Level Width

level width

[′lev·əl ′width]
(quantum mechanics)
A measure of the spread in energy of an unstable state, equal to the difference between the energies at which intensity of emission or absorption of photons or particles, or the cross section for a reaction, is one-half its maximum value.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Level Width


the uncertainty in the energy of a quantum-mechanical system having discrete energy levels ℰk in a state that is not strictly stationary. The system may be an atom, a molecule, or an atomic nucleus.

The level width Δℰk characterizes the broadening of an energy level and the energy spread in the level. It depends on the mean life of a system in a given energy state—that is, on the lifetime τk of the system in the level—and, in accordance with the uncertainty relation for energy and time, is given by the expression Δℰk ≈ ℏ/τk, where ℏ is Planck’s constant. For a stationary state of a system, τk = ∞ and Δℰk = 0. The lifetime τk and, consequently, the level width result from the possibility of quantum transitions of the system to states of lower energy.

For a free system, such as a single atom, spontaneous radiative transitions from level ℰk to lower-lying levels ℰi (ℰi < ℰk) determine the radiation width, or the natural width, of the level: (Δℰk)rad ≈ ℏAk, where Ak = ∑iAki is the total probability of spontaneous emission from level ℰk; Aki is Einstein’s coefficient for spontaneous emission. The broadening of an energy level may also be caused by spontaneous nonradiative transitions, for example, by the alpha decay of a radioactive atomic nucleus. The width of an energy level of an atom is very small in comparison with the energy of the level.

In other cases, the level width may become comparable to the level spacing. For example, the probability of quantum transitions in excited nuclei is determined by the emission of neutrons and is very high.

Any interactions that increase the probability of a transition of a system to other states result in additional broadening of the system’s energy levels. The Stark broadening of the energy levels of an atom or ion in a plasma as a result of collisions with ions or electrons may be cited as an example. In the general case, the total level width is proportional to the sum of the probabilities of all possible transitions—both spontaneous transitions and transitions induced by various interactions—from a given energy level.

The level width determines the line width of a spectral line.


See references under SPECTRAL LINES, WIDTH OF.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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