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I've been perusing my copies of Srednicki and Peskin & Schroeder, and I can't seem to find an explanation of how one derives the Lamb shift that I can follow.

How does one derive the Lamb shift? What order in perturbation theory do you have to go up to? Does one use a path integral or canonical quantization approach?

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up vote 2 down vote accepted

A derivation is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamb_shift#Derivation

or in Landau-Lifshitz. Bethe's original derivation is found e.g. in Matt Schwartz's Harvard lecture here

http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic792163.files/20-LambShift.pdf

The leading contribution to the Lamb shift is the one-loop level (the first non-classical correction) but of course, the effect receives corrections at every higher order, too.

One may derive it in the operator approach or path integral approach, much like pretty much everything in physics. These are just equivalent languages to do physics.

The Lamb shift has to deal with an atom which is not quite an elementary particle. So the usual perturbative rules of QED have to be "generalized" to deal with the composite object. However, otherwise it's about a virtual photon emitted and reabsorbed by the atom. If the atom were elementary, it would be a simple "photon loop" correction to the atom's propagator. A divergent term has to be removed – equivalently, one has to find out sensible limits of the integral – and what is left is some "truncated logarithmic divergence" that produces those 1,000 MHz for the relevant levels.

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