Teaching renormalization, scaling, and universality with an example from quantum mechanics.
We discuss the quantum mechanics of a particle restricted to the half-line $x > 0$ with potential energy $V = \alpha/x^2$ for $-1/4 < \alpha < 0$. It is known that two scale-invariant theories may be defined. By regularizing the near-origin behavior of the potential by a finite square well with variable width $b$ and depth $g$, it is shown how these two scale-invariant theories occupy fixed points in the resulting $(b,g)$-space of Hamiltonians. A renormalization group flow exists in this space and scaling variables are shown to exist in a neighborhood of the fixed points. Consequently, the propagator of the regulated theory enjoys homogeneous scaling laws close to the fixed points. Using renormalization group arguments it is possible to discern the functional form of the propagator for long distances and long imaginary times, thus demonstrating the extent to which fixed points control the behavior of the cut-off theory.
By keeping the width fixed and varying only the well depth, we show how the mean position of a bound state diverges as $g$ approaches a critical value. It is proven that the exponent characterizing the divergence is universal in the sense that its value is independent of the choice of regulator.
Two classical interpretations of the results are discussed: standard Brownian motion on the real line, and the free energy of a certain one-dimensional chain of particles with prescribed boundary conditions. In the former example, $V$ appears as part of an expectation value in the Feynman-Kac formula. In the latter example, $V$ appears as the background potential for the chain, and the loss of extensivity is dictated by a universal power law.
Publisher URL: http://arxiv.org/abs/1707.04388