Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 1997
  • Online publication date: June 2012

9 - Quantum theory of damping – Heisenberg–Langevin approach


In the previous chapter, we developed the equation of motion for a system as it evolved under the influence of an unobserved (reservoir) system. We used the density matrix approach and worked in the interaction picture. In this chapter, we consider the same problem of the system-reservoir interaction using a quantum operator approach. We again eliminate the reservoir variables. The resulting equations for the system operators include, in addition to the damping terms, the noise operators which produce fluctuations. These equations have the form of classical Langevin equations, which describe, for example, the Brownian motion of a particle suspended in a liquid. The Heisenberg–Langevin approach discussed in this chapter is particularly suitable for the calculation of two-time correlation functions of the system operator as is, for example, required for the determination of the natural linewidth of a laser.

We first consider the damping of the harmonic oscillator by an interaction with a reservoir consisting of many other simple harmonic oscillators. This system describes, for example, the damping of a single-mode field inside a cavity with lossy mirrors. The reservoir, in this case, consists of a large number of phonon-like modes in the mirrors. We also consider the decay of the field due to its interaction with an atomic reservoir. An interesting application of the theory of the system–reservoir interaction is the evolution of an atom inside a damped cavity. It is shown that the spontaneous transition rate of the atom can be substantially enhanced if it is placed in a resonant cavity.