas because the corresponding amplitudes (or probabilities) oscillate in time. You can imagine that as a transition from one standing wave to another. In meantime everything oscillates. The radiation takes many "jumps" to and fro. In this sense the previous answer is right, but we must keep in mind why the ground state population (probability) "grows" (grows on average): there is another system that takes the energy difference.

Bob.
P: 398
 Quote by Bob S But why doesn't the hydrogen 2s state decay to the 1s state by the same method all the other states decay?
Because the oscillations are spherically symmetric, like a pulsating balloon. There is no net radiation from such an antenna.
P: 1,160
 Quote by Bob S It is a little more complicated than a simple minimum energy principal. In Bethe and Salpeter "Quantum Mechanics of One and Two Electron Atoms", there is a Table on page 266 showing the theory and calculated transition rates and lifetimes for all the levels in hydrogen up to 6h. Of particular interest are the transition rates from the n=2 levels. The only lower state is the 1s, so the energy difference and transition energy is about 10.2 eV. The calculated lifetime for the 2p state is 1.6 nanoseconds (the 2p -> 1s transition), but the lifetime of the 2s state is infinity!!! The 2s -> 1s transition is forbidden. Only after resorting to other transitions can the 2s state eventually get to the 1s.
It is not forbidden but highly suppressed. It is still possible - via multi-photon radiation. The corresponding probability is rather small due to extreme symmetry mentioned in the previous posting (balloon oscillations).

Bob.
P: 4,663
(posted by Bob S)
But why doesn't the hydrogen 2s state decay to the 1s state by the same method all the other states decay?
 Quote by conway Because the oscillations are spherically symmetric, like a pulsating balloon. There is no net radiation from such an antenna.
But then why does the 3s initial state have a lifetime of only 160 nanoseconds, when the 2s initial state has an infinite lifetime?
P: 398
 Quote by Bob S (posted by Bob S) But then why does the 3s initial state have a lifetime of only 160 nanoseconds, when the 2s initial state has an infinite lifetime?
I haven't worked out all the combinations, but I think the superposition of 3s and 2p would probably have a strong oscillating dipole moment.
P: 4,663
(posted by Bob S)
But why doesn't the hydrogen 2s state decay to the 1s state by the same method all the other states decay?
(Posted by Conway)
Because the oscillations are spherically symmetric, like a pulsating balloon. There is no net radiation from such an antenna.
(Posted by Bob S. )
But then why does the 3s initial state have a lifetime of only 160 nanoseconds, when the 2s initial state has an infinite lifetime?
 Quote by conway I haven't worked out all the combinations, but I think the superposition of 3s and 2p would probably have a strong oscillating dipole moment.
I have looked all through Bethe and Salpeter "Quantum Mechanics of One and Two Electron Atoms", but I have not found any reference to pulsating balloons, but I believe the 3s decays via the 2p state. The 3s to 2p is a delta N=1, delta L=1 transition, the same as 3d to 2p. Both have (approximately) the same transttion energy. But the 3s has a 160 nanosecond lifetime, and the 3d has a 15.6 nanosecond lifetime (from Bethe and Salpeter). Neither can go directly to the 1s, because that would be delta L = 0 or 2 (forbidden). So maybe the pulsating balloon theory is correct.
 P: 398 Thanks for the vote of confidence (?). But I hope you don't feel you need to take my word for it on the pulsating balloon. It's one of the superpositions that's fairly easy to visualize: hold the 1s state steady and applying a 1/2 cycle time evolution to the 2s. One way the charge is pushed inwards, and 180 degrees later the charge is pushed outwards.
 P: 980 Or you could just learn how to do time-dependent perturbation theory? Fermi's Golden rule? That would tell you that the decay rate is proportional to the matrix element of the perturbation (in this case, an electric dipole) connecting the final and initial states. The difference in 3s->2p and 3d->2p is largely due to this difference.
 P: 398 Yes, that also works.

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