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Difference Between Ground State and Excited State

Ground State vs  Excited State

There are a lot of terms and components that the common people do not understand when it comes to the field of quantum mechanics. Although both of these topics discuss the state of atoms, molecules, and nuclei, these two terms differ in various ways.

The ground state refers to the state of the atom wherein it is in the lowest energy. More particularly, the ground state is known to have no energy. This state of no energy in the ground state is known as the zero point energy of the system. On the other hand, the excited state of an atom refers to the state in which the atom has a higher energy than that of the ground state. As aforementioned, the ground state would be zero energy. So if there is energy on a particular system, whether it would be in the atom, molecule or nucleus, then that would already be considered an excited state. There is also a term adopted by the quantum field theory when it comes to the ground state of a particular system. They often call the ground state of a quantum field theory the vacuum state or simply just vacuum. The excited state, on the other hand, still adapts the same name when it comes to quantum field theory.

Some atoms, nuclei, and molecules may also have varied capabilities for their ground state and excited state. For the ground state, there are instances that there are atoms, molecules, or nuclei that have two ground states. Whenever there are two ground states, that particular system would be considered as degenerate. A good example for a degenerate system would be the atom of hydrogen. The degeneration of atoms, molecules, and nuclei usually occur when a nontrivial unitary operator commutes with Hamiltonian of a particular system. Moreover, a system that has absolute zero temperature can be considered a system on the ground state. On the other hand, the excited state has a particular capability as well; however, it differs in the way it adjusts its energy. In the excited state of the energy, there is always a tendency that the energy levels go down. This is because the excited state can release energy to the atmosphere which in turn brings back the excited state to a lower energy excited state or at times to ground state. This ability is called decay.


1.The ground state would refer to a state of the system where there is no energy while the excited state refers to the state where there is energy.

2.The ground state has an alternative name which is the vacuum state while the excited state has none.

3.They have a difference when it comes to their abilities.

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