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Quantum inequalities in quantum mechanics

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Publication details

JournalAnnales Henri Poincare
DatePublished - Feb 2005
Issue number1
Number of pages29
Pages (from-to)1-30
Original languageEnglish


We study a phenomenon occurring in various areas of quantum physics, in which an observable density (such as an energy density) which is classically pointwise non-negative may assume arbitrarily negative expectation values after quantization, even though the spatially integrated density remains non-negative. Two prominent examples which have previously been studied are the energy density (in quantum field theory) and the probability flux of rightwards-moving particles (in quantum mechanics). However, in the quantum field context, it has been shown that the magnitude and space-time extension of negative energy densities are not arbitrary, but restricted by relations which have come to be known as quantum inequalities. In the present work, we explore the extent to which such quantum inequalities hold for typical quantum mechanical systems. We derive quantum inequalities of two types. The first are kinematical quantum inequalities where spatially averaged densities are shown to be bounded below. Specifically, we obtain such kinematical quantum inequalities for the current density in one spatial dimension (imposing constraints on the backflow phenomenon) and for the densities arising in Weyl–Wigner quantization. The latter quantum inequalities are direct consequences of sharp Gårding inequalities. The second type are dynamical quantum inequalities where one obtains bounds from below on temporally averaged densities. We derive such quantum inequalities in the case of the energy density in general quantum mechanical systems having suitable decay properties on the negative spectral axis of the total energy. Furthermore, we obtain explicit numerical values for the quantum inequalities on the one-dimensional current density, using various spatial averaging weight functions. We also improve the numerical value of the related backflow constant previously investigated by Bracken and Melloy. In many cases our numerical results are controlled by rigorous error estimates.

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