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Irreducible Representations of $\mathrm{U}(1)$

A representation $\rho$ of a group $G$ on a vector space $V$ always has the subspace $\{0\}$ and $V$ itself as invariant subspaces. Here a subspace $W\subset V$ is invariant means that $\rho(g)W\subset W$ for every $g\in G$. if $\rho$ has no other invariant subspaces, we say that it is irreducible.

Theorem. If $G$ is compact, every representation of $G$ is equivalent to a direct sum of irreducible representations.

This theorem is important for physicists since most Lie groups that are important in physics are compact. The theorem also says that if $G$ is compact, irreducible representations are the building blocks of other representations.

Example. For each $n\in\mathbb{Z}$, define $\rho_n:\mathrm{U}(1)\longrightarrow\mathrm{GL}(1,\mathbb{C})$ by
$$\rho_n(e^{i\theta})v=e^{i n\theta}v.$$
Then each $\rho_n$ is irreducible since $\mathbb{C}$ has no nontrivial vector subspaces. What is really important about this example is that any complex 1-dimensional representation is equivalent to $\rho_n$ for some $n\in\mathbb{Z}$. (Prove this!)

Schur’s Lemma. Let $\rho: G\longrightarrow\mathrm{GL}(V)$ be an irreducible complex representation and let $\phi: V\longrightarrow V$ an interwining map of $V$ with itself (i.e. $\phi(\rho(g)v)=\rho(g)(\phi(v))$ for all $g\in G$, $v\in V$). Then $\phi=\lambda I$ for some $\lambda\in\mathbb{C}$.

Suppose the group $G$ is abelian and $g\in G$. Then
for all $g’\in G$ , $v\in V$. Since $\rho(g)$ is an interwining map of $V$ with itself, $\rho(g)$ is a scalar multiple of $I$ by Schur’s Lemma. So every subspace of $V$ is invariant and hence $\rho$ is 1-dimensional. This means that any irreducible representation of $\mathrm{U}(1)$ is equivalent to one the $\rho_n$. Since $\mathrm{U}(1)$ is compact, any finite dim representation of $\mathrm{U}(1)$ is given as a direct sum of the $\rho_n$.

In quantum mechanics the electric charge of a particle is assumed to be a (integer) multiple of a certain unit charge $q$ i.e. charge is quantized. (This was indeed the case as confirmed by experiments.) In terms of representation, this means that a particle with charge $nq$ transforms according to $\rho_n$ of $\mathrm{U}(1)$. If we move a particle of charge $nq$ around a loop $\gamma$ in spacetime, its wave function is multiplied by a certain phase
$$e^{-\frac{i}{\hbar}nq\oint_\gamma A}\in\mathrm{U}(1)$$
where $A$ is the vector potential or more generally a connection as
$$\rho_n\left(e^{-\frac{i}{\hbar}q\oint_\gamma A}\right)v=e^{-\frac{i}{\hbar}nq\oint_\gamma A}v.$$

Proposition. The tensor product $\rho_n\otimes\rho_m$ is equivalent to $\rho_{n+m}$.

I will leave the proof of this proposition as an exercise. This proposition has an interesting physical implication. If we have two particles corresponding to two different representations of a group, a bound state corresponds to the tensor product of the two representations. The lectric charge of such a bound state is the sum of the charges of the constituents.


[1] John Baez, Javier P. Muniain, Gauge Fields, Knots and Gravity, World Scientific 1994

[2] Brian C. Hall, Lie Groups, Lie Algebras, and Representations, An Elementary Introduction, Springer-Verlag 2003

SouthernMiss Math Forum

Recently I have put up a math forum site, called SouthernMiss Math Forum. This is an online meeting place where math faculty members, undergrad students, and grad students can discuss math outside of classrooms. This forum is also open to high school students. In fact, any math lovers are welcome to participate.

Have something to say about mathematics or have a math question? Go right ahead and also hear what other people have to say.