Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quantum Tunnelling

I'm going to bring this subject up once a year because frankly it's one of my most FAVorite topics in Physics.

I call it : the Small Wall. Walls being: stuff that makes no sense but you have to climb.

In Physics, the first "wall" we encounter is Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, a.k.a., Indeterminacy. That's a medium-sized wall. The second is this. The third and largest is Quantum Entanglement, which is the largest wall of all.

Master those three, and the world begins to make sense. Here's hoping America's educational system gets its act together such that someday they can be explained to a third-grader.

Quantum tunnelling
 refers to the quantum mechanical phenomenon where a particle tunnels through a barrier that it classically could not surmount. This plays an essential role in several physical phenomena, such as shining stars,[1] and has important applications to modern devices such as the tunnel diode.[2] The effect was predicted in the early 20th century, and its acceptance as a general, physical phenomenon came mid-century.[3]
As a consequence of the wave-particle duality of matter, tunnelling is often explained using the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Purely quantum mechanical concepts are central to the phenomenon, so quantum tunneling is one of the defining features of quantum mechanics and the particle-wave duality of matter.




Quantum tunnelling was developed from the study of radioactivity,[4] which was discovered in 1896 by Henri Becquerel.[5] It was examined further by Marie and Pierre Curie, for which they earned the Nobel Prize in Physics.[6] Ernest Rutherford and Egon Schweidler studied its nature, which was later verified empirically by Friedrich Kohlrausch. The idea of the half-life and the impossibility of predicting decay was created from their work.[4]
Friedrich Hund was the first to take notice of tunnelling in 1927 when he was calculating the ground state of the double-well potential.[7] Its first application was a mathematical explanation for alpha decay, which was done in 1928 by George Gamow and independently by Ronald Gurney and Edward Condon.[8][9][10] The two researchers simultaneously solved the Schrödinger equation for a model nuclear potential and derived a relationship between the half-life of the particle and the energy of emission that depended directly on the mathematical probability of tunnelling.
After attending a seminar by Gamow, Max Born recognized the generality of tunnelling. He realized that it was not restricted to nuclear physics, but was a general result of quantum mechanics that applies to many different systems.[11] Shortly thereafter, both groups considered the case of particles tunnelling into the nucleus. The study of semiconductors and the development of transistors and diodes led to the acceptance of electron tunnelling in solids by 1957. The work of Ivar Giaever and Brian David Josephson led to the BCS theory of superconductivity and the prediction of supercurrents.[12]

[edit]Introduction to the concept

Quantum tunnelling through a barrier. The energy of the tunneled particle is the same but the amplitude is decreased.
Quantum tunnelling is in the domain of quantum mechanics, the study of what happens at the quantum scale. This process cannot be directly perceived, so much of its understanding is shaped by the macroscopic world, which classical mechanics can adequately explain. Particles in that realm are understood to travel between potential barriers as a ball rolls over a hill; if the ball does not have enough energy to surmount the hill, it comes back down. The two forms of mechanics differ in their treatment of this scenario. Classical mechanics predicts that particles that do not have enough energy to classically surmount a barrier will not be able to reach the other side. In quantum mechanics, these particles can, with a very small probability, tunnel to the other side, thus crossing the barrier.
The reason for this difference comes from the treatment of matter in quantum mechanics as having properties of waves and particles. One interpretation of this duality involves the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, which defines a limit on how precisely the position and the momentum of a particle can be known at the same time.[13] Hence, the probability of a particle on the other side is non-zero, which means that it would have crossed the barrier.
An electron wavepacket directed at a potential barrier. Note the dim spot on the right that represents tunnelling electrons.

[edit]The tunnelling problem

The wave function of a particle summarizes everything that can be known about a physical system.[14] Therefore, problems in quantum mechanics center around the analysis of the wave function for a system. Using mathematical formulations of quantum mechanics, such as the Schrödinger equation, the wave function can be solved. This is directly related to the probability density of the particle's position, which describes the probability that the particle is at any given place. In the limit of large barriers, the probability of tunnelling decreases for taller and wider barriers.
For simple tunnelling-barrier models, such as the rectangular barrier, an analytic solution exists. Problems in real life often do not have one, so "semiclassical" or "quasiclassical" methods have been developed to give approximate solutions to these problems, like the WKB approximation.

[edit]Related phenomena

There are several phenomena that have the same behavior as quantum tunnelling, and thus can be accurately described by tunnelling. Examples include the evanescent wave coupling (the application of Maxwell's wave-equation to light) and the application of the non-dispersive wave-equation from acoustics applied to "waves on strings". Evanescent wave coupling, until recently, was only called "tunnelling" in quantum mechanics; now it is used in other contexts.
These effects are modelled similarly to the rectangular potential barrier. In these cases, there is one transmission medium through which the wave propagates that is the same or nearly the same throughout, and a second medium through which the wave travels differently. This can be described as a thin region of medium B between two regions of medium A. The analysis of a rectangular barrier by means of the Schrödinger equation can be adapted to these other effects provided that the wave equation has travelling wave solutions in medium A but real exponential solutions in medium B.
In optics, medium A is a vacuum while medium B is glass. In acoustics, medium A may be a liquid or gas and medium B a solid. For both cases, medium A is a region of space where the particle's total energy is greater than its potential energy and medium B is the potential barrier. These have an incoming wave and resultant waves in both directions. There can be more mediums and barriers, and the barriers need not be discrete; approximations are useful in this case.


Tunnelling occurs with barriers of thickness around 1-3 nm and smaller,[15] but is the cause of some important macroscopic physical phenomena. For instance, tunnelling is a source of current leakage in very-large-scale integration (VLSI) electronics and results in the substantial power drain and heating effects that plague high-speed and mobile technology; it is considered the lower limit on how small computer chips can be made.[16]

[edit]Radioactive decay

Radioactive decay is the process by which atomic nuclei release energy by emitting particles. This is done via the tunnelling of a particle out of the nucleus (an electron tunnelling into the nucleus in electron capture). This was the first application of quantum tunnelling and led to the first approximations.

[edit]Cold emission

Cold emission of electrons is relevant to semiconductors and superconductor physics. It is similar to thermionic emission, where electrons randomly jump from the surface of a metal to follow a voltage bias because they statistically end up with more energy than the barrier, through random collisions with other particles. When the electric field is very large, the barrier becomes thin enough for electrons to tunnel out of the atomic state, leading to a current that varies approximately exponentially with the electric field.[17] These materials are important for flash memory and for some electron microscopes.

[edit]Tunnel junction

A simple barrier can be created by separating two conductors with a very thin insulator. These are tunnel junctions, the study of which requires quantum tunnelling.[18] Josephson junctions take advantage of quantum tunnelling and the superconductivity of some semiconductors to create the Josephson effect. This has applications in precision measurements of voltages and magnetic fields[19], as well as themultijunction solar cell.
A working mechanism of a Resonant tunnelling Diode device, based on the phenomenon of quantum tunnelling through the potential barriers.

[edit]Tunnel diode

Diodes are electrical semiconductor devices that allow electric current flow in one direction more than the other. The device depends on adepletion layer between N-type and P-type semiconductors to serve its purpose; when these are very heavily doped the depletion layer can be thin enough for tunnelling. Then, when a small forward bias is applied the current due to tunnelling is significant. This has a maximum at the point where the voltage bias is such that the energy level of the p and n conduction bands are the same. As the voltage bias is increased, the two conduction bands no longer line up and the diode acts typically.[20]
Because the tunnelling current drops off rapidly, tunnel diodes can be created that have a range of voltages for which current decreases as voltage is increased. This peculiar property is used in some applications, like high speed devices where the characteristic tunnelling probability changes as rapidly as the bias voltage.[21]
The resonant tunnelling diode makes use of quantum tunnelling in a very different manner to achieve a similar result. This diode has a resonant voltage for which there is a lot of current that favors a particular voltage, achieved by placing two very thin layers with a high energy conductance band very near each other. This creates a quantum potential well that has a discrete lowest energy level. When this energy level is higher than that of the electrons, no tunnelling will occur, and the diode is in reverse bias. Once the voltage two energies align, the electrons flow like an open wire. As the voltage is increased further tunnelling becomes improbable and the diode acts like a normal diode again before a second energy level becomes noticeable.[22]

[edit]Quantum conductivity

While the Drude model of electrical conductivity makes excellent predictions about the nature of electrons conducting in metals, it can be furthered by using quantum tunnelling to explain the nature of the electron's collisions.[23] When a free electron wave packet encounters a long array of uniformly spaced barriers the reflected part of the wave packet interferes uniformly with the transmitted one between all barriers so that there are cases of 100% transmission. The theory predicts that if positively charged nuclei form a perfectly rectangular array, electrons will tunnel through the metal as free electrons, leading to an extremely highconductance, and that impurities in the metal will disrupt it significantly.[24]

[edit]Scanning tunnelling microscope

The scanning tunnelling microscope (STM), invented by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer, allows imaging of individual atoms on the surface of a metal.[25] It operates by taking advantage of the relationship between quantum tunnelling with distance. When the tip of the STM's needle is brought very close to a conduction surface that has a voltage bias, by measuring the current of electrons that are tunnelling between the needle and the surface, the distance between the needle and the surface can be measured. By using piezoelectric rods that change in size when voltage is applied over them the height of the tip can be adjusted to keep the tunnelling current constant. The time-varying voltages that are applied to these rods can be recorded and used to image the surface of the conductor.[26] STMs are accurate to 0.001 nm, or about 1% of atomic diameter.[27]

[edit]Mathematical discussions of quantum tunnelling

The following subsections discuss the mathematical formulations of quantum tunnelling.

[edit]The Schrödinger equation

The time-independent Schrödinger equation for one particle in one dimension can be written as
-\frac{\hbar^2}{2m} \frac{d^2}{dx^2} \Psi(x) + V(x) \Psi(x) = E \Psi(x) or
\frac{d^2}{dx^2} \Psi(x) = \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right) \Psi(x) \equiv \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} M(x) \Psi(x) ,
where \hbar  is the reduced Planck's constant, m is the particle mass, x represents distance measured in the direction of motion of the particle, Ψ is the Schrödinger wave function, V is the potential energy of the particle (measured relative to any convenient reference level), E is the energy of the particle that is associated with motion in the x-axis (measured relative to V), and M(x) is a quantity defined by V(x) - E which has no accepted name in physics.
The solutions of the Schrödinger equation take different forms for different values of x, depending on whether M(x) is positive or negative. When M(x) is constant and negative, then the Schrödinger equation can be written in the form
\frac{d^2}{dx^2} \Psi(x) = \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} M(x) \Psi(x) = -k^2 \Psi(x),\;\;\;\;\;\; \mathrm{where} \;\;\; k^2= -\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} M.
The solutions of this equation represent traveling waves, with phase-constant +k or -k. Alternatively, if M(x) is constant and positive, then the Schrödinger equation can be written in the form
\frac{d^2}{dx^2} \Psi(x) = \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} M(x) \Psi(x) = {\kappa}^2 \Psi(x), \;\;\;\;\;\; \mathrm{where} \;\;\; {\kappa}^2= \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} M.
The solutions of this equation are rising and falling exponentials in the form of evanescent waves. When M(x) varies with position, the same difference in behaviour occurs, depending on whether M(x) is negative or positive. It follows that the sign of M(x) determines the nature of the medium, with positive M(x) corresponding to medium A as described above and negative M(x) corresponding to medium B. It thus follows that evanescent wave coupling can occur if a region of positive M(x) is sandwiched between two regions of negative M(x), hence creating a potential barrier.
The mathematics of dealing with the situation where M(x) varies with x is difficult, except in special cases that usually do not correspond to physical reality. A discussion of the semi-classical approximate method, as found in physics textbooks, is given in the next section. A full and complicated mathematical treatment appears in the 1965 monograph by Fröman and Fröman noted below. Their ideas have not been incorporated into physics textbooks, but their corrections have little quantitative effect.

[edit]The WKB approximation

The wave function is expressed as the exponential of a function:
Ψ(x) = eΦ(x), where \Phi''(x) + \Phi'(x)^2 = \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right).
Φ'(x) is then separated into real and imaginary parts:
Φ'(x) = A(x) + iB(x), where A(x) and B(x) are real-valued functions.
Substituting the second equation into the first and using the fact that the imaginary part needs to be 0 results in:
A'(x) + A(x)^2 - B(x)^2 = \frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right).
To solve this equation using the semiclassical approximation, each function must be expanded as a power series in \hbar. From the equations, the power series must start with at least an order of \hbar^{-1} to satisfy the real part of the equation; for a good classical limit starting with the highest a power of Planck's constant possible is preferable, which leads to
A(x) = \frac{1}{\hbar} \sum_{k=0}^\infty \hbar^k A_k(x)
B(x) = \frac{1}{\hbar} \sum_{k=0}^\infty \hbar^k B_k(x),
with the following constraints on the lowest order terms,
A_0(x)^2 - B_0(x)^2 = 2m \left( V(x) - E \right)
A0(x)B0(x) = 0.
At this point two extreme cases can be considered. If the amplitude varies slowly as compared to the phase A0(x) = 0 and
B_0(x) = \pm \sqrt{ 2m \left( E - V(x) \right) }
which corresponds to classical motion. Resolving the next order of expansion yields
\Psi(x) \approx C \frac{ e^{i \int dx \sqrt{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( E - V(x) \right)} + \theta} }{\sqrt[4]{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( E - V(x) \right)}}
Case 2
If the phase varies slowly as compared to the amplitude, B0(x) = 0 and
A_0(x) = \pm \sqrt{ 2m \left( V(x) - E \right) }
which corresponds to tunnelling. Resolving the next order of the expansion yields
\Psi(x) \approx \frac{ C_{+} e^{+\int dx \sqrt{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right)}} + C_{-} e^{-\int dx \sqrt{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right)}}}{\sqrt[4]{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right)}}
In both cases it is apparent from the denominator that both these approximate solutions are bad near the classical turning points E = V(x). Away from the potential hill, the particle acts similar to a free and oscillating wave; beneath the potential hill, the particle undergoes exponential changes in amplitude. By considering the behaviour at these limits and classical turning points a global solution can be made.
To start, choose a classical turning point, x1 and expand \frac{2m}{\hbar^2}\left(V(x)-E\right) in a power series about x1:
\frac{2m}{\hbar^2}\left(V(x)-E\right) = v_1 (x - x_1) + v_2 (x - x_1)^2 + \cdots
Keeping only the first order term ensures linearity:
\frac{2m}{\hbar^2}\left(V(x)-E\right) = v_1 (x - x_1).
Using this approximation, the equation near x1 becomes a differential equation:
\frac{d^2}{dx^2} \Psi(x) = v_1 (x - x_1) \Psi(x).
This can be solved using Airy functions as solutions.
\Psi(x) = C_A Ai\left( \sqrt[3]{v_1} (x - x_1) \right) + C_B Bi\left( \sqrt[3]{v_1} (x - x_1) \right)
Taking these solutions for all classical turning points, a global solution can be formed that links the limiting solutions. Given the 2 coefficients on one side of a classical turning point, the 2 coefficients on the other side of a classical turning point can be determined by using this local solution to connect them.
Hence, the Airy function solutions will asymptote into sine, cosine and exponential functions in the proper limits. The relationships between C and C + ,C  are
C_{+} = \frac{1}{2} C \cos{\left(\theta - \frac{\pi}{4}\right)}
C_{-} = - C \sin{\left(\theta - \frac{\pi}{4}\right)}
With the coefficients found, the global solution can be found. Therefore, the transmission coefficient for a particle tunnelling through a single potential barrier is
T = \frac{e^{-2\int_{x_1}^{x_2} dx \sqrt{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right)}}}{ \left( 1 + \frac{1}{4} e^{-2\int_{x_1}^{x_2} dx \sqrt{\frac{2m}{\hbar^2} \left( V(x) - E \right)}} \right)^2},
where x1,x2 are the 2 classical turning points for the potential barrier.

[edit]See also


  1. ^ College Physics Vol. 2 Serway and Vuille
  2. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 234. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  3. ^ Mohsen Razavy, "Quantum Theory of Tunneling", page 4. World Scientific Publishing Co. 2003
  4. a b Mohsen Razavy, "Quantum Theory of Tunneling", page 1. World Scientific Publishing Co. 2003
  5. ^ Nimtz and Haibel, "Zero Time Space", page 1. WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. 2008.
  6. ^ Nimtz and Haibel, "Zero Time Space", page 2. WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. 2008.
  7. ^ Nimtz and Haibel, "Zero Time Space", page 3. WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. 2008.
  8. ^ R W Gurney and E U Condon, "Quantum Mechanics and Radioactive Disintegration" Nature 122, 439 (1928); Phys. Rev 33, 127 (1929)
  9. ^ Interview with Hans Bethe by Charles Weiner and Jagdish Mehra at Cornell University, 27 October 1966 accessed 5 April 2010
  10. ^ Friedlander, Gerhart; Kennedy, Joseph E; Miller, Julian Malcolm (1964). Nuclear and Radiochemistry, 2nd edition. New York, London, Sydney: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 225–7. ISBN 978-047-186-2550.
  11. ^ Mohsen Razavy, "Quantum Theory of Tunneling", page 3. World Scientific Publishing Co. 2003
  12. ^ Mohsen Razavy, "Quantum Theory of Tunneling", page 4-5 World Scientific Publishing Co. 2003
  13. ^ Nimtz and Haibel, "Zero Time Space", page 5. WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. 2008.
  14. ^ Bjorken and Drell, "Relativistic Quantum Mechanics", page 2. Mcgraw-Hill College, 1965.
  15. ^ Lerner and Trigg, "Encyclopedia of Physics 2nd Ed.", pg 1308, VCH Publishers (1991).
  16. ^ "Applications of tunneling". Simon Connell 2006.
  17. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 479. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  18. ^ Lerner and Trigg, "Encyclopedia of Physics 2nd Ed.", pg 1308-1309. VCH Publishers, 1991.
  19. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 484. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  20. ^ Kenneth Krane, "Modern Physics", pg 423. John Wiley and Sons, 1983.
  21. ^ Kenneth Krane, "Modern Physics", pg 424. John Wiley and Sons, 1983.
  22. ^ R. D. Knight, "Physics for Scientists and Engineers: With Modern Physics", pg 1311. Pearson Education, 2004.
  23. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 429. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  24. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 430. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  25. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 473. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  26. ^ Taylor, J: Modern Physics, page 475. Prentice Hall, 2004.
  27. ^ R. D. Knight, "Physics for Scientists and Engineers: With Modern Physics", pg 1310. Pearson Education, 2004.

[edit]Further reading

[edit]External links

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