The hyperfine structure of the energy levels of the hydrogen atom refers to the shifts in the evergy levels due to the magnetic moments of the nucleus and of the electron. This is an effect of non-relativistic QM, if I understand correctly.

On the other hand, the Lamb shift in the energy levels is due to completely different reasons: it has nothing to do with the spin of nucleus, and can be explained only by the relativistic theory, i.e. QED.

How to compare these two effects? Which one is stronger? Is there any literature about this?

I do know references to literature about the Lamb shift. It would be helpful to have a reference to a detailed discussion of the hyperfine structure, and to a comparison with the lamb shift.

  • $\begingroup$ Search longer and you will find answers. The Lamb shift was estimated in a non relativistic QED by T. Welton in 1948 and it is due to permanent coupling of the electron and the quantized electromagnetic filed (jitter of electron). docs.google.com/… $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2011 at 10:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Vladimir: the "Zitterbewegung" is just the property of the existence of antiparticle modes, and "jitter of the electron" is now called "virtual pair production/annihilation", and subsumed in standard Feynman diagrams, which you don't like. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Maimon
    Oct 24, 2011 at 19:17
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, I mean a "virtual photon emission/absorption" process in terms of Feynman. To me "electron's belonging to a compound system" is much more correct picture than "emitting and absorbing virtual photons". See T. Welton's paper. $\endgroup$ Oct 24, 2011 at 21:07

1 Answer 1


hyperfine energy levels can be calculated by hand as shown here--> http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/physics/HyperfineSplitting.html

The corresponding calculation for the Lamb shift is given here--> http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/physics/LambShift.html

Any standard quantum mechanics text (Sakurai) will have a calculation for you.


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