Investigating the Spectral Geometry of a Soft Wall
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The idealized theory of quantum vacuum energy density is a beautiful application of the spectral theory of differential operators with boundary conditions, but its conclusions are physically unacceptable. A more plausible model of a reflecting boundary that stays within linear spectral theory confines the waves by a steeply rising potential function, which can be taken as a power of one coordinate, z^alpha. We report investigations of this model with considerable student involvement. An exact analytical solution with some numerics for alpha=1 and an asymptotic (semiclassical) analysis of a related problem for alpha=2 are presented.