The motion of a particle along a one-dimensional closed curve in a plane is considered. The only restriction on the shape of the loop is that it must be invariant under a twofold rotation about an axis perpendicular to the plane of motion. Along the curve a symmetric double-well potential is present leading to a twofold degeneracy of the classical ground state. In quantum mechanics, this degeneracy is lifted: the energies of the ground state and the first excited state are separated from each other by a slight difference ¿E, the tunnel splitting. Although a magnetic field perpendicular to the plane of the loop does not influence the classical motion of the charged particle, the quantum-mechanical separation of levels turns out to be a function of its strength B. The dependence of ¿E on the field B is oscillatory: for specific discrete values Bn the splitting drops to zero, indicating a twofold degeneracy of the ground state. This result is obtained within the path-integral formulation of quantum mechanics; in particular, the semiclassical instanton method is used. The origin of the quenched splitting is intuitively obvious: it is due to the fact that the configuration space of the system is not simply connected, thus allowing for destructive interference of quantum-mechanical amplitudes. From an abstract point of view this phenomenon can be traced back to the existence of a topological term in the Lagrangian and a nonsimply connected configuration space. In principle, it should be possible to observe the splitting in appropriately fabricated mesoscopic rings consisting of normally conducting metal
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