2013-03-27

Hamiltonian Density and the Stress-Energy Tensor

As an update to a previous post about my adventures in QED-land for 8.06, I emailed my recitation leader about whether my intuition about the meaning of the Fourier components of the electromagnetic potential solving the wave equation (and being quantized to the ladder operators) was correct. He said it basically is correct, although there are a few things that, while I kept in mind at that time, I still need to keep in mind throughout. The first is that the canonical quantization procedure uses the potential $\vec{A}$ as the coordinate-like quantity and finds the conjugate momentum to this field to be proportional to the electric field $\vec{E}$, with the magnetic field nowhere to be found directly in the Hamiltonian. The second is that there is a different harmonic oscillator for each mode, and the number eigenstates do not represent the energy of a given photon but instead represent the number of photons present with an energy corresponding to that mode. Hence, while coherent states do indeed represent points in the phase space of $(\vec{A}, \vec{E})$, the main point is that the photon number can fluctuate, and while classical behavior is recovered for large numbers $n$ of photons as the fluctuations of the number are $\sqrt{n}$ by Poisson statistics, the interesting physics happens for low $n$ eigenstates or superpositions thereof in which $a$ and $a^{\dagger}$ play the same role as in the usual quantum harmonic oscillator. Furthermore, the third issue is that only a particular mode $\vec{k}$ and position $\vec{x}$ can be considered, because the electromagnetic potential has a value for each of those quantities, so unless those are held constant, the picture of phase space $(\vec{A}, \vec{E})$ becomes infinite-dimensional. Related to this, the fourth and fifth issues are, respectively, that $\vec{A}$ is used as the field and $\vec{E}$ as its conjugate momentum rather than using $\vec{E}$ and $\vec{B}$ because the latter two fields are coupled to each other by the Maxwell equations so they form an overcomplete set of degrees of freedom (or something like that), whereas using $\vec{A}$ as the field and finding its conjugate momentum in conjunction with a particular gauge choice (usually the Coulomb gauge $\nabla \cdot \vec{A} = 0$) yields the correct number of degrees of freedom. These explanations seem convincing enough to me, so I will leave those there for the moment.

Another major issue that I brought up with him for which he didn't give me a complete answer was the issue that the conjugate momentum to $\vec{A}$ was being found through \[ \Pi_j = \frac{\partial \mathcal{L}}{\partial (\partial_t A_j)} \] given the Lagrangian density $\mathcal{L} = \frac{1}{8\pi} \left(\vec{E}^2 - \vec{B}^2 \right)$ and the field relations $\vec{E} = -\frac{1}{c}\partial_t \vec{A}$ & $\vec{B} = \nabla \times \vec{A}$. This didn't seem manifestly Lorentz-covariant to me, because in the class 8.033 — Relativity, I had learned that the conjugate momentum to the electromagnetic potential $A^{\mu}$ in the above Lagrangian density would be the 2-index tensor \[ \Pi^{\mu \nu} = \frac{\partial \mathcal{L}}{\partial (\partial_{\mu} A_{\nu})} .\] This would make a difference in finding the Hamiltonian density \[ \mathcal{H} = \sum_{\mu} \Pi^{\mu} \partial_t A_{\mu} - \mathcal{L} = \frac{1}{8\pi} \left(\vec{E}^2 + \vec{B}^2 \right). \] I thought that the Hamiltonian density would need to be a Lorentz-invariant scalar just like the Lagrangian density. As it turns out, this is not the case, because the Hamiltonian density represents the energy which explicitly picks out the temporal direction as special, so time derivatives are OK in finding the momentum conjugate to the potential; because the Lagrangian and Hamiltonian densities looks so similar, it looks like both could be Lorentz-invariant scalar functions, but deceptively, only the former is so. At this point, I figured that because the Hamiltonian and (not field conjugate, but physical) momentum looked so similar, they could arise from the same covariant vector. However, there is no "natural" 1-index vector with which to multiply the Lagrangian density to get some sort of covariant vector generalization of the Hamiltonian density, though there is a 2-index tensor, and that is the metric. I figured here that the Hamiltonian and momentum for the electromagnetic field could be related to the stress-energy tensor, which gives the energy and momentum densities and fluxes. After a while of searching online for answers, I was quite pleased to find my intuition to be essentially spot-on: indeed the conjugate momentum should be a tensor as given above, the Legendre transformation can then be done in a covariant manner, and it does in fact turn out that the result is just the stress-energy tensor \[ T^{\mu \nu} = \sum_{\mu, \xi} \Pi^{\mu \xi} \partial^{\nu} A_{\xi} - \mathcal{L}\eta^{\mu \nu} \] (UPDATE: the index positions have been corrected) for the electromagnetic field. Indeed, the time-time component is exactly the energy/Hamiltonian density $\mathcal{H} = T_{(0, 0)}$, and the Hamiltonian $H = \sum_{\vec{k}} \hbar\omega(\vec{k}) \cdot (\alpha^{\star} (\vec{k}) \alpha(\vec{k}) + \alpha(\vec{k}) \alpha^{\star} (\vec{k})) = \int T_{(0, 0)} d^3 x$. As it turns out, the momentum $\vec{p} = \sum_{\vec{k}} \hbar\vec{k} \cdot (\alpha^{\star} (\vec{k}) \alpha(\vec{k}) + \alpha(\vec{k}) \alpha^{\star} (\vec{k}))$ doesn't look similar just by coincidence: $p_j = \int T_{(0, j)} d^3 x$. The only remaining point of confusion is that it seems like the Hamiltonian and momentum should together form a Lorentz-covariant vector $p_{\mu} = (H, p_j)$, yet if the stress-energy tensor respects Lorentz-covariance, then integrating over the volume element $d^3 x$ won't respect transformations in a Lorentz-covariant manner. I guess because the individual components of the stress-energy tensor transform under a Lorentz boost and the volume element does as well, then maybe the vector $p_{\mu}$ as given above will respect Lorentz-covariance. (UPDATE: another issue I was having but forgot to write before clicking "Publish" was the fact that only the $T_{(0, \nu)}$ components are being considered. I wonder if there is some natural 1-index Lorentz-convariant vector $b_{\nu}$ to contract with $T_{\mu \nu}$ so that the result is a 1-index vector which in a given frame has a temporal component given by the Hamiltonian density and spatial components given by the momentum density.) Overall, I think it is interesting that this particular hang-up was over a point in classical field theory and special relativity and had nothing to do with the quantization of the fields; in any case, I think I have gotten over the major hang-ups about this and can proceed reading through what I need to read for the 8.06 paper.

2 comments:

  1. Let there be an inertial observer. Then its 4 velocity would be a natural choice for "b_nu". T contracted with the 4 velocity should give the energy/momentum in that observer's reference frame.

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    1. @pierrecurie: That requires there to be an observer though. Is there some other natural four-vector that is fundamental to the system that could be used? Anyway, thanks for the comment!

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