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Spectrum of angular momentum operators 
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#1
Sep2210, 06:20 AM

P: 22

1. The problem statement, all variables and given/known data
I am trying to understand the allowed eigenvalues for the angular momentum operators J and L. In particular why, m_{j} can take integer and halfinteger values whereas m_{l} can take only integer values. 2. Relevant equations I have learned about angular momentum operators as generators of rotations. So for complete rotation of the system: [tex] U_{rotation}( \bold{\alpha}) = \exp (  i \bold{\alpha} \cdot \bold{J} ) [/tex] where U is a rotation operator and J, the total angular momentum, is the generator of this rotation. And for circular translation: [tex] U_{circular translation}( \bold{\alpha}) = \exp (  i \bold{\alpha} \cdot \bold{L} ) [/tex] where U generates circular translations and L, the orbital angular momentum, is the generator of this motion. I also have: [tex] \bold{L} = \bold{r} \times \bold{p} [/tex] Which can be shown to be consistent with the previous equation. ( I am mostly using Binney: http://wwwthphys.physics.ox.ac.uk/p...ney/QBhome.htm) 3. The attempt at a solution I am happy with the proof that the eigenvalues of L_{z} and J_{z} must take half integer or integer values. I am confused about the argument that ml, the eigenvalues of L_{z} must take only integer values. The argument is that moving the system all the way round in a circle ( so alpha is 2 pi radians) must leave the state unchanged. Plugging this into the equation involving L we find that m_{l} must take only integer values unlike m_{j} which can take halfinteger values. I don't understand why we can't apply the same argument to rotations through 2 pi and then argue that m_{j} must take only integer values for the same reasons. 


#2
Sep2210, 06:57 AM

P: 263

J is the total angular momentum. This means that it accounts for spin too. briefly it is the "sum" of the orbital angular momentum and spin. But this property (turn around by 2pi and dont flip sign) is not at all true for spin, hence it cant be a requirement for J either. It can only be a requirement for L.



#3
Sep2210, 07:16 AM

P: 22

Thank you. I see what you mean that J can't be forced to obey a rule which spin doesn't obey but I still don't understand the difference between L and J which makes the original argument true for one and not the other.
In fact, the more I think about it the less I understand the argument for integer values of m_{l}. Why does a rotation of 2 pi have to leave you with the same state? Common sense dictates that it has to describe the same physics but couldn't this be achieved by the same state with an arbitrary phase factor in front (as is the case for J)? 


#4
Sep2210, 07:27 AM

P: 263

Spectrum of angular momentum operators
Just as i answered, its not true for J because its not true for spin. Hence it cant be true for J.
L and J are not the same operators. 


#5
Sep2210, 07:40 AM

P: 22

Thank you, I understand there is a difference between L and J and you have made it clear why the argument can't hold for J. I'm afraid I still don't understand why the argument does hold for L.



#6
Sep2210, 07:54 AM

P: 263

Right. So the z component of L: Lz is the generator of rotations around the z axis. explicitly written (take phi to be the angle of rotation):
Lz=i*hbar*d/dphi the eigenfunction of this operator is exp(i*m*phi). Now if we just rotate by 2pi, i.e. fully around, then the system cant change. For example you look at something in your room, then you turn around 360 degrees and look at it again, then nothing physical has changed. this is incorporated as a condition that m has to be an integer. 


#7
Sep2210, 08:06 AM

Sci Advisor
PF Gold
P: 1,776

As to why the orbital component of angular momentum should be integral valued, it is simply the only possibility for single valued wavefunctions of an orbital particle. The angular momentum operators e.g. Sz take the form of differential operators on the wavefunction psi(x,y,z). [tex] L_z \propto [x\frac{\partial}{\partial y}  y\frac{\partial}{\partial x}][/tex] If you then rewrite this in polar form you see that the eigenfunctions are the spherical harmonics with integer eigenvalues. You then see the spherical harmonics expressing the angular components of the wavefunctions for a particle orbiting a central potential. One then adds in the intrinsic angular momentum of the orbiting particle which we are surprised to discover may take on half integer values. Hence the total J is integral (orbital) plus half integral (intrinsic) which then may be half integral (3 +1/2 for example). Ultimately though the answer to your question, "Why" is that that's how nature is observed to behave. There are possible exceptions, see for example anyons which may manifest as quasiparticles in a two dimensional material (such as thin films). 


#8
Sep2210, 08:19 AM

P: 22

Thank you both very much. It looks like I need to do some more reading about spin.



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