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Angular momentum and expectation value

  1. Oct 1, 2009 #1
    My teacher said that angular momentum doesn't have orientation in space - but how can that be? Isn't cos(theta) = L_z / |L vector| ?

    Also (an unrelated question) could somebody give an example of how the integration process goes when you are trying to get an expectation value for something which isn't an eigenfunction? i.e. I know if it's an eigenfunction, everything normalizes so you just get the observable as the expectation value. But what if it isn't?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 2, 2009 #2


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    Although you can define Lz as the projection of the angular momentum along an external magnetic field, that's just the z-component. The angular momentum vector precesses about the magnetic field, so there is no fixed direction. Maybe that's what your teacher meant.
    Consider two energy eigenstates, |ψ1> and |ψ2>. Then

    H|ψ1>=E11> and H|ψ2>=E22>. Now make a new wavefunction that is a normalized linear combination of these, to be specific




    Clearly |φ> is not an eigenstate of the Hamiltonian H. The expectation value of the energy however, is

    [tex]<E>= <\varphi|H|\varphi>=\frac{1}{3}E_{1}+\frac{2}{3}E_{2}[/tex]

    In other words the expectation value is neither of the eigenvalues, but a weighted average where the weights are the probability coefficients of the eigenstates.
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