Point-particle effective field theory I: classical renormalization and the inverse-square potential Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • Singular potentials (the inverse-square potential, for example) arise in many situations and their quantum treatment leads to well-known ambiguities in choosing boundary conditions for the wave-function at the position of the potential's singularity. These ambiguities are usually resolved by developing a self-adjoint extension of the original problem; a non-unique procedure that leaves undetermined which extension should apply in specific physical systems. We take the guesswork out of this picture by using techniques of effective field theory to derive the required boundary conditions at the origin in terms of the effective point-particle action describing the physics of the source. In this picture ambiguities in boundary conditions boil down to the allowed choices for the source action, but casting them in terms of an action provides a physical criterion for their determination. The resulting extension is self-adjoint if the source action is real (and involves no new degrees of freedom), and not otherwise (as can also happen for reasonable systems). We show how this effective-field picture provides a simple framework for understanding well-known renormalization effects that arise in these systems, including how renormalization-group techniques can resum non-perturbative interactions that often arise, particularly for non-relativistic applications. In particular we argue why the low-energy effective theory tends to produce a universal RG flow of this type and describe how this can lead to the phenomenon of reaction {\em catalysis}, in which physical quantities (like scattering cross sections) can sometimes be surprisingly large compared to the underlying scales of the source in question. We comment in passing on the possible relevance of these observations to the phenomenon of the catalysis of baryon-number violation by scattering from magnetic monopoles.

publication date

  • April 2017