Bound state

A bound state is a composite of two or more fundamental building blocks, such as particles, atoms, or bodies, that behaves as a single object and in which energy is required to split them.

In quantum physics, a bound state is a quantum state of a particle subject to a potential such that the particle has a tendency to remain localized in one or more regions of space. The potential may be external or it may be the result of the presence of another particle; in the latter case, one can equivalently define a bound state as a state representing two or more particles whose interaction energy exceeds the total energy of each separate particle. One consequence is that, given a potential vanishing at infinity, negative-energy states must be bound. In general, the energy spectrum of the set of bound states is discrete, unlike free particles, which have a continuous spectrum.

Although not bound states in the strict sense, metastable states with a net positive interaction energy, but long decay time, are often considered unstable bound states as well and are called "quasi-bound states". Examples include certain radionuclides and electrets.[clarification needed][citation needed]

In relativistic quantum field theory, a stable bound state of n particles with masses corresponds to a pole in the S-matrix with a center-of-mass energy less than . An unstable bound state shows up as a pole with a complex center-of-mass energy.


An overview of the various families of elementary and composite particles, and the theories describing their interactions


Let H be a complex separable Hilbert space, be a one-parameter group of unitary operators on H and be a statistical operator on H. Let A be an observable on H and be the induced probability distribution of A with respect to ρ on the Borel σ-algebra of . Then the evolution of ρ induced by U is bound with respect to A if , where .[dubious ][citation needed]

More informally, a bound state is contained within a bounded portion of the spectrum of A. For a concrete example: let and let A be position. Given compactly-supported and .

  • If the state evolution of ρ "moves this wave package constantly to the right", e.g. if for all , then ρ is not bound state with respect to position.
  • If does not change in time, i.e. for all , then is bound with respect to position.
  • More generally: If the state evolution of ρ "just moves ρ inside a bounded domain", then ρ is bound with respect to position.


Let A have measure-space codomain . A quantum particle is in a bound state if it is never found “too far away from any finite region ”, i.e. using a wavefunction representation,

Consequently, is finite. In other words, a state is a bound state if and only if it is finitely normalizable.

As finitely normalizable states must lie within the discrete part of the spectrum, bound states must lie within the discrete part. However, as Neumann and Wigner pointed out, a bound state can have its energy located in the continuum spectrum. In that case, bound states still are part of the discrete portion of the spectrum, but appear as Dirac masses in the spectral measure.[citation needed]

Position-bound states

Consider the one-particle Schrödinger equation. If a state has energy , then the wavefunction ψ satisfies, for some

so that ψ is exponentially suppressed at large x.[dubious ] Hence, negative energy-states are bound if V vanishes at infinity.


A boson with mass mχ mediating a weakly coupled interaction produces an Yukawa-like interaction potential,


where , g is the gauge coupling constant, and ƛi = /mic is the reduced Compton wavelength. A scalar boson produces a universally attractive potential, whereas a vector attracts particles to antiparticles but repels like pairs. For two particles of mass m1 and m2, the Bohr radius of the system becomes

and yields the dimensionless number


In order for the first bound state to exist at all, . Because the photon is massless, D is infinite for electromagnetism. For the weak interaction, the Z boson's mass is 91.1876±0.0021 GeV/c2, which prevents the formation of bound states between most particles, as it is 97.2 times the proton's mass and 178,000 times the electron's mass.

Note however that if the Higgs interaction didn't break electroweak symmetry at the electroweak scale, then the SU(2) weak interaction would become confining.

See also

Further reading

  • Blanchard, Philippe; Brüning, Edward (2015). "Some Applications of the Spectral Representation". Mathematical Methods in Physics: Distributions, Hilbert Space Operators, Variational Methods, and Applications in Quantum Physics (2nd ed.). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. p. 431. ISBN 978-3-319-14044-5.
  • Gustafson, Stephen J.; Sigal, Israel Michael (2011). "Spectrum and Dynamics". Mathematical Concepts of Quantum Mechanics (2nd ed.). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag. p. 50. ISBN 978-3-642-21865-1.

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