Bloch wave

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A Bloch wave or Bloch state is the wavefunction of a particle (usually, an electron) placed in a periodic potential. It consists of the product of a plane wave and a periodic function (Bloch envelope) unk(r) which has the same periodicity as the potential:

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The result that the eigenfunctions can be written in this form for a periodic system is called Bloch's theorem.

The plane wave wavevector (or Bloch wavevector) k (multiplied by Planck's constant, this is the particle's crystal momentum) is unique only up to a reciprocal lattice vector, so one only needs to consider the wavevectors inside the first Brillouin zone. For a given wavevector and potential, there are a number of solutions, indexed by n, to Schrodinger's equation for a Bloch electron. These solutions, called bands, are separated in energy by a finite spacing at each k; if there is a separation that extends over all wavevectors, it is called a (complete) band gap. The band structure is the collection of energy eigenstates within the first Brillouin zone. All the properties of electrons in a periodic potential can be calculated from this band structure and the associated wavefunctions, at least within the independent electron approximation.

More generally, a Bloch-wave description applies to any wave-like phenomenon in a periodic medium. For example, a periodic dielectric in electromagnetism leads to photonic crystals, and a periodic acoustic medium leads to phononic crystals.

A corollary of this result is that the Bloch wavevector k is a conserved quantity in a crystalline system (modulo addition of reciprocal lattice vectors), and hence the group velocity of the wave is conserved. This means that electron can propagate without scattering through a crystalline material, almost like free particles, and that electrical resistance in a crystalline conductor only results from things like imperfections that break the periodicity.

It can be shown that the eigenfunctions of a particle in a periodic potential can always be chosen this form by proving that translation operators (by lattice vectors) commute with the Hamiltonian. More generally, the consequences of symmetry on the eigenfunctions are described by representation theory.

The concept of the Bloch state was developed by Felix Bloch in 1928, to describe the conduction of electrons in crystalline solids. The same underlying mathematics, however, was also discovered independently several times: by George William Hill (1877), Gaston Floquet (1883), and Alexander Lyapunov (1892). As a result, a variety of nomenclatures are common: applied to ordinary differential equations, it is called Floquet theory (or occasionally the Lyapunov-Floquet theorem), and the one-dimensional periodic wave equation is sometimes called Hill's equation.


  • Charles Kittel, Introduction to Solid State Physics (Wiley: New York, 1996).
  • Neil W. Ashcroft and N. David Mermin, Solid State Physics (Harcourt: Orlando, 1976).
  • Felix Bloch, "Über die quantenmechanik der electronen in kristallgittern," Z. Physik 52, 555-600 (1928).
  • George William Hill, "On the part of the motion of the lunar perigee which is a function of the mean motions of the sun and moon," Acta. Math. 8, 1-36 (1886). (This work was initially published and distributed privately in 1877.)
  • Gaston Floquet, "Sur les équations différentielles linéaires à coefficients périodiques," Ann. École Norm. Sup. 12, 47-88 (1883).
  • Alexander Mihailovich Lyapunov, The General Problem of the Stability of Motion (London: Taylor and Francis, 1992). Translated by A. T. Fuller from Edouard Davaux's French translation (1907) of the original Russian dissertation (1892).

fr:Onde de Bloch