perturbation theory

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A method used in calculations in both classical physics (e.g. planetary orbits) and quantum mechanics (e.g. atomic structure), in which the system is divided into a part that is exactly calculable and a small term, which prevents the whole system from being exactly calculable. The technique of perturbation theory enables the effects of the small term to be calculated by an infinite series (which in general is an asymptotic series). Each term in the series is a `correction term' to the solutions of the exactly calculable system. In classical physics, perturbation theory can be used for calculating planetary orbits. In quantum mechanics, it can be used to calculate the energy levels in molecules.

Subjects: Chemistry — Physics.

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