< Previous  Index  Next >Chapter Summary:8. The Dirac EquationIn this chapter, we obtain the Dirac equation with external fields in three dimensions (Section 8.1). The number of components of the Dirac spinors is doubled compared to the onedimensional situation. Roughly speaking, there are two spin components for each sign of the energy. In the presence of external fields, the Dirac equation cannot be invariant under Lorentz transformations. But the Dirac equation is covariant in the sense that a Lorentztransformed solution of the Dirac equation is a solution of the Dirac equation with an appropriately transformed potential energy (Section 8.2). It is possible to classify the potential functions according to their behavior under Poincaré transformations as scalar, electromagnetic, and tensor fields (Section 8.3). Wave packets with negative energy behave quite differently from wave packets with positive energy if put into an external electromagnetic field. By introducing the operation of charge transformation, one can see that a wave packet with negative energy actually describes the behavior of a particle with positive energy but with opposite charge (Section 8.4). We can thus interpret the solutions with negative energy as antiparticles. But this interpretation only works in situations where the splitting of the Hilbert space in electronic and positronic states is meaningful and unambiguous. A counterexample showing the limits of Dirac theory is the Klein paradox, where particles starting as electrons may end up as positrons. In Section 8.5, we investigate the connection between Dirac's theory and the nonrelativistic Pauli equation for particles with spin. The eigenvalues and eigenfunctions of the Dirac equation tend to their nonrelativistic counterparts as c goes to infinity. We derive some formulas that let us compute relativistic perturbations of nonrelativistic energies up to first order in 1/c^{2}. The role of spherical symmetry in relativistic quantum mechanics is as important as in nonrelativistic quantum mechanics. In Section 8.6, we describe the angularmomentum subspaces of Dirac's theory. The radial Dirac equation becomes a system of two ordinary differential equations. The hydrogen atom is perhaps the most important testing ground for any quantum mechanical theory. 



