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Angular Momentum and Spin

Johar M. Ashfaque
we introduce commutation relations leading towards a collective definition of angular momentum and
spin.

1 Commutation Relations
Definition 1.1 The commutator, [A, B], of two operators A and B is defined by

[A, B] = AB − BA.

Note. The position operator X and the momentum operator P do not commute.
We define the one-dimensional relation between X, and P by
~ d ~
(P Xψ)(x) = (xψ(x)) = ψ(x) + (XP ψ)(x),
i dx i
which, in terms of the commutator, can be expressed as
~
[P, X] = = −i~.
i

2 Angular Momentum And Ladder Operators


In classical mechanics the angular momentum of a particle of mass m, is defined as the vector product
~ = ~r × P~
L

where ~r represents the distance of the particle from the origin and P~ is the momentum of the particle.

~ point away from the origin at right angles to the plane for convenience.
Remark 2.1 Let the vector, L,

In cartesian coordinates, we have that


~r = x~i + y~j + z~k
P~ = Px~i + Py~j + Pz~k
and
~ = Lx~i + Ly~j + Lz~k.
L

In quantum mechanics we get linear Hermitian angular momentum operators, from the classical expres-
sions by
~r → R̂, P~ → P̂ = −i~∇.
Thus
~ → L̂ = −i~R̂ × ∇.
L

We have, in terms of operators, by the definition of the vector product,

~i ~j ~k


L̂ = X̂ Ŷ Ẑ ,
P̂ P̂y P̂z
x

giving  
∂ ∂
L̂x = Ŷ P̂z − Ẑ P̂y = −i~ Ŷ − Ẑ ,
∂z ∂y

1
 
∂ ∂
L̂y = Ẑ P̂x − X̂ P̂z = −i~ Ẑ − X̂ ,
∂x ∂z
and  
∂ ∂
L̂z = X̂ P̂y − Ŷ P̂x = −i~ X̂ − Ŷ .
∂y ∂x

We also have
L̂2 = L̂2x + L̂2y + L̂2z .

We check the commutation relations for the operators L̂2 , L̂y , L̂y and L̂z . We have

[L̂x , L̂y ] = (Ŷ P̂z − Ẑ P̂y )(Ẑ P̂x − X̂ P̂z ) − (Ẑ P̂x − X̂ P̂z )(Ŷ P̂z − Ẑ P̂y ) = i~L̂z .

We now carry out the whole calculation for [L̂y , L̂z ], as follows

(Ẑ P̂x − X̂ P̂z )(X̂ P̂y − Ŷ P̂x ) − (X̂ P̂y − Ŷ P̂x )(Ẑ P̂x − X̂ P̂z ) = Ẑ P̂x X̂ P̂y + X̂ P̂z Ŷ P̂x − X̂ P̂y Ẑ P̂x − Ŷ P̂x X̂ P̂z ,

as these are the only non-commuting operators obtained on multiplying out, which on simplification gives

[L̂y , L̂z ] = Ẑ P̂y (P̂x X̂ − X̂ P̂x ) + Ŷ P̂z (X̂ P̂x − P̂x X̂) = (Ŷ P̂z − Ẑ P̂y )[X̂, P̂x ] = i~L̂x .

Similarly,
[L̂z , L̂x ] = i~L̂y .

We also have
[L̂2 , L̂x ] = [L̂2x , L̂x ] + [L̂2y , L̂x ] + [L̂2z , L̂x ] = [L̂2y , L̂x ] + [L̂2z , L̂x ],
where
[L̂2y , L̂x ] = L̂y L̂y L̂x − L̂x L̂y L̂y = L̂y (−i~L̂z ) − (i~L̂z )L̂y = −i~(L̂y L̂z + L̂z L̂y ),
and
[L̂2z , L̂x ] = L̂z L̂z L̂x − L̂x L̂z L̂z = i~(L̂y L̂z + L̂z L̂y )
giving
[L̂2 , L̂x ] = 0.
Hence, we can conclude that
[L̂2 , L̂x ] = [L̂2 , L̂y ] = [L̂2 , L̂z ] = 0.

The antisymmetric tensor, εijk , known as the Levi-Civita symbol is defined as



−1,
 if (jkl) is a cyclic permutation of (213) (odd parity)
εjkl = 0, otherwise

1, if (jkl) is a cyclic permutation of (123) (even parity).

Proposition 2.2 The angular momentum satisfies the following commutation relations

[Lj , Pk ] = i~εjkl Pl , [Lj , Xk ] = i~εjkl Xl , [Lj , Lk ] = i~εjkl Ll .

Definition 2.3 Any three operators Jx , Jy and Jz that satisfy the commutation relations

[Jj , Jk ] = i~εjkl Jl

are called the angular momentum operators.

Definition 2.4 The total angular momentum is given by

J 2 = Jx2 + Jy2 + Jz2 .

We have
[Jx , Jy ] = i~Jz , [Jy , Jz ] = i~Jx , [Jz , Jx ] = i~Jy .

2
Definition 2.5 The ladder operators, J± , are defined by

J± = Jx ± iJy ,

where
1 1
Jx = (J+ + J− ), Jy = (J+ − J− ).
2 2i

We also have the following identities

J+ J− = Jx2 + Jy2 − i[Jx , Jy ] = J 2 − Jz2 + ~Jz , J− J+ = Jx2 + Jy2 + i[Jx , Jy ] = J 2 − Jz2 − ~Jz .

Proposition 2.6 The ladder operators satisfy the following relations

[J 2 , J± ] = 0;

J∓ J± = J 2 − (Jz2 ± ~Jz );
[J+ , J− ] = 2~Jz ;
[Jz , J± ] = ±~J± .

Corollary 2.7 For j = x, y, z, we obtain the relations

[X 2 , Lj ] = 0,

[P 2 , Lj ] = 0,
[X.P, Lj ] = 0,
[L2 , Lj ] = 0,
[J 2 , Jj ] = 0.

Theorem 2.8 The eigenvalues of J 2 have the form j(j + 1)~2 for j = 0, 12 , 1, 32 , 2, .... For each choice of
j the eigenvalues of Jz are m~ for m = −j, −j + 1, ..., j − 1, j. The degeneracy of each eigenvalue is the
same as that of j~.

3 Pauli Spin Matrices


The idea of spin is of great importance in quantum theory. In this section, we look at the Pauli spin
matrices and their algebraic properties.
The traceless, linearly independent 2 × 2 matrices
     
0 1 0 −i 1 0
σx = , σy = , σz =
1 0 i 0 0 −1

are called the Pauli spin matrices.


The Pauli spin matrices, have the following basic properties:

σi2 = I;

Tr σi = 0;
 
i 0
σx σy σz = ;
0 i
det σi = −1
where I is the 2 × 2 identity matrix, and

Tr (σi σj ) = 2δij ,

3
where Kronecker’s delta, δij , is defined as
(
0, for i 6= j
δij =
1, for i = j.

The operators Ŝx , Ŝy , and Ŝz representing the three spin components are defined to be

~ ~ ~
Ŝx = σx , Ŝy = σy , Ŝz = σz .
2 2 2

We can show that the operators Ŝx , Ŝy , and Ŝz satisfy the commutation relations, by means of cyclic
permutations
     
1 2 0 1 0 −i 0 −i 0 1
[Ŝx , Ŝy ] = ~ − = i~Ŝz .
4 1 0 i 0 i 0 1 0

Similarly,      
1 0 −i 1 0 1 0 0 −i
[Ŝy , Ŝz ] = ~2 − = i~Ŝx ,
4 i 0 0 −1 0 −1 i 0
and      
1 2 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 0
[Ŝz , Ŝx ] = ~ − = i~Ŝy .
4 0 −1 1 0 1 0 0 −1

We can evaluate the eigenvalues and eigenvectors for the operators of the Pauli spin matrices correspond-
ing to the angular momentum components of the spin-half particle. We compute the eigenvalues and
eigenvectors of Ŝx . We have
−λ 1
det
= 0 = λ2 − 1.
1 −λ
Thus, λ = ±1.
For λ = +1, the eigenvalue equation is
    
1 −1 1 a1 1 −a1 + a2
~ =0= ~ .
2 1 −1 a2 2 a1 − a2

Therefore, we have the normalized eigenvector


 
1 1
√ .
2 1

For λ = −1, the eigenvalue equation is


    
1 1 1 a1 1 a + a2
− ~ =0=− ~ 1 .
2 1 1 a2 2 a1 + a2

Therefore, we have the normalized eigenvector


 
1 1
√ .
2 −1

Table 1, summarizes these eigenvalues and eigenvectors for Ŝx , Ŝy and Ŝz .

4
Spin Component Eigenvalue Eigenvector
 
1 √1
1
Ŝx 2~ αx ≡ 2 1
 
1
Ŝx − 21 ~ βx ≡ √1
2 −1
 
1 √1
1
Ŝy 2~ αy ≡ 2 i
 
1
Ŝy − 21 ~ βy ≡ √1
2 −i
 
1 1
Ŝz 2~ αz ≡
0
 
0
Ŝz − 21 ~ βz ≡
1

Table 1: The eigenvalues and eigenvectors of matrices representing the angular momentum components
of the spin-half particle.

Definition 3.1 The total spin for the spin-half particle is given by
     
3 1 0 1 1 1 0
Ŝ 2 = Ŝx2 + Ŝy2 + Ŝz2 = ~2 = + 1 ~2 .
4 0 1 2 2 0 1

Therefore, we have that in general the total spin for a spin-s particle
 
2 2 1 0
Ŝ = s(s + 1)~ .
0 1

It can be shown for Ŝz by defining the ladder operators in the case of spin-half particle as
 
0 1
Ŝ+ = Ŝx + iŜy = ~
0 0
 
0 0
Ŝ− = Ŝx − iŜy = ~
1 0
We have              
1 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Ŝ+ = = , Ŝ+ = =
0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 0
and              
1 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ŝ− = = , HatS− = =
0 1 0 0 1 1 1 0 1 0

confirming that the ladder operators move the eigenstates of Ŝz , up and down.