Transfer-matrix method

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For the method in optics, see Transfer-matrix method (optics).

In physics and mathematics, the transfer-matrix method is a general technique for solving problems in statistical mechanics.

The basic idea is to write the partition function in the form

where v0 and vN+1 are vectors of dimension p and the p×p matrices Wk are the so-called transfer matrices. In some cases, particularly for cyclic systems, the partition function may be written more simply as

where "tr" denotes the matrix trace. In either case, the partition function may be solved exactly using eigenanalysis. If the matrices are all the same matrix W, the partition function may be approximated as the Nth power of the largest eigenvalue of W, since the trace is the sum of the eigenvalues and the eigenvalues of the product of two diagonal matrices equals the product of their individual eigenvalues.

The transfer-matrix method is used when the total system can be broken into a sequence of subsystems that interact only with adjacent subsystems. For example, a three-dimensional cubical lattice of spins in an Ising model can be decomposed into a sequence of two-dimensional planar lattices of spins that interact only adjacently. The dimension p of the p×p transfer matrix equals the number of states the subsystem may have; the transfer matrix itself Wk encodes the statistical weight associated with a particular state of subsystem k-1 being next to another state of subsystem k.

As an example of observables that can be calculated from this method, the probability of a particular state occurring at position x is given by:

Where is the projection matrix for state , having elements

Transfer-matrix methods have been critical for many exact solutions of problems in statistical mechanics, including the Zimm-Bragg and Lifson-Roig models of the helix-coil transition, transfer matrix models for protein-DNA binding, as well as the famous exact solution of the two-dimensional Ising model by Lars Onsager.

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