Landau quantization

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In quantum mechanics, Landau quantization refers to the quantization of the cyclotron orbits of charged particles in a uniform magnetic field. As a result, the charged particles can only occupy orbits with discrete, equidistant energy values, called Landau levels. These levels are degenerate, with the number of electrons per level directly proportional to the strength of the applied magnetic field. It is named after the Soviet physicist Lev Landau. [1]


Landau quantization is directly responsible for the electronic susceptibility of metals, known as Landau diamagnetism. Under strong magnetic fields, Landau quantization leads to oscillations in electronic properties of materials as a function of the applied magnetic field known as De Haas–Van Alphen and Shubnikov–De Haas effects.

Landau quantization is a key ingredient to explain the integer quantum Hall effect.


Diagram of a cyclotron orbit, which is the classical trajectory of a charged particle under a uniform magnetic field. The Landau quantization refers to a quantum charged particle under a uniform magnetic field. Cyclotron Orbit.jpg
Diagram of a cyclotron orbit, which is the classical trajectory of a charged particle under a uniform magnetic field. The Landau quantization refers to a quantum charged particle under a uniform magnetic field.

Consider a system of non-interacting particles with charge q and spin S confined to an area A = LxLy in the x-y plane. Apply a uniform magnetic field along the z-axis. In CGS units, the Hamiltonian of this system (here, the effects of spin are neglected) is

Here, is the canonical momentum operator and is the electromagnetic vector potential, which is related to the magnetic field by

There is some gauge freedom in the choice of vector potential for a given magnetic field. The Hamiltonian is gauge invariant, which means that adding the gradient of a scalar field to  changes the overall phase of the wave function by an amount corresponding to the scalar field. But physical properties are not influenced by the specific choice of gauge. For simplicity in calculation, choose the Landau gauge, which is

where B=|B| and x̂ is the x component of the position operator.

In this gauge, the Hamiltonian is

The operator commutes with this Hamiltonian, since the operator ŷ is absent by the choice of gauge. Thus the operator can be replaced by its eigenvalue ħky . Since does not appear in the Hamiltonian and only the z-momentum appears in the kinetic energy, this motion along the z-direction is a free motion.

The Hamiltonian can also be written more simply by noting that the cyclotron frequency is ωc = qB/m, giving

This is exactly the Hamiltonian for the quantum harmonic oscillator, except with the minimum of the potential shifted in coordinate space by x0 = ħky/mωc .

To find the energies, note that translating the harmonic oscillator potential does not affect the energies. The energies of this system are thus identical to those of the standard quantum harmonic oscillator, [2]

The energy does not depend on the quantum number ky, so there will be a finite number of degeneracies (If the particle is placed in an unconfined space, this degeneracy will correspond to a continuous sequence of ). The value of is continuous if the particle is unconfined in the z-direction and discrete if the particle is bounded in the z-direction also.

For the wave functions, recall that commutes with the Hamiltonian. Then the wave function factors into a product of momentum eigenstates in the y direction and harmonic oscillator eigenstates shifted by an amount x0 in the x direction:

where . In sum, the state of the electron is characterized by the quantum numbers, n, ky and kz.

Landau levels

Each set of wave functions with the same value of n is called a Landau level. Effects of Landau levels are only observed when the mean thermal energy kT is smaller than the energy level separation, kT ≪ ħωc, meaning low temperatures and strong magnetic fields.

Each Landau level is degenerate because of the second quantum number ky, which can take the values


where N is an integer. The allowed values of N are further restricted by the condition that the center of force of the oscillator, x0, must physically lie within the system, 0 ≤ x0 < Lx. This gives the following range for N,

For particles with charge q = Ze, the upper bound on N can be simply written as a ratio of fluxes,

where Φ0 = h/e is the fundamental magnetic flux quantum and Φ = BA is the flux through the system (with area A = LxLy).

Thus, for particles with spin S, the maximum number D of particles per Landau level is

which for electrons (where Z=1 and S=1/2) gives D = 2Φ/Φ0, two available states for each flux quantum that penetrates the system.

The above gives only a rough idea of the effects of finite-size geometry. Strictly speaking, using the standard solution of the harmonic oscillator is only valid for systems unbounded in the x-direction (infinite strips). If the size Lx is finite, boundary conditions in that direction give rise to non-standard quantization conditions on the magnetic field, involving (in principle) both solutions to the Hermite equation. The filling of these levels with many electrons is still [3] an active area of research.

In general, Landau levels are observed in electronic systems. As the magnetic field is increased, more and more electrons can fit into a given Landau level. The occupation of the highest Landau level ranges from completely full to entirely empty, leading to oscillations in various electronic properties (see De Haas–Van Alphen effect and Shubnikov–De Haas effect).

If Zeeman splitting is included, each Landau level splits into a pair, one for spin up electrons and the other for spin down electrons. Then the occupation of each spin Landau level is just the ratio of fluxes D = Φ/Φ0. Zeeman splitting has a significant effect on the Landau levels because their energy scales are the same, 2μBB = ħωc. However, the Fermi energy and ground state energy stay roughly the same in a system with many filled levels, since pairs of split energy levels cancel each other out when summed.


This derivation treats x and y as slightly asymmetric. However, by the symmetry of the system, there is no physical quantity which distinguishes these coordinates. The same result could have been obtained with an appropriate interchange of x and y.

Moreover, the above derivation assumed an electron confined in the z-direction, which is a relevant experimental situation — found in two-dimensional electron gases, for instance. Still, this assumption is not essential for the results. If electrons are free to move along the z direction, the wave function acquires an additional multiplicative term exp(ikzz); the energy corresponding to this free motion, (ħ kz)2/(2m), is added to the E discussed. This term then fills in the separation in energy of the different Landau levels, blurring the effect of the quantization. Nevertheless, the motion in the x-y-plane, perpendicular to the magnetic field, is still quantized.

Landau levels in symmetric gauge

The symmetric gauge refers to the choice

In terms of dimensionless lengths and energies, the Hamiltonian can be expressed as

The correct units can be restored by introducing factors of and

Consider operators

These operators follow certain commutation relations


In terms of above operators the Hamiltonian can be written as

Landau Level index is the eigenvalue of

The z component of angular momentum is

Exploiting the property we chose eigenfunctions which diagonalize and , The eigenvalue of is denoted by , where it is clear that in the th Landau level. However, it may be arbitrarily large, which is necessary to obtain the infinite degeneracy (or finite degeneracy per unit area) exhibited by the system.

The application of increases by one unit while preserving , whereas application simultaneously increase and decreases by one unit. The analogy to quantum harmonic oscillator provides solutions

Each Landau level has degenerate orbitals labeled by the quantum numbers ky and in the Landau and symmetric gauges respectively. The degeneracy per unit area is the same in each Landau level.

One may verify that the above states correspond to choosing wavefunctions proportional to

where .

In particular, the lowest Landau level consists of arbitrary analytic functions multiplying a Gaussian, .

Effects of gauge transformation

The definition for kinematical momenta is

where are the canonical momenta. The Hamiltonian is a gauge invariant so and will remain invariant under gauge transformations but will depend upon gauge. For observing the effect of gauge transformation on the quantum state of the particle, consider the state with A and A' as vector Potential, with states and .

As and is invariant under the gauge transformation we get

Consider an operator such that

from above relation we deduce that

from this we conclude

Relativistic case

Landau levels in graphene. Charge carriers in graphene behave as relativistic massless Dirac particles. Graphene - Geim - Landau levels.svg
Landau levels in graphene. Charge carriers in graphene behave as relativistic massless Dirac particles.

An electron following Dirac equation under a constant magnetic field, can be analytically solved. [4] [5] The energies are given by

where c is the speed of light, the sign depends on the particle-antiparticle component and ν is a non-negative integer. Due to spin, all levels are degenerate except for the ground state at ν=0.

The massless 2D case can be simulated in single-layer materials like graphene near the Dirac cones, where the eigenergies are given by [6]

where the speed of light has to be replaced with the Fermi speed vF of the material and the minus sign corresponds to electron holes.

Magnetic susceptibility of a Fermi gas

The Fermi gas (an ensemble of non-interacting fermions) is part of the basis for understanding of the thermodynamic properties of metals. In 1930 Landau derived an estimate for the magnetic susceptibility of a Fermi gas, known as Landau susceptibility, which is constant for small magnetic fields. Landau also noticed that the susceptibility oscillates with high frequency for large magnetic fields, [7] this physical phenomenon is known as the De Haas–Van Alphen effect.

Two-dimensional lattice

The tight binding energy spectrum of charged particles in a two dimensional infinite lattice is know to be self-similar and fractal, as demonstrated in Hofstadter's butterfly. For an integer ratio of the magnetic flux quantum and the magnetic flux through a lattice cell, one recovers the Landau levels for large integers. [8]

See also

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Further reading