In quantum physics, a quantum state is the state of an isolated quantum system. A quantum state provides a probability distribution for the value of each observable, i.e. for the outcome of each possible measurement on the system. Knowledge of the quantum state together with the rules for the system's evolution in time exhausts all that can be predicted about the system's behavior.
A mixture of quantum states is again a quantum state. Quantum states that cannot be written as a mixture of other states are called pure quantum states, all other states are called mixed quantum states.
Mathematically, a pure quantum state can be represented by a ray in a Hilbert space over the complex numbers. The ray is a set of nonzero vectors differing by just a complex scalar factor; any of them can be chosen as a state vector to represent the ray and thus the state. A unit vector is usually picked, but its phase factor can be chosen freely anyway. Nevertheless, such factors are important when state vectors are added together to form a superposition.
Hilbert space is a generalization of the ordinary Euclidean space  and it contains all possible pure quantum states of the given system. If this Hilbert space, by choice of representation (essentially a choice of basis corresponding to a complete set of observables), is exhibited as a function space (a Hilbert space in its own right), then the functions representing elements of the Hilbert space are called wave functions.
For example, when dealing with the energy spectrum of the electron in a hydrogen atom, the relevant state vectors are identified by the principal quantum number n, the angular momentum quantum number l, the magnetic quantum number m, and the spin z-component s**z. A more complicated case is given (in bra–ket notation) by the singlet state:
which involves superposition of joint spin states for two particles with spin 1⁄2. As suggested by the previous equation, the singlet state satisfies the property that if the particles' spins are measured along the same direction then either the spin of the first particle is observed up and the spin of the second particle is observed down, or the first one is observed down and the second one is observed up, both possibilities occurring with equal probability. Remarkably, this holds even if the measurements are made at the same time and the particles are arbitrarily far apart.
A mixed quantum state corresponds to a probabilistic mixture of pure states; however, different distributions of pure states can generate equivalent (i.e., physically indistinguishable) mixed states. Mixed states are described by so-called density matrices. A pure state can also be recast as a density matrix; in this way, pure states can be represented as a subset of the more general mixed states.
Before a particular measurement is performed on a quantum system, the theory usually gives only a probability distribution for the outcome, and the form that this distribution takes is completely determined by the quantum state and the observable describing the measurement. These probability distributions arise for both mixed states and pure states: it is impossible in quantum mechanics (unlike classical mechanics) to prepare a state in which all properties of the system are fixed and certain. This is exemplified by the uncertainty principle, and reflects a core difference between classical and quantum physics. Even in quantum theory, however, for every observable there are some states that have an exact and determined value for that observable.  
In the mathematical formulation of quantum mechanics, pure quantum states correspond to vectors in a Hilbert space, while each observable quantity (such as the energy or momentum of a particle) is associated with a mathematical operator. The operator serves as a linear function which acts on the states of the system. The eigenvalues of the operator correspond to the possible values of the observable, i.e. it is possible to observe a particle with a momentum of 1 kg⋅m/s if and only if one of the eigenvalues of the momentum operator is 1 kg⋅m/s. The corresponding eigenvector (which physicists call an eigenstate) with eigenvalue 1 kg⋅m/s would be a quantum state with a definite, well-defined value of momentum of 1 kg⋅m/s, with no quantum uncertainty. If its momentum were measured, the result is guaranteed to be 1 kg⋅m/s.
On the other hand, a system in a linear combination of multiple different eigenstates does in general have quantum uncertainty for the given observable. We can represent this linear combination of eigenstates as:
There is no state which is simultaneously an eigenstate for all observables. For example, we cannot prepare a state such that both the position measurement Q(t) and the momentum measurement P(t) (at the same time t) are known exactly; at least one of them will have a range of possible values. This is the content of the Heisenberg uncertainty relation.
Moreover, in contrast to classical mechanics, it is unavoidable that performing a measurement on the system generally changes its state. More precisely: After measuring an observable A, the system will be in an eigenstate of A; thus the state has changed, unless the system was already in that eigenstate. This expresses a kind of logical consistency: If we measure A twice in the same run of the experiment, the measurements being directly consecutive in time, then they will produce the same results. This has some strange consequences, however, as follows.
Consider two incompatible observables, A and B, where A corresponds to a measurement earlier in time than B. Suppose that the system is in an eigenstate of B at the experiment's beginning. If we measure only B, all runs of the experiment will yield the same result. If we measure first A and then B in the same run of the experiment, the system will transfer to an eigenstate of A after the first measurement, and we will generally notice that the results of B are statistical. Thus: Quantum mechanical measurements influence one another, and the order in which they are performed is important.
Another feature of quantum states becomes relevant if we consider a physical system that consists of multiple subsystems; for example, an experiment with two particles rather than one. Quantum physics allows for certain states, called entangled states, that show certain statistical correlations between measurements on the two particles which cannot be explained by classical theory. For details, see entanglement. These entangled states lead to experimentally testable properties (Bell's theorem) that allow us to distinguish between quantum theory and alternative classical (non-quantum) models.
Schrödinger picture vs. Heisenberg picture
Formalism in quantum physics
Pure states as rays in a Hilbert space
Quantum physics is most commonly formulated in terms of linear algebra, as follows. Any given system is identified with some finite- or infinite-dimensional Hilbert space. The pure states correspond to vectors of norm 1. Thus the set of all pure states corresponds to the unit sphere in the Hilbert space, because the unit sphere is defined as the set of all vectors with norm 1.
Multiplying a pure state by a scalar is physically inconsequential (as long as the state is considered by itself). If one vector is obtained from the other by multiplying by a scalar of unit magnitude, the two vectors are said to correspond to the same "ray" in Hilbert space and also to the same point in the projective Hilbert space.
Calculations in quantum mechanics make frequent use of linear operators, scalar products, dual spaces and Hermitian conjugation. In order to make such calculations flow smoothly, and to make it unnecessary (in some contexts) to fully understand the underlying linear algebra, Paul Dirac invented a notation to describe quantum states, known as bra–ket notation. Although the details of this are beyond the scope of this article, some consequences of this are:
The expression used to denote a state vector (which corresponds to a pure quantum state) takes the form (where the "" can be replaced by any other symbols, letters, numbers, or even words). This can be contrasted with the usual mathematical notation, where vectors are usually lower-case latin letters, and it is clear from the context that they are indeed vectors.
Dirac defined two kinds of vector, bra and ket, dual to each other.
Each ket is uniquely associated with a so-called bra, denoted , which corresponds to the same physical quantum state. Technically, the bra is the adjoint of the ket. It is an element of the dual space, and related to the ket by the Riesz representation theorem. In a finite-dimensional space with a chosen basis, writing as a column vector, is a row vector; to obtain it just take the transpose and entry-wise complex conjugate of .
The angular momentum has the same dimension (M·L2·T−1) as the Planck constant and, at quantum scale, behaves as a discrete degree of freedom of a quantum system. Most particles possess a kind of intrinsic angular momentum that does not appear at all in classical mechanics and arises from Dirac's relativistic generalization of the theory. Mathematically it is described with spinors. In non-relativistic quantum mechanics the group representations of the Lie group SU(2) are used to describe this additional freedom. For a given particle, the choice of representation (and hence the range of possible values of the spin observable) is specified by a non-negative number S that, in units of Planck's reduced constant ħ, is either an integer (0, 1, 2 ...) or a half-integer (1/2, 3/2, 5/2 ...). For a massive particle with spin S, its spin quantum number m always assumes one of the 2S + 1 possible values in the set
As a consequence, the quantum state of a particle with spin is described by a vector-valued wave function with values in C2S+1. Equivalently, it is represented by a complex-valued function of four variables: one discrete quantum number variable (for the spin) is added to the usual three continuous variables (for the position in space).
Many-body states and particle statistics
The quantum state of a system of N particles, each potentially with spin, is described by a complex-valued function with four variables per particle, corresponding to 3 spatial coordinates and spin, e.g.
Here, the spin variables mν assume values from the set
The treatment of identical particles is very different for bosons (particles with integer spin) versus fermions (particles with half-integer spin). The above N-particle function must either be symmetrized (in the bosonic case) or anti-symmetrized (in the fermionic case) with respect to the particle numbers. If not all N particles are identical, but some of them are, then the function must be (anti)symmetrized separately over the variables corresponding to each group of identical variables, according to its statistics (bosonic or fermionic).
When symmetrization or anti-symmetrization is unnecessary, N-particle spaces of states can be obtained simply by tensor products of one-particle spaces, to which we will return later.
Basis states of one-particle systems
and for orthonormal basis this translates to
- is |*c
Superposition of pure states
One practical example of superposition is the double-slit experiment, in which superposition leads to quantum interference. The photon state is a superposition of two different states, one corresponding to the photon travel through the left slit, and the other corresponding to travel through the right slit. The relative phase of those two states depends on the difference of the distances from the two slits. Depending on that phase, the interference is constructive at some locations and destructive in others, creating the interference pattern. We may say that superposed states are in coherent superposition, by analogy with coherence in other wave phenomena.
Another example of the importance of relative phase in quantum superposition is Rabi oscillations, where the relative phase of two states varies in time due to the Schrödinger equation. The resulting superposition ends up oscillating back and forth between two different states.
The density matrix describing a mixed state is defined to be an operator of the form
A simple criterion for checking whether a density matrix is describing a pure or mixed state is that the trace of ρ2 is equal to 1 if the state is pure, and less than 1 if the state is mixed. Another, equivalent, criterion is that the von Neumann entropy is 0 for a pure state, and strictly positive for a mixed state.
The rules for measurement in quantum mechanics are particularly simple to state in terms of density matrices. For example, the ensemble average (expectation value) of a measurement corresponding to an observable A is given by
- of those states.
States can be formulated in terms of observables, rather than as vectors in a vector space. These are positive normalized linear functionals on a C*-algebra, or sometimes other classes of algebras of observables. See State on a C*-algebra and Gelfand–Naimark–Segal construction for more details.
Atomic electron transition
Introduction to quantum mechanics
Quantum harmonic oscillator
State vector reduction, for historical reasons called a wave function collapse