I'm wondering how gravity affects the wave function of a particle. For example, if we shot a particle horizontal to the earth at a vertical detector screen, would the distribution on the screen be ever so slightly elongated in the direction towards the earth, given that gravity's influence would be greater (even if by very small amounts) on the parts of the wave function closer to earth?

If gravity does indeed affect a particle's wave function, how does it affect it?

I see two possibilities:

  1. The system's mass is localized to the point-like entity that we measure.

  2. The system's mass is it's whole wave function, with it's probability density representing where most of the mass is located.

Both scenarios bring up some interesting questions:

  1. If the entire mass of the system is the particle, does that mean measuring the system changes the location of it's mass?

  2. Where would the mass be if we didn't measure the particle?

  3. If the mass of the system is instead the wave function's probability density that would essentially mean the particle isn't the system's whole mass. For example two particles of the same mass could theoretically have the same gravitational attraction to object, despite being different distances from the object. The same could be said for different forces of gravity on identical mass particles in the same location.

  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "a particle's probability distribution"? $\endgroup$
    – DelCrosB
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 17:47
  • $\begingroup$ Yes. Probability distribution in what variable? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @dmckee location $\endgroup$
    – Yogi DMT
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 17:53
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    $\begingroup$ Presumably you mean the vertical position? What I'm getting at here is that we haven't been puzzling over this problem and don't have in our heads whatever picture it is that you are seeing in yours. Take the time to write a clearly stated question, it'll pay off. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 17:56
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    $\begingroup$ I edited my question. Hopefully it is clearer now and can be put off hold? $\endgroup$
    – Yogi DMT
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 1:00

2 Answers 2


Yes. Scientists have performed experiments using neutrons in gravity to show that the paths neutrons take are both affected by gravity and move on paths of quantized energy:

Valery Nesvizhevsky of the Institute Laue-Langevin and colleagues found that cold neutrons moving in a gravitational field do not move smoothly but jump from one height to another, as predicted by quantum theory.

For your particular question, you're asking about the wave function being spread out by gravity, and that's what would happen as a result of tidal forces, but the effect would be incredibly small unless you could get the neutrons' wave functions to spread out over a very large scale. This is because tidal forces depend on whether the size of the object is large enough to sample areas with different strength gravity.

Edit for the update: the update has changed the sense of the question from how a wave function is affected by gravity to how the shape of a wave function affects the field produced by that particle. Experimentally this is going to be almost impossible to answer. If you think of electromagnetism as an analogue for gravity, though, you can find the answers you seek in studies of the "shielding effect" whereby inner shell electrons partially shield the outer shell ones from the nucleus. Note that electrons don't self-shield, at least to leading order in quantum field theory, so any picture you figure out will have to take that into account.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the suggestion, @anna_v. Is the new version up to spec? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ My question was designed more so to see if coherent particle waves were affected as decoherent waves were. Since gravity doesn't collapse wave functions it could potentially be an interesting tool when it comes to double slit experiment and wavefunction collapse given that gravitational force based on proximity. $\endgroup$
    – Yogi DMT
    Commented Sep 20, 2016 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ I removed my comment as it no longer makes sense $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Sep 21, 2016 at 4:11
  • $\begingroup$ I read your edit, i'm probably missing something but i'm not sure how that addresses my questions. I did update my question once again to hopefully make my curiosities clearer. I also do understand btw that these are things that are probably virtually impossible to test, at least currently, was just wondering what people thought. $\endgroup$
    – Yogi DMT
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 18:03
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have reason to think that gravity will behave differently with respect to the wave functions of fermions than the electromagnetic field does? If so, please elaborate. If not, I would suggest you look into how energy levels of atoms are calculated, including the shielding effect, because I believe that, if gravity behaves like E&M (which it does, classically, to good approximation), then your questions will be answered there. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 23:13

Gravity affects an atom by slowing the emission process (e.g. in an atomic clock), where each tick of the clock is shortened (i.e. time dilates). The change in length can be explained by applying the equivalence principle to the coordinates of the electron between absorption and decay events as an acceleration. The wave function is continuous in time and does not recognized the ticks as electron events so it cannot be used to explain the dilation of time in terms of coordinate values no matter how intense the field is.


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