2017 International Workshop: Collapse of the Wave Function

Reduction of the atomic wavefunction within the Stern-Gerlach magnetic field

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    Michael Devereux
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    Reduction of the atomic wavefunction within the Stern-Gerlach magnetic field.

    Michael Devereux (Los Alamos National Lavoratory, retired)

    It’s easy to show that the quantum wavefunction of an atom traversing a Stern-Gerlach magnet is immediately reduced to a single spin-direction eigenfunction when a magnetic field quantum is transferred to the atom (Can. J. Phys. 93, p. 1382, 2015; https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/69186/1/cjp-2015-0031.pdf). Note that there is no observational evidence to substantiate the received explanation of continuous wavefunction development up to the detector screen.
    Proof is simple. The S-G potential is static, so that Schrodinger’s equation for that atom is separable, implying a constant total energy of the atom. But, clearly, the atom gains transverse kinetic energy, and so, total energy, as it is kicked to one side by the magnetic field. Thus, the wavefunction is not described by continuous, unitary Schrodinger evolution through the magnet. Instead, the wavefunction immediately collapses to a single spin-direction eigenfunction when a field quantum is absorbed. Else, the atom would experience a random walk, back and forth, through the field, with no beam separation at the detector screen. Several experiments corroborate this immediate reduction to a single spin eigenfunction within the magnetic field.
    Because the S-G experiment is our prototype for quantum measurement, explaining that phenomenon, after ninety years of peripatetic efforts, is significant. There are implications for the applicability of Schrodinger’s equation, the interpretation of measurement, and others.

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