Dirac equation

The Dirac equationMathworldPlanetmath is an equation derived by Paul Dirac in 1927 that describes relativistic spin 1/2 particles (fermions). It is given by:


The Einstein summation convention is used.

0.1 Derivation

Mathematically, it is interesting as one of the first uses of the spinor calculus in mathematical physics. Dirac began with the relativistic equation of total energy:


As Schrödinger had done before him, Dirac then replaced p with its quantum mechanical operator, p^i. Since he was looking for a Lorentz-invariant equation, he replaced with the D’Alembertian or wave operatorMathworldPlanetmath


Note that some authors use 2 for the D’Alembertian. Dirac was now faced with the problem of how to take the square root of an expression containing a differential operatorMathworldPlanetmath. He proceeded to factorise the d’Alembertian as follows:


Multiplying this out, we find that:




Clearly these relations cannot be satisfied by scalars, so Dirac sought a set of four matrices which satisfy these relations. These are now known as the Dirac matrices, and are given as follows:


These matrices are also known as the generators of the special unitary group of order 4, i.e. the group of 4×4 matrices with unit determinantDlmfMathworldPlanetmath. Using these matrices, and switching to natural units (=c=1) we can now obtain the Dirac equation:


0.2 Feynman slash notation

Richard Feynman developed the following convenient notation for terms involving Dirac matrices:


Using this notation, the Dirac equation is simply


0.3 Relationship with Pauli matrices

The Dirac matrices can be written more concisely as matrices of Pauli matricesMathworldPlanetmath, as follows:

γ0 =(σ000-σ0)
γ1 =(0σ1-σ10)
γ2 =(0σ2-σ20)
γ3 =(0σ3-σ30)
Title Dirac equation
Canonical name DiracEquation
Date of creation 2013-03-22 17:54:46
Last modified on 2013-03-22 17:54:46
Owner Raphanus (20453)
Last modified by Raphanus (20453)
Numerical id 21
Author Raphanus (20453)
Entry type Definition
Classification msc 35Q40
Classification msc 81Q05
Related topic Spinor
Related topic KleinGordonEquation
Related topic SchrodingersWaveEquation
Related topic PauliMatrices
Defines Feynman slash notation
Defines Dirac matrices