Distance between two points in 3-space:

Space-time distance between two points:


Distance  is usually viewed as space-like or time-like. [Can light travel the spatial distance given the separation in time? Yesè è time-like events which may be causally related. No è è space-like events light can not reach second point given the time .


Property of a relativistic particle:  ;



There are a number of different conventions that are used, [, 0th or 4th component, sign moved ].  In many situations units are chosen so that c=1.  If you choose basic unit of length to be the  and then the speed of light is .




We have been asking questions to focus attention on what constitutes a fundamental idea. 


Now we are going to start with a perhaps a very reasonable fundamental notion:

Space is isotropic.

This will lead to the requirement that physics should be unchanged by a coordinate rotation.

This is an example of a general starting point used in particle physics.


Conserved quantity or property

Associated set of transformations that preserve this


Consider a general charge distribution

It is very difficult, in general, to find the electric and magnetic fields a point  due to a charge distribution



Why is this problem so difficult ?

So physicists ask if there are situations that make the problem more tractable.


If  is large compared to  [very localized charge distribution at a significant distance from the location where the fields are needed ] one might expect that the details as to how the charge is distributed are unimportant.  The dominant feature will be the total charge.


This point of view is mathematically justified by expanding the complete solution in terms of   the distance between a point in the charge distribution and the location where the fields need to be evaluated. The problem then separates into a set of terms where each term is characterized by a specific d dependence and a characterization of the structure of the charge distribution as a multipole.


The details of this procedure can be found in most E&M text books and on the web. For example the following sites describe this expansion nicely.




The potential at for a point charge located at is


This has a standard expression as a sum over Legendre polynomials.

Where is the angle which can be expressed in terms of the angles in spherical coordinates for both  and   and  as

The final expression in terms of these angles becomes



  1. monopole term: charge is point like in nature 
  2. dipole term: charge is vector like in nature  [note three components]
  3. HO terms: structure is more complicated and tensors are needed to describe the charge structure that is important.   [5 parts] …

For a charge distribution defined by primed coordinates

charge distribution

field point



Usually the student is introduced to this procedure in E&M based on the above problem but expressed in Cartesian coordinates. The more revealing expansion is done in terms of spherical coordinates because the moments can be classified by their transformation properties under rotations.


How would one describe the monopole moment in terms of rotational properties?

  {independent è a rotation will not change the monopole moment}

How about the dipole?

  {vector è a rotation will mix the three components}


Originally a vector was introduced as a quantity with magnitude and direction. This type of entity was important because so many physics concepts force, position … possess this structure. However another natural way to introduce a vector is to characterize by its transformation characteristics under rotations. There are objects that transform as scalers, vectors, tensors under rotation.


To return to the problem of the charge distribution we discovered that we could break a general charge distribution into parts:


Under rotations the form of any element will change but not mix. 

Consider the monopole as a point it doesn’t change under rotation.

Consider the dipole as a vector. It rotates by pointing in a different direction. The new dipole is simply a transformation from the old dipole only.

This is not a proof but a statement of how these objects transform. The convenient separation can be illustrated by the following:


Above we have simply written all the elements of the charge distribution as a column matrix. The length of course goes to infinity.

Because of our choice of elements the rotation matrix takes on a special form.


The general matrix reduces to a block diagonal form where much smaller matrices can be used 1, r, z, .  If you can find those ways to break up a general structure such that the transformations on a general structure can be reduced because the elements in the structure don’t mix. Then you call the general structure reducible.  So the next step is to separate the elements.



If the resulting matrices 1, r, z, can not be further reduces then we say that each of the above equations represents a way for the group to behave. On the monopole all the group elements (ie all possible rotations) just behave as the identity element. For the dipole there are a set of 3x3 matrices and each rotation in the group has an associated matrix. For the quadrupole we need to specifically state that we choose the spherical coordinate expansion where the quadrupole has 5 elements. So now each rotation can be reprepresented as a 5x5 matrix.  In theoretical terms we have found the irreducible representations of the rotation group. Along with finding the matrices we have found a set of structures (monopole, dipole, quad….). 


I turns out that these transformations have a convenient mathematical form.



For transformations on a real space we can drop the imaginary number.



        Taylor series


Start with a rotation in 2-d. Imagine that it is a rotation about the z axis by .



Choose the matrix Jz as shown below. We can then test to see if indeed the above matrix can be obtained using the exponential form and the Taylor series.





So for a simple rotation about the z-axis we see that one can define a matrix J that can be used build a rotation about the z axis.


That is there is an operator  and a set of parameters that can be used to carry out any rotation.  To make sense of the above equation we simply use a Taylor series expansion for the exponential function. For the word operator one substitute the more specific word matrix which is a special case of the general form.  We have found matrix representations for the more general members of the group of rotations which are operators in that they take a state and get a new state.  I can ask you to pick up a book and rotate it. You are operating on the book. You are not a matrix. However mathematically you could represent your actions on the book in the form of a matrix. Thus giving the matrix to a fellow student they would be able to extract which operation you performed ie which rotation you had performed. So operation is a non-specific implementation of a rotation. It include physical realizations, matrix manipulation, any other implementation.


The interesting fact is that using the operator J which can be used to generate a rotation has separated the rotation into two convenient parts. A set of parameters and an independent operation. 


The structures that we have uncovered can be labeled in several different ways. For our example we could state the size of the matrix needed to perform the rotation. Monopole=1, dipole=3… One can also use the generator J to label the state. In QM this operator is the angular momentum operator. The structures then possess and intrinsic angular momentum. In particle physics we build elementary particles from the irreducible elements of the rotation group and label them by the their angular momentum which is defined as J the generator of the rotations.


The possible irreducible representation increase when one includes imaginary numbers.


J operators for quantum spin states:

Spin 0 è

I or 1

Spin ½è Pauli matrices



Spin 1èVector Bosons



Spin 3/2èDelta