A phonon often is described as ‘‘a quantum of lattice vibration,’’ but this description can be difficult to reconcile with the wave functions explored in a typical undergraduate quantum mechanics class. A phonon wave function is similar to the harmonic oscillator wave functions studied in introductory quantum mechanics, except that it is many-dimensional. We suggest a way to visualize the probability density for this very high-dimensional wave function. The resulting pictures are especially clear and intuitive for a coherent state, which is both a good approximation to a sound wave and a discrete analog to laser light. These pictures can also provide a qualitative introduction to quantum field theory.



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