Rarita–Schwinger equation

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In theoretical physics, the Rarita–Schwinger equation is the relativistic field equation of spin-3/2 fermions. It is similar to the Dirac equation for spin-1/2 fermions. This equation was first introduced by William Rarita and Julian Schwinger in 1941.

In modern notation it can be written as:[1]

where is the Levi-Civita symbol, and are Dirac matrices, is the mass, , and is a vector-valued spinor with additional components compared to the four component spinor in the Dirac equation. It corresponds to the (1/2, 1/2) ⊗ ((1/2, 0) ⊕ (0, 1/2)) representation of the Lorentz group, or rather, its (1, 1/2) ⊕ (1/2, 1) part.[2]

This field equation can be derived as the Euler–Lagrange equation corresponding to the Rarita–Schwinger Lagrangian:[3]

where the bar above denotes the Dirac adjoint.

This equation controls the propagation of the wave function of composite objects such as the delta baryons (
) or for the conjectural gravitino. So far, no elementary particle with spin 3/2 has been found experimentally.

The massless Rarita–Schwinger equation has a fermionic gauge symmetry: is invariant under the gauge transformation , where is an arbitrary spinor field.

"Weyl" and "Majorana" versions of the Rarita–Schwinger equation also exist.

Equations of motion in the massless case[edit]

Consider a massless Rarita-Schwinger field described by the Lagrangian density

where the sum over spin indices is implicit, are Majorana spinors, and

To obtain the equations of motion we vary the Lagrangian with respect to the fields , obtaining:

using the Majorana flip properties[4] we see that the second and first terms on the RHS are equal, concluding that

plus unimportant boundary terms. Imposing we thus see that the equation of motion for a massless Majorana Rarita-Schwinger spinor reads:

Drawbacks of the equation[edit]

The current description of massive, higher spin fields through either Rarita–Schwinger or Fierz–Pauli formalisms is afflicted with several maladies.

Superluminal propagation[edit]

As in the case of the Dirac equation, electromagnetic interaction can be added by promoting the partial derivative to gauge covariant derivative:


In 1969, Velo and Zwanziger showed that the Rarita–Schwinger Lagrangian coupled to electromagnetism leads to equation with solutions representing wavefronts, some of which propagate faster than light. In other words, the field then suffers from acausal, superluminal propagation; consequently, the quantization in interaction with electromagnetism is essentially flawed[why?]. In extended supergravity, though, Das and Freedman[5] have shown that local supersymmetry solves this problem[how?].


  1. ^ S. Weinberg, "The quantum theory of fields", Vol. 3, Cambridge p. 335
  2. ^ S. Weinberg, "The quantum theory of fields", Vol. 1, Cambridge p. 232
  3. ^ S. Weinberg, "The quantum theory of fields", Vol. 3, Cambridge p. 335
  4. ^ Pierre Ramond - Field theory, a Modern Primer - p.40
  5. ^ Das, A.; Freedman, D. Z. (1976). "Gauge quantization for spin-3/2 fields". Nuclear Physics B. 114 (2): 271. Bibcode:1976NuPhB.114..271D. doi:10.1016/0550-3213(76)90589-7. ; Freedman, D. Z.; Das, A. (1977). "Gauge internal symmetry in extended supergravity". Nuclear Physics B. 120 (2): 221. Bibcode:1977NuPhB.120..221F. doi:10.1016/0550-3213(77)90041-4. 


  • W. Rarita and J. Schwinger, On a Theory of Particles with Half-Integral Spin Phys. Rev. 60, 61 (1941).
  • Collins P.D.B., Martin A.D., Squires E.J., Particle physics and cosmology (1989) Wiley, Section 1.6.
  • G. Velo, D. Zwanziger, Propagation and Quantization of Rarita–Schwinger Waves in an External Electromagnetic Potential, Phys. Rev. 186, 1337 (1969).
  • G. Velo, D. Zwanziger, Noncausality and Other Defects of Interaction Lagrangians for Particles with Spin One and Higher, Phys. Rev. 188, 2218 (1969).
  • M. Kobayashi, A. Shamaly, Minimal Electromagnetic coupling for massive spin-two fields, Phys. Rev. D 17,8, 2179 (1978).