Clebsch–Gordan coefficients

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In physics, the Clebsch–Gordan (CG) coefficients are numbers that arise in angular momentum coupling in quantum mechanics. They appear as the expansion coefficients of total angular momentum eigenstates in an uncoupled tensor product basis. In more mathematical terms, the CG coefficients are used in representation theory, particularly of compact Lie groups, to perform the explicit direct sum decomposition of the tensor product of two irreducible representations (i.e., a reducible representation into irreducible representations, in cases where the numbers and types of irreducible components are already known abstractly). The name derives from the German mathematicians Alfred Clebsch and Paul Gordan, who encountered an equivalent problem in invariant theory.

From a vector calculus perspective, the CG coefficients associated with the SO(3) group can be defined simply in terms of integrals of products of spherical harmonics and their complex conjugates. The addition of spins in quantum-mechanical terms can be read directly from this approach as spherical harmonics are eigenfunctions of total angular momentum and projection thereof onto an axis, and the integrals correspond to the Hilbert space inner product.[1] From the formal definition of angular momentum, recursion relations for the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients can be found. There also exist complicated explicit formulas for their direct calculation.[2]

The formulas below use Dirac's bra–ket notation and the Condon–Shortley phase convention[3] is adopted.

Review of the angular momentum operators[edit]

Angular momentum operators are self-adjoint operators jx, jy, and jz that satisfy the commutation relations

where εklm is the Levi-Civita symbol. Together the three operators define a vector operator, a rank one Cartesian tensor operator,
It is also known as a spherical vector, since it is also a spherical tensor operator. It is only for rank one that spherical tensor operators coincide with the Cartesian tensor operators.

By developing this concept further, one can define another operator j2 as the inner product of j with itself:

This is an example of a Casimir operator. It is diagonal and its eigenvalue characterizes the particular irreducible representation of the angular momentum algebra . This is physically interpreted as the square of the total angular momentum of the states on which the representation acts.

One can also define raising (j+) and lowering (j) operators, the so-called ladder operators,

Spherical basis for angular momentum eigenstates[edit]

It can be shown from the above definitions that j2 commutes with jx, jy, and jz:

When two Hermitian operators commute, a common set of eigenstates exists. Conventionally, j2 and jz are chosen. From the commutation relations, the possible eigenvalues can be found. These eigenstates are denoted |j m where j is the angular momentum quantum number and m is the angular momentum projection onto the z-axis.

They comprise the spherical basis, are complete, and satisfy the following eigenvalue equations,

The raising and lowering operators can be used to alter the value of m,

where the ladder coefficient is given by:






In principle, one may also introduce a (possibly complex) phase factor in the definition of . The choice made in this article is in agreement with the Condon–Shortley phase convention. The angular momentum states are orthogonal (because their eigenvalues with respect to a Hermitian operator are distinct) and are assumed to be normalized,

Here the italicized j and m denote integer or half-integer angular momentum quantum numbers of a particle or of a system. On the other hand, the roman jx, jy, jz, j+, j, and j2 denote operators. The symbols are Kronecker deltas.

Tensor product space[edit]

We now consider systems with two physically different angular momenta j1 and j2. Examples include the spin and the orbital angular momentum of a single electron, or the spins of two electrons, or the orbital angular momenta of two electrons. Mathematically, this means that the angular momentum operators act on a space of dimension and also on a space of dimension . We are then going to define a family of "total angular momentum" operators acting on the tensor product space , which has dimension . The action of the total angular momentum operator on this space constitutes a representation of the SU(2) Lie algebra, but a reducible one. The reduction of this reducible representation into irreducible pieces is the goal of Clebsch–Gordan theory.

Let V1 be the (2 j1 + 1)-dimensional vector space spanned by the states

and V2 the (2 j2 + 1)-dimensional vector space spanned by the states

The tensor product of these spaces, V3V1V2, has a (2 j1 + 1) (2 j2 + 1)-dimensional uncoupled basis

Angular momentum operators are defined to act on states in V3 in the following manner:
where 1 denotes the identity operator.

The total[nb 1] angular momentum operators are defined by the coproduct (or tensor product) of the two representations acting on V1V2,

The total angular momentum operators can be shown to satisfy the very same commutation relations,

where k, l, m ∈ {x, y, z}. Indeed, the preceding construction is the standard method[4] for constructing an action of a Lie algebra on a tensor product representation.

Hence, a set of coupled eigenstates exist for the total angular momentum operator as well,

for M ∈ {−J, −J + 1, ..., J}. Note that it is common to omit the [j1 j2] part.

The total angular momentum quantum number J must satisfy the triangular condition that

such that the three nonnegative integer or half-integer values could correspond to the three sides of a triangle.[5]

The total number of total angular momentum eigenstates is necessarily equal to the dimension of V3:

As this computation suggests, the tensor product representation decomposes as the direct sum of one copy of each of the irreducible representations of dimension , where ranges from to in increments of 1.[6] As an example, consider the tensor product of the three-dimensional representation corresponding to with the two-dimensional representation with . The possible values of are then and . Thus, the six-dimensional tensor product representation decomposes as the direct sum of a two-dimensional representation and a four-dimensional representation.

The goal is now to describe the preceding decomposition explicitly, that is, to explicitly describe basis elements in the tensor product space for each of the component representations that arise.

The total angular momentum states form an orthonormal basis of V3:

These rules may be iterated to, e.g., combine n doublets (s=1/2) to obtain the Clebsch-Gordan decomposition series, (Catalan's triangle),

where is the integer floor function; and the number preceding the boldface irreducible representation dimensionality (2j+1) label indicates multiplicity of that representation in the representation reduction.[7] For instance, from this formula, addition of three spin 1/2s yields a spin 3/2 and two spin 1/2s, .

Formal definition of Clebsch–Gordan coefficients[edit]

The coupled states can be expanded via the completeness relation (resolution of identity) in the uncoupled basis






The expansion coefficients

are the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients. Note that some authors write them in a different order such as j1 j2; m1 m2 | J M. Another common notation is j1 m1 j2 m2 | J M = CJM

Applying the operators

to both sides of the defining equation shows that the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients can only be nonzero when

Recursion relations[edit]

The recursion relations were discovered by physicist Giulio Racah from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1941.

Applying the total angular momentum raising and lowering operators

to the left hand side of the defining equation gives
Applying the same operators to the right hand side gives

Combining these results gives recursion relations for the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients, where C± was defined in 1:

Taking the upper sign with the condition that M = J gives initial recursion relation:

In the Condon–Shortley phase convention, one adds the constraint that

(and is therefore also real). The Clebsch–Gordan coefficients j1 m1 j2 m2 | J M can then be found from these recursion relations. The normalization is fixed by the requirement that the sum of the squares, which equivalent to the requirement that the norm of the state |[j1 j2] J J must be one.

The lower sign in the recursion relation can be used to find all the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients with M = J − 1. Repeated use of that equation gives all coefficients.

This procedure to find the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients shows that they are all real in the Condon–Shortley phase convention.

Explicit expression[edit]

Orthogonality relations[edit]

These are most clearly written down by introducing the alternative notation

The first orthogonality relation is

(derived from the fact that ) and the second one is

Special cases[edit]

For J = 0 the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients are given by

For J = j1 + j2 and M = J we have

For j1 = j2 = J / 2 and m1 = −m2 we have

For j1 = j2 = m1 = −m2 we have

For j2 = 1, m2 = 0 we have

For j2 = 1/2 we have

Symmetry properties[edit]

A convenient way to derive these relations is by converting the Clebsch–Gordan coefficients to Wigner 3-j symbols using 3. The symmetry properties of Wigner 3-j symbols are much simpler.

Rules for phase factors[edit]

Care is needed when simplifying phase factors: a quantum number may be a half-integer rather than an integer, therefore (−1)2k is not necessarily 1 for a given quantum number k unless it can be proven to be an integer. Instead, it is replaced by the following weaker rule:

for any angular-momentum-like quantum number k.

Nonetheless, a combination of ji and mi is always an integer, so the stronger rule applies for these combinations:

This identity also holds if the sign of either ji or mi or both is reversed.

It is useful to observe that any phase factor for a given (ji, mi) pair can be reduced to the canonical form:

where a ∈ {0, 1, 2, 3} and b ∈ {0, 1} (other conventions are possible too). Converting phase factors into this form makes it easy to tell whether two phase factors are equivalent. (Note that this form is only locally canonical: it fails to take into account the rules that govern combinations of (ji, mi) pairs such as the one described in the next paragraph.)

An additional rule holds for combinations of j1, j2, and j3 that are related by a Clebsch-Gordan coefficient or Wigner 3-j symbol:

This identity also holds if the sign of any ji is reversed, or if any of them are substituted with an mi instead.

Relation to Wigner 3-j symbols[edit]

Clebsch–Gordan coefficients are related to Wigner 3-j symbols which have more convenient symmetry relations.






The factor (−1)2 j2 is due to the Condon–Shortley constraint that j1 j1 j2 (Jj1)|J J⟩ > 0, while (–1)JM is due to the time-reversed nature of |J M.

Relation to Wigner D-matrices[edit]

Relation to spherical harmonics[edit]

In the case where integers are involved, the coefficients can be related to integrals of spherical harmonics:

It follows from this and orthonormality of the spherical harmonics that CG coefficients are in fact the expansion coefficients of a product of two spherical harmonics in terms of a single spherical harmonic:

Other properties[edit]

Clebsch–Gordan coefficients for specific groups[edit]

For arbitrary groups and their representations, Clebsch–Gordan coefficients are not known in general. However, algorithms to produce Clebsch–Gordan coefficients for the special unitary group SU(n) are known.[8][9] In particular, SU(3) Clebsch-Gordan coefficients have been computed and tabulated because of their utility in characterizing hadronic decays, where a flavor-SU(3) symmetry exists that relates the up, down, and strange quarks.[10][11][12] A web interface for tabulating SU(N) Clebsch–Gordan coefficients is readily available.

Clebsch–Gordan coefficients for symmetric group are also known as Kronecker coefficients.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The word "total" is often overloaded to mean several different things. In this article, "total angular momentum" refers to a generic sum of two angular momentum operators j1 and j2. It is not to be confused with the other common use of the term "total angular momentum" that refers specifically to the sum of orbital angular momentum and spin.


  1. ^ Greiner & Müller 1994
  2. ^ Edmonds 1957
  3. ^ Condon & Shortley 1970
  4. ^ Hall 2015 Section 4.3.2
  5. ^ Merzbacher 1998
  6. ^ Hall 2015 Appendix C
  7. ^ Zachos, C K (1992). "Altering the Symmetry of Wavefunctions in Quantum Algebras and Supersymmetry". Modern Physics Letters A. A7 (18): 1595–1600. arXiv:hep-th/9203027. Bibcode:1992MPLA....7.1595Z. doi:10.1142/S0217732392001270. S2CID 16360975.
  8. ^ Alex et al. 2011
  9. ^ Kaplan & Resnikoff 1967
  10. ^ de Swart 1963
  11. ^ Kaeding 1995
  12. ^ Coleman, Sidney. "Fun with SU(3)". INSPIREHep.


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Further reading[edit]