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Physics LibreTexts

9.4: Pauli Representation

  • Page ID
    15781
  • Let us denote the two independent spin eigenstates of an electron as

    \[\chi_\pm \equiv \chi_{1/2,\pm 1/2}.\] It thus follows, from Equations ([e10.16]) and ([e10.17]), that \[\begin{aligned} S_z\,\chi_\pm &= \pm \frac{1}{2}\,\hbar\,\chi_\pm,\label{e10.34}\\[0.5ex] S^2\,\chi_\pm &= \frac{3}{4}\,\hbar^{\,2}\,\chi_\pm.\end{aligned}\] Note that \(\chi_+\) corresponds to an electron whose spin angular momentum vector has a positive component along the \(z\)-axis. Loosely speaking, we could say that the spin vector points in the \(+z\)-direction (or its spin is “up”). Likewise, \(\chi_-\) corresponds to an electron whose spin points in the \(-z\)-direction (or whose spin is “down”). These two eigenstates satisfy the orthonormality requirements

    \[\label{e10.35} \chi_+^\dagger\,\chi_+ = \chi_-^\dagger\,\chi_- = 1,\] and

    \[\label{e10.36} \chi_+^\dagger\,\chi_- = 0.\] A general spin state can be represented as a linear combination of \(\chi_+\) and \(\chi_-\): that is, \[\chi = c_+\,\chi_+ + c_-\,\chi_-.\] It is thus evident that electron spin space is two-dimensional.

    Up to now, we have discussed spin space in rather abstract terms. In the following, we shall describe a particular representation of electron spin space due to Pauli . This so-called Pauli representation allows us to visualize spin space, and also facilitates calculations involving spin.

    Let us attempt to represent a general spin state as a complex column vector in some two-dimensional space: that is, \[\chi \equiv \left(\begin{array}{c}c_+\\c_-\end{array}\right).\] The corresponding dual vector is represented as a row vector: that is, \[\chi^\dagger\equiv (c_+^\ast, c_-^\ast).\] Furthermore, the product \(\chi^\dagger\,\chi\) is obtained according to the ordinary rules of matrix multiplication: that is, \[\chi^\dagger\,\chi = (c_+^\ast, c_-^\ast)\left(\begin{array}{c}c_+\\c_-\end{array}\right) = c_+^\ast\,c_+ + c_-^\ast\,c_- = |c_+|^{\,2} + |c_-|^{\,2}\geq 0.\] Likewise, the product \(\chi^\dagger\,\chi'\) of two different spin states is also obtained from the rules of matrix multiplication: that is, \[\chi^\dagger\,\chi' = (c_+^\ast, c_-^\ast)\left(\begin{array}{c}c_+'\\c_-'\end{array}\right) = c_+^\ast\,c_+' + c_-^\ast\,c_-'.\] Note that this particular representation of spin space is in complete accordance with the discussion in Section 1.3. For obvious reasons, a vector used to represent a spin state is generally known as spinor.

    A general spin operator \(A\) is represented as a \(2\times 2\) matrix which operates on a spinor: that is, \[A\,\chi \equiv \left(\begin{array}{cc}A_{11},& A_{12}\\ A_{21},& A_{22}\end{array}\right)\left(\begin{array}{c}c_+\\c_-\end{array}\right).\] As is easily demonstrated, the Hermitian conjugate of \(A\) is represented by the transposed complex conjugate of the matrix used to represent \(A\): that is, \[A^\dagger \equiv \left(\begin{array}{cc}A_{11}^\ast,& A_{21}^\ast\\ A_{12}^\ast,& A_{22}^\ast\end{array}\right).\]

    Let us represent the spin eigenstates \(\chi_+\) and \(\chi_-\) as \[\chi_+ \equiv \left(\begin{array}{c}1\\0\end{array}\right),\] and \[\chi_- \equiv \left(\begin{array}{c}0\\1\end{array}\right),\] respectively. Note that these forms automatically satisfy the orthonormality constraints ([e10.35]) and ([e10.36]). It is convenient to write the spin operators \(S_i\) (where \(i=1,2,3\) corresponds to \(x,y,z\)) as

    \[\label{e10.46} S_i = \frac{\hbar}{2}\,\sigma_i.\] Here, the \(\sigma_i\) are dimensionless \(2\times 2\) matrices. According to Equations ([e10.1x])–([e10.2x]), the \(\sigma_i\) satisfy the commutation relations \[\begin{aligned} [\sigma_x, \sigma_y]&= 2\,{\rm i}\,\sigma_z,\\[0.5ex] [\sigma_y, \sigma_z]&= 2\,{\rm i}\,\sigma_x,\\[0.5ex] [\sigma_z,\sigma_x]&= 2\,{\rm i}\,\sigma_y.\end{aligned}\] Furthermore, Equation ([e10.34]) yields \[\sigma_z\,\chi_\pm = \pm \chi_\pm.\] It is easily demonstrated, from the previous expressions, that the \(\sigma_i\) are represented by the following matrices: \[\begin{aligned} \sigma_x&\equiv \left(\begin{array}{cc}0,&1\\ 1,& 0\end{array}\right),\\[0.5ex] \sigma_y&\equiv \left(\begin{array}{cc}0,&-{\rm i}\\ {\rm i},& 0\end{array}\right),\\[0.5ex] \sigma_z&\equiv \left(\begin{array}{cc}1,&0\\ 0,& -1\end{array}\right).\label{e10.53}\end{aligned}\] Incidentally, these matrices are generally known as the Pauli matrices.

    Finally, a general spinor takes the form \[\chi = c_+\,\chi_++c_-\,\chi_- = \left(\begin{array}{c}c_+\\c_-\end{array}\right).\] If the spinor is properly normalized then \[\chi^\dagger\,\chi = |c_+|^{\,2} + |c_-|^{\,2} =1.\] In this case, we can interpret \(|c_+|^{\,2}\) as the probability that an observation of \(S_z\) will yield the result \(+\hbar/2\), and \(|c_-|^{\,2}\) as the probability that an observation of \(S_z\) will yield the result \(-\hbar/2\).

    Contributors

    • Richard Fitzpatrick (Professor of Physics, The University of Texas at Austin)

      \( \newcommand {\ltapp} {\stackrel {_{\normalsize<}}{_{\normalsize \sim}}}\) \(\newcommand {\gtapp} {\stackrel {_{\normalsize>}}{_{\normalsize \sim}}}\) \(\newcommand {\btau}{\mbox{\boldmath$\tau$}}\) \(\newcommand {\bmu}{\mbox{\boldmath$\mu$}}\) \(\newcommand {\bsigma}{\mbox{\boldmath$\sigma$}}\) \(\newcommand {\bOmega}{\mbox{\boldmath$\Omega$}}\) \(\newcommand {\bomega}{\mbox{\boldmath$\omega$}}\) \(\newcommand {\bepsilon}{\mbox{\boldmath$\epsilon$}}\)