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gauge transformations

gauge transformations

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17 April 2002
LBNL - 50079
From Lorenz to Coulomb and other explicit gauge transformations

J. D. Jackson
Department of Physics and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
University of California, Berkeley
Berkeley, CA 94720


The main purposes of this paper are (i) to illustrate explicitly by a number of examples the gauge
functions(x ,t ) whose spatial and temporal derivatives transform one set of electromagnetic
potentials into another equivalent set; and (ii) to show that, whatever propagation or non-
propagation characteristics are exhibited by the potentials in a particular gauge, the electric and
magneticfields are always the same and display the experimentally verified properties of
causality and propagation at the speed of light. The example of the transformation from the
Lorenz gauge (retarded solutions for both scalar and vector potential) to the Coulomb gauge
(instantaneous, action-at-a-distance, scalar potential) is treated in detail. A transparent
expression is obtained for the vector potential in the Coulomb gauge, with a finite nonlocality in
time replacing the expected spatial nonlocality of the transverse current. A class of gauges (v-
gauge) is described in which the scalar potential propagates at an arbitrary speedv relative to the
speed of light. The Lorenz and Coulomb gauges are special cases of the v-gauge. The last
examples of gauges and explicit gauge transformation functions are the Hamiltonian or temporal

gauge, the nonrelativistic Poincar\u00e9 or multipolar gauge, and the relativistic Fock-Schwinger gauge.
The use of potentials in electromagnetism has a long history. The long path to an
understanding that the vector and scalar potentials are not unique and that different potentials

describing the same physics are connected by something called a gauge transformation has been described by Okun and me elsewhere.1 If a given situation in electromagnetism is attributed to a scalar potential(x ,t ) and a vector potentialA( x,t ) , the physically meaningful and unique electric and magnetic fields E( x,t ) and B( x,t ) are determined from the potentials according to

E( x,t)= \u2212\u2207 ( x,t)\u22121c
A( x,t)
B( x,t)= \u2207\u00d7 A(x,t)
Here we are using Gaussian units and considering phenomena in vacuum or as microscopic fields
with localized sources. The expressions (1.1) are constituted so that they satisfy the

homogeneous Maxwell equations automatically. Since the gradient of a scalar function has zero
curl, it is clear that the magnetic field is unchanged if we add toA the gradient of a scalar function.
Of course, such an addition changes the expression for the electric field. We must therefore
modify the scalar potential, too. These changes are called a gauge transformation. Specifically,
we have new potentials,'(x ,t ) and A'( x,t ) ,

A'( x,t )= A(x,t )+ \u2207 ( x,t )
'(x ,t )= (x ,t )\u22121c
(x ,t )
where the scalar function(x ,t ) is called the gauge function. The potentialsA'( x,t ) ,'(x ,t )
are fully equivalent to the original setA( x,t ) ,(x ,t ), yielding thesame electric and magnetic
fields, but satisfying different dynamical equations. The chief purposes of this paper are to
demonstrate some gauge transformations explicitly and to show explicitly that potentials in those
different gauges, though different in detail, always yield the same electric and magnetic fields.
As is described in the textbooks2, 3, 4, common choices of gauge are \u2207\u22c5A = 0 , called the
Coulomb gauge, and the relativistically covariant
A=0 ( \u2207\u22c5A +1c t =0 ), called the
Lorenz gauge.5There are many other gauges, but the textbooks rarely show explicitly the gauge
function\u03c7 that transforms one gauge into another.
In Section II we review the form of the equations and the solutions for the potentials in
the Lorenz gauge. We also exhibit the corresponding equations in the Coulomb gauge, focusing on
the nonlocality of the source for the vector potential. The direct solution is deferred to Section
IV. In Section III the gauge function(x ,t ) to go from the Lorenz gauge to the Coulomb gauge

is constructed and used to calculate the Coulomb-gauge vector potential. The results (3.10) and
(3.16) or (3.17), are surprisingly explicit and compact, with only one time integral over a finite
range of the source\u2019s timet\u2019 (t - R/c <t\u2019 <t), replacing the spatial nonlocality of the source with a
temporal nonlocality. We return to the original equation for the Coulomb-gauge vector potential
in Section IV and show that its straightforward solution can be transformed into that obtained in
Section III more directly and simply through the gauge function.

In Section V we derive the electric and magneticfields from the Coulomb-gauge potentials

and show that they are the well known expressions, causal and propagating with speedc, despite
the instantaneous nature of the scalar potential. This ground has been traveled before in this
journal by Brill and Goodman6 and recently by Rohrlich.7 There is also Problem 6.20 in my
book.2 Our discussion here is different and I think more transparent because of the form of our
solution forAC. Some aspects of Brill and Goodman come close. In Section VI we discuss
briefly the quasi-static limit of the vector potential in the Coulomb gauge and its use to obtain a
Lagrangian for the interaction of charged particles that is correct to order 1/c2 in the velocities.

Section VII is devoted to a class of gauges we call the velocity gauge (v-gauge) in which the scalar

potential propagates with an arbitrary speed v. The Lorenz and Coulomb gauges are limiting
cases,v =c andv= , respectively. The gauge function and the potentials are determined, as are
the electromagnetic fields (the same as always).

The Hamiltonian or temporal gauge, with its vanishing scalar potential, is treated in
Section VIII, while Section IX describes the nonrelativistic and relativistic gauges that go under
the names of Poincar\u00e9, multipolar, Fock, or Schwinger. The gauge functions are exhibited as well


as the potentials. For the nonrelativistic case the interaction Lagrangian in the multipolar gauge is
described. Finally, a summary is given in Section X. An appendix presents the Lorenz-to-
Coulomb gauge function in terms of the current density rather than the charge density and finds
its quasi-static limit.


Traditionally, the solutions for the potentials are presented first in the Lorenz gauge.8
One generally begins with the relations (1.1) substituted into the inhomogeneous Maxwell
equations to give two coupled partial differential equations,

\u22072 +1c t( \u2207\u22c5A) = \u22124
\u22072A \u22121
t2\u2212\u2207 \u2207\u22c5A +1c t
\ue009\ue00b= \u22124cJ
The freedom implied by (1.2) means that we may choose9 (among other choices) to set
\u2207\u22c5A +1c t =0 or
\u2207\u22c5A =0.
(2.3 a,b)
The first choice, called the Lorenz gauge, leads to the decoupled wave equations,
\u22072L \u22121
t2= \u22124
\u22072AL \u22121
t2= \u22124cJ
with so-called retarded solutions,
L(x,t )= d3x'1R
(x' ,t'= t\u2212 R/ c )
AL( x,t)=1c d3x'1R
J( x' ,t'=t\u2212 R / c )
HereR= |x\u2212 x'| . The timet\u2019 = t -R/c is called the retarded time.

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