Purity (quantum mechanics)

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In quantum mechanics, and especially quantum information theory, the purity of a normalized quantum state is a scalar defined as

where is the density matrix of the state. The purity defines a measure on quantum states, giving information on how much a state is mixed.

Mathematical properties[edit]

The purity of a normalized quantum state satisfies ,[1] where is the dimension of the Hilbert space upon which the state is defined. The upper bound is obtained by and (see trace). If is a projection, which describe a pure state, then it holds that (see Projections). The lower bound is obtained by the completely mixed state, represented by the matrix .

The purity of a quantum state is conserved under unitary transformations acting on the density matrix in the form , where is an unitary matrix. Specifically, it is conserved under the time evolution operator , where is the Hamiltonian operator.[1][2]

Physical meaning[edit]

A pure quantum state can be represented as a single vector in the Hilbert space. In the density matrix formulation, a pure state is represented by the matrix . However, a mixed state cannot be represented this way, and instead is represented by a linear combination of pure states , while for normalization. The purity parameter is related to the coefficients: If only one coefficient is equal to , the state is pure; else the purity measures how much their values are similar. Indeed, the purity is when the state is completely mixed, i.e. , where are the orthonormal vector that constitute the basis Hilbert space.[3]

Geometrical representation[edit]

On Bloch sphere, pure states are represented by a point on the surface of the sphere, whereas mixed states are represented by an interior point. Thus, a purity of a state can be visualized as the degree in which it is close to the surface of the sphere. For example, the completely mixed state of a single qubit is represented by the center of the sphere, by symmetry.

A graphical intuition of purity can be gained by looking at the relation between the density matrix and Bloch sphere:

, where is the vector representing the quantum state (on or inside the sphere), and are Pauli matrices.

Since Pauli matrices are traceless, it still holds that .

However, using :

, hence

Which agrees with the fact that only states on the sphere itself are pure (i.e. ).

Relation to other concepts[edit]

Linear entropy[edit]

Purity is trivially related to the Linear entropy of a state by


A 2-qudits pure state can be written (using Schmidt decomposition) as , where are the bases of respectively, and . Its density matrix is . The degree in which it is entangled is related to the purity of the states of its subsystems, , and similarly for (see partial trace). If this initial state is separable (i.e. there's only a single ), then are both pure. Otherwise, this state is entangled and are both mixed. For example, if which is a maximally entangled state, then are both completely mixed.

For 2-qubits (pure or mixed) states, the Schmidt number (number of Schmidt coefficients) is at most 2. Using this and Peres–Horodecki criterion (for 2-qubits), a state is entangled if its partial transpose has at least one negative eigenvalue. Using the Schmidt coefficients from above, the negative eigenvalue is .[4] The negativity of this eigenvalue is also used as a measure of entanglement - the state is more entangled as this eigenvalue is more negative (up to for bell states). For the state of subsystem (similarly for ), it holds that:

And the purity is .

One can see that the more entangled the composite state is (i.e. more negative), the less pure the subsystem state.

Inverse Participation Ratio (IPR)[edit]

In the context of localization, a quantity closely related to the purity, the so called inverse participation ratio (IPR) turns out to be useful. Instead of the trace over the square of the density matrix, it is defined as the integral (or sum for finite system size) over the square of the density in some space, e.g., real space, momentum space, or even phase space, where the densities would be the square of the real space wave function , the square of the momentum space wave function , or some phase space density like the Husimi distribution, respectively.[5]

A small value of the IPR then corresponds to a delocalized state (or a strongly mixed state to keep the analogy to the purity), as can be seen by calculating the IPR for a totally delocalized state for a system of size , where the IPR yields . A large value of the IPR corresponds to a localized state (pure state in the analogy), as can be seen with the perfectly localized state , where the IPR yields . Localized and delocalized (extended) states in the framework of condensed matter physics then correspond to insulating and metallic states, respectively, if one imagines an electron on a lattice not being able to move in the crystal (localized wave function, IPR is large) or being able to move (extended state, IPR is small).

In the context of localization, it is often not necessary to know the wave function itself; it often suffices to know the localization properties. This is why the IPR is useful in this context. The IPR basically takes the full information about a quantum system (the wave function; for a -dimensional Hilbert space one would have to store values, the components of the wave function) and compresses it into one single number that then only contains some information about the localization properties of the state. Even though these two examples of a perfectly localized and a perfectly delocalized state were only shown for the real space wave function and correspondingly for the real space IPR, one could obviously extend the idea to momentum space and even phase space; the IPR then gives some information about the localization in the space at consideration, e.g. a plane wave would be strongly delocalized in real space, but its Fourier transform then is strongly localized, so here the real space IPR would be small and the momentum space IPR would be large. Actually the two examples shown above interchange their IPR when switching from real space to momentum space.

Projectivity of a measurement[edit]

For a quantum measurement, the projectivity[6] is the purity of its pre-measurement state. This pre-measurement state is the main tool of the retrodictive approach of quantum physics, in which we make predictions about state preparations leading to a given measurement result. It allows us to determine in which kind of states the measured system was prepared for leading to such a result.


  1. ^ a b Jaeger, Gregg (2006-11-15). Quantum Information: An Overview. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 9780387357256. 
  2. ^ Cappellaro, Paola (2012). "Lecture notes: Quantum Theory of Radiation Interactions, Chapter 7: Mixed states" (PDF). ocw.mit.edu. Retrieved 2016-11-26. 
  3. ^ Nielsen, Michael A.; Chuang, Isaac L. (2011). Quantum Computation and Quantum Information: 10th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ Życzkowski, Karol (1998-01-01). "Volume of the set of separable states". Physical Review A. 58 (2): 883–892. arXiv:quant-ph/9804024v1Freely accessible. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.58.883. 
  5. ^ Kramer, B.; MacKinnon, A. (December 1993). "Localization: theory and experiment". Reports on Progress in Physics. 56 (12): 1469. doi:10.1088/0034-4885/56/12/001. ISSN 0034-4885. 
  6. ^ Taoufik Amri, Quantum behavior of measurement apparatus, arXiv:1001.3032 (2010).