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Homework Help: Wave packets, integration

  1. Aug 26, 2009 #1
    I'm reading up on Quantum Mechanics and I don't follow an integration they use.

    They start with this:
    [tex]\psi(x,t) = \int^{\infty}_{-\infty} dk A(k) e^{i(kx-\omega t)}[/tex]

    They begin by considering the wave packet at time t=0:
    [tex]\psi(x,0) = \int^{\infty}_{-\infty} dk A(k) e^{ikx}[/tex]

    "and illustrate it by considering a special form, called the gaussian form":
    [tex]A(k) = e^{-\alpha (k-k_{0})^{2} / 2}[/tex]

    I'm ok with all of this so far, although not entirely sure why they chose (or what even the purpose is of) the "gaussian form". I do know a very little bit about the gaussian distribution and I see that this "gaussian form" looks a little similar to a portion of the noramal distribution but why just that part, and why the differences. But, at any rate I can live with all of that so far, however I get completely lost once they do the next step.
    They make a change of variables to q' = k-k₀, and end up with:

    [tex]\psi(x,0) = e^{ik_{0}x}e^{-x^{2} / 2\alpha} \int^{\infty}_{-\infty} dq' e^{-\alpha q'^{2} / 2}[/tex]
    [tex]= \sqrt{\frac{2\pi}{\alpha}}e^{ik_{0}x}e^{-x^{2} / 2\alpha}[/tex]

    Any help, advice, insights, or even just a point in the right direction would really help me right now. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2009 #2
    Well for starters that looks like the wave function for a free particle. In contrast to say an infinite well there are no stationary states, so instead of a discrete number of coefficients for each stationary state of the wave function (as seen in the infinite well) we have a continuous distribution of coefficients for a free particle.

    They choose a Gaussian distribution because it is a probability distribution which shows up a lot in quantum mechanics. You thought it looked like a normal distribution and that's because it essentially is just that. Although in this case A(k) by itself is not normalized.

    So looking at the Gaussian distribution we can get a few properties from it:
    [tex]A(k) = e^{-\alpha (k-k_{0})^{2} / 2}[/tex]

    The average value is [tex]k_0[/tex] and the standard deviation is [tex]\sqrt{\frac{1}{\alpha}}[/tex]

    As for the integral, I'm not sure how they are rearranging the exponents but Mathematica says that it's correct, sorry...
  4. Aug 27, 2009 #3


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    Are you okay with the change of variables itself? Just straight substitution should lead you to the integral,

    [tex]\psi(x,0) =e^{i k_0 x} \int^{\infty}_{-\infty} dq' e^{-\alpha (q')^{2} / 2} e^{iq' x}[/tex]

    From here, you could recognize the above integral as an inverse Fourier Transform and basically look up the final result in a table of said transforms.

    Alternatively, just complete the square on the exponent:


    then take out the constant (w.r.t q') factor of [itex]e^{x^2/2\alpha}[/itex] and perform another change of variables [itex]q=q'+\frac{i}{\alpha}x[/itex].

    And the final solution is obtained by applying the well-known result [itex]\int_{-\infty}^{\infty}e^{-y^2}dy=\sqrt{\pi}[/itex].
  5. Aug 28, 2009 #4
    I'm sorry but I don't follow the first step for the variable change.
    So if we have q' = k-k₀
    dq' = 1*dk
    correct? If it is right, then we now have:

    [tex]\psi(x,0) = \int^{\infty}_{-\infty} dq' e^{-\alpha q'^{2} / 2} e^{ikx}[/tex]

    which doesn't look right.
  6. Aug 28, 2009 #5
    Does it just require more simplifying? I see how I could get it like this:

    [tex]\psi(x,0) = e^{-ixk_{0}}\int^{\infty}_{-\infty} dq' e^{-\alpha q'^{2} / 2} e^{ixq'}[/tex]

    but the final form doesn't have the power of e in front of the integral as negative like I do.
  7. Aug 28, 2009 #6


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    You should have a positive sign...

    [tex]q'=k-k_0\implies k=q'+k_0\implies e^{ikx}=e^{iq'x}e^{ik_0 x}[/tex]
  8. Aug 28, 2009 #7
    Ah, ok that is the way you wrote it too :)
    Nice ty very much.
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