Noether's theorem states that any
differentiableIn calculus, a branch of mathematics, the derivative is a measure of how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity; for example, the derivative of the position of a...
symmetryIn physics, symmetry includes all features of a physical system that exhibit the property of symmetry—that is, under certain transformations, aspects of these systems are "unchanged", according to a particular observation...
of the
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
of a physical system has a corresponding
conservation lawIn physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves....
. The theorem was proved by German mathematician
Emmy NoetherAmalie Emmy Noether was an influential German mathematician known for her groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Described by David Hilbert, Albert Einstein and others as the most important woman in the history of mathematics, she revolutionized the theories of...
in 1915 and published in 1918. The action of a physical system is the integral over time of a
LagrangianThe Lagrangian, L, of a dynamical system is a function that summarizes the dynamics of the system. It is named after Joseph Louis Lagrange. The concept of a Lagrangian was originally introduced in a reformulation of classical mechanics by Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton known as...
function (which may or may not be an integral over space of a Lagrangian density function), from which the system's behavior can be determined by the
principle of least actionIn physics, the principle of least action – or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action – is a variational principle that, when applied to the action of a mechanical system, can be used to obtain the equations of motion for that system...
.
Noether's theorem has become a fundamental tool of modern
theoretical physicsTheoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...
and the
calculus of variationsCalculus of variations is a field of mathematics that deals with extremizing functionals, as opposed to ordinary calculus which deals with functions. A functional is usually a mapping from a set of functions to the real numbers. Functionals are often formed as definite integrals involving unknown...
. A generalization of the seminal formulations on constants of motion in
LagrangianLagrangian mechanics is a reformulation of classical mechanics that combines conservation of momentum with conservation of energy. It was introduced by the ItalianFrench mathematician JosephLouis Lagrange in 1788....
and
Hamiltonian mechanicsHamiltonian mechanics is a reformulation of classical mechanics that was introduced in 1833 by Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton.It arose from Lagrangian mechanics, a previous reformulation of classical mechanics introduced by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1788, but can be formulated without...
(developed in 1788 and 1833, respectively), it does not apply to systems that cannot be modeled with a Lagrangian alone (e.g. systems with a
Rayleigh dissipation functionLagrangian mechanics is a reformulation of classical mechanics that combines conservation of momentum with conservation of energy. It was introduced by the ItalianFrench mathematician JosephLouis Lagrange in 1788....
). In particular, dissipative systems with continuous symmetries need not have a corresponding conservation law.
For illustration, if a physical system behaves the same regardless of how it is oriented in space, its Lagrangian is rotationally symmetric; from this symmetry, Noether's theorem shows the
angular momentumIn physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...
of the system must be conserved. The physical system itself need not be symmetric; a jagged asteroid tumbling in space conserves angular momentum despite its asymmetry – it is the laws of motion that are symmetric. As another example, if a physical experiment has the same outcome regardless of place or time (having the same outcome, say, somewhere in Asia on a Tuesday or in America on a Wednesday), then its Lagrangian is symmetric under continuous translations in space and time; by Noether's theorem, these symmetries account for the
conservation lawIn physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves....
s of
linear momentumIn classical mechanics, linear momentum or translational momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object...
and
energyIn physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...
within this system, respectively. (These examples are just for illustration; in the first one, Noether's theorem added nothing new – the results were known to follow from Lagrange's equations and from Hamilton's equations.)
Noether's theorem is important, both because of the insight it gives into conservation laws, and also as a practical calculational tool. It allows researchers to determine the conserved quantities from the observed symmetries of a physical system. Conversely, it allows researchers to consider whole classes of hypothetical Lagrangians to describe a physical system. For illustration, suppose that a new field is discovered that conserves a quantity X. Using Noether's theorem, the types of Lagrangians that conserve X because of a continuous symmetry can be determined, and then their fitness judged by other criteria.
There are numerous different versions of Noether's theorem, with varying degrees of generality. The original version only applied to
ordinary differential equationIn mathematics, an ordinary differential equation is a relation that contains functions of only one independent variable, and one or more of their derivatives with respect to that variable....
s (particles) and not
partial differential equationIn mathematics, partial differential equations are a type of differential equation, i.e., a relation involving an unknown function of several independent variables and their partial derivatives with respect to those variables...
s (fields). The original versions also
assume that the Lagrangian only depends upon the first derivative, while later versions generalize the theorem to Lagrangians depending on the n
^{th} derivative. There is also a quantum version of this theorem, known as the
Ward–Takahashi identityIn quantum field theory, a WardTakahashi identity is an identity between correlation functions that follows from the global or gauged symmetries of the theory, and which remains valid after renormalization....
. Generalizations of Noether's theorem to
superspace"Superspace" has had two meanings in physics. The word was first used by John Wheeler to describe the configuration space of general relativity; for example, this usage may be seen in his famous 1973 textbook Gravitation....
s also exist.
Informal statement of the theorem
All fine technical points aside, Noether's theorem can be stated informally
 If a system has a continuous symmetry property, then there are corresponding quantities whose values are conserved in time.
A more sophisticated version of the theorem states that:
 To every differentiable symmetry
In physics, symmetry includes all features of a physical system that exhibit the property of symmetry—that is, under certain transformations, aspects of these systems are "unchanged", according to a particular observation...
generated by local actions, there corresponds a conserved currentIn physics a conserved current is a current, j^\mu, that satisfies the continuity equation \partial_\mu j^\mu=0. The continuity equation represents a conservation law, hence the name....
.
The word "symmetry" in the above statement refers more precisely to the
covarianceIn physics, a covariant transformation is a rule , that describes how certain physical entities change under a change of coordinate system....
of the form that a physical law takes with respect to a onedimensional
Lie groupIn mathematics, a Lie group is a group which is also a differentiable manifold, with the property that the group operations are compatible with the smooth structure...
of transformations satisfying certain technical criteria. The
conservation lawIn physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves....
of a
physical quantityA physical quantity is a physical property of a phenomenon, body, or substance, that can be quantified by measurement.Definition of a physical quantity:Formally, the International Vocabulary of Metrology, 3rd edition defines quantity as:...
is usually expressed as a
continuity equationA continuity equation in physics is a differential equation that describes the transport of a conserved quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described...
.
The formal proof of the theorem uses only the condition of invariance to derive an expression for a current associated with a conserved physical quantity. The conserved quantity is called the Noether charge and the flow carrying that 'charge' is called the Noether current. The Noether current is defined
up toIn mathematics, the phrase "up to x" means "disregarding a possible difference in x".For instance, when calculating an indefinite integral, one could say that the solution is f "up to addition by a constant," meaning it differs from f, if at all, only by some constant.It indicates that...
a solenoidal vector field.
Historical context
A
conservation lawIn physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves....
states that some quantity X describing a system remains constant throughout its motion; expressed mathematically, the rate of change of X (its
derivativeIn calculus, a branch of mathematics, the derivative is a measure of how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity; for example, the derivative of the position of a...
with respect to
timeTime is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....
) is zero:
Such quantities are said to be conserved; they are often called
constants of motionIn mechanics, a constant of motion is a quantity that is conserved throughout the motion, imposing in effect a constraint on the motion. However, it is a mathematical constraint, the natural consequence of the equations of motion, rather than a physical constraint...
, although motion per se need not be involved, just evolution in time. For example, if the energy of a system is conserved, its energy is constant at all times, which imposes a constraint on the system's motion and may help to solve for it. Aside from the insight that such constants of motion give into the nature of a system, they are a useful calculational tool; for example, an approximate solution can be corrected by finding the nearest state that satisfies the necessary conservation laws.
The earliest constants of motion discovered were
momentumIn classical mechanics, linear momentum or translational momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object...
and
energyIn physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...
, which were proposed in the 17th century by
René DescartesRené Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...
and
Gottfried LeibnizGottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a German philosopher and mathematician. He wrote in different languages, primarily in Latin , French and German ....
on the basis of
collisionA collision is an isolated event which two or more moving bodies exert forces on each other for a relatively short time.Although the most common colloquial use of the word "collision" refers to accidents in which two or more objects collide, the scientific use of the word "collision" implies...
experiments, and refined by subsequent researchers.
Isaac NewtonSir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...
was the first to enunciate the conservation of momentum in its modern form, and showed that it was a consequence of
Newton's third lawNewton's laws of motion are three physical laws that form the basis for classical mechanics. They describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces...
; interestingly, conservation of momentum still holds even in situations when Newton's third law is incorrect. Modern physics has revealed that the conservation laws of momentum and energy are only approximately true, but their modern refinements – the conservation of
fourmomentumIn special relativity, fourmomentum is the generalization of the classical threedimensional momentum to fourdimensional spacetime. Momentum is a vector in three dimensions; similarly fourmomentum is a fourvector in spacetime...
in
special relativitySpecial relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...
and the zero covariant
divergenceIn vector calculus, divergence is a vector operator that measures the magnitude of a vector field's source or sink at a given point, in terms of a signed scalar. More technically, the divergence represents the volume density of the outward flux of a vector field from an infinitesimal volume around...
of the
stressenergy tensorThe stress–energy tensor is a tensor quantity in physics that describes the density and flux of energy and momentum in spacetime, generalizing the stress tensor of Newtonian physics. It is an attribute of matter, radiation, and nongravitational force fields...
in
general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
– are rigorously true within the limits of those theories. The conservation of
angular momentumIn physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...
, a generalization to rotating rigid bodies, likewise holds in modern physics. Another important conserved quantity, discovered in studies of the
celestial mechanicsCelestial mechanics is the branch of astronomy that deals with the motions of celestial objects. The field applies principles of physics, historically classical mechanics, to astronomical objects such as stars and planets to produce ephemeris data. Orbital mechanics is a subfield which focuses on...
of astronomical bodies, was the Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, physicists developed more systematic methods for discovering conserved quantities. A major advance came in 1788 with the development of
Lagrangian mechanicsLagrangian mechanics is a reformulation of classical mechanics that combines conservation of momentum with conservation of energy. It was introduced by the ItalianFrench mathematician JosephLouis Lagrange in 1788....
, which is related to the
principle of least actionIn physics, the principle of least action – or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action – is a variational principle that, when applied to the action of a mechanical system, can be used to obtain the equations of motion for that system...
. In this approach, the state of the system can be described by any type of generalized coordinates q; the laws of motion need not be expressed in a
Cartesian coordinate systemA Cartesian coordinate system specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances from the point to two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length...
, as was customary in Newtonian mechanics. The
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
is defined as the time integral I of a function known as the
LagrangianThe Lagrangian, L, of a dynamical system is a function that summarizes the dynamics of the system. It is named after Joseph Louis Lagrange. The concept of a Lagrangian was originally introduced in a reformulation of classical mechanics by Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton known as...
L
where the dot over q signifies the rate of change of the coordinates q
Hamilton's principleIn physics, Hamilton's principle is William Rowan Hamilton's formulation of the principle of stationary action...
states that the physical path q(t) – the one truly taken by the system – is a path for which infinitesimal variations in that path cause no change in I, at least up to first order. This principle results in the Euler–Lagrange equations
Thus, if one of the coordinates, say q
_{k}, does not appear in the Lagrangian, the righthand side of the equation is zero, and the lefthand side shows that
where the conserved momentum p
_{k} is defined as the lefthand quantity in parentheses. The absence of the coordinate q
_{k} from the Lagrangian implies that the Lagrangian is unaffected by changes or transformations of q
_{k}; the Lagrangian is invariant, and is said to exhibit a kind of
symmetryIn physics, symmetry includes all features of a physical system that exhibit the property of symmetry—that is, under certain transformations, aspects of these systems are "unchanged", according to a particular observation...
. This is the seed idea from which Noether's theorem was born.
Several alternative methods for finding conserved quantities were developed in the 19th century, especially by
William Rowan HamiltonSir William Rowan Hamilton was an Irish physicist, astronomer, and mathematician, who made important contributions to classical mechanics, optics, and algebra. His studies of mechanical and optical systems led him to discover new mathematical concepts and techniques...
. For example, he developed a theory of
canonical transformationIn Hamiltonian mechanics, a canonical transformation is a change of canonical coordinates → that preserves the form of Hamilton's equations , although it...
s that allowed researchers to change coordinates so that coordinates disappeared from the Lagrangian, resulting in conserved quantities. Another approach and perhaps the most efficient for finding conserved quantities is the
Hamilton–Jacobi equationIn mathematics, the Hamilton–Jacobi equation is a necessary condition describing extremal geometry in generalizations of problems from the calculus of variations. In physics, the Hamilton–Jacobi equation is a reformulation of classical mechanics and, thus, equivalent to other formulations such as...
.
Mathematical expression
The essence of Noether's theorem is the following: Imagine that the action I defined above is invariant under small perturbations (warpings) of the time variable t and the generalized coordinates q; (in a notation commonly used by physicists) we write
where the perturbations δt and δq are both small but variable. For generality, assume that there might be several such
symmetryIn physics, symmetry includes all features of a physical system that exhibit the property of symmetry—that is, under certain transformations, aspects of these systems are "unchanged", according to a particular observation...
transformations of the action, say, N; we may use an index r = 1, 2, 3, …, N to keep track of them. Then a generic perturbation can be written as a linear sum of the individual types of perturbations
Using these definitions,
Emmy NoetherAmalie Emmy Noether was an influential German mathematician known for her groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Described by David Hilbert, Albert Einstein and others as the most important woman in the history of mathematics, she revolutionized the theories of...
showed that the N quantities
are conserved, i.e., are
constants of motionIn mechanics, a constant of motion is a quantity that is conserved throughout the motion, imposing in effect a constraint on the motion. However, it is a mathematical constraint, the natural consequence of the equations of motion, rather than a physical constraint...
; this is a simple version of Noether's theorem.
Examples
For illustration, consider a Lagrangian that does not depend on time, i.e., that is invariant (symmetric) under changes t → t + δt, without any change in the coordinates q. In this case, N = 1, T = 1 and Q = 0; the corresponding conserved quantity is the total
energyIn physics, energy is an indirectly observed quantity. It is often understood as the ability a physical system has to do work on other physical systems...
H
Similarly, consider a Lagrangian that does not depend on a coordinate q
_{k}, i.e., that is invariant (symmetric) under changes q
_{k} → q
_{k} + δq
_{k}. In that case, N = 1, T = 0, and Q
_{k} = 1; the conserved quantity is the corresponding
momentumIn classical mechanics, linear momentum or translational momentum is the product of the mass and velocity of an object...
p
_{k}
In
specialSpecial relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...
and
general relativityGeneral relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...
, these apparently separate conservation laws are aspects of a single conservation law, that of the
stressenergy tensorThe stress–energy tensor is a tensor quantity in physics that describes the density and flux of energy and momentum in spacetime, generalizing the stress tensor of Newtonian physics. It is an attribute of matter, radiation, and nongravitational force fields...
, that is derived in the next section.
The conservation of the
angular momentumIn physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...
L = r × p is slightly more complicated to derive, but analogous to its linear momentum counterpart. It is assumed that the symmetry of the Lagrangian is rotational, i.e., that the Lagrangian does not depend on the absolute orientation of the physical system in space. For concreteness, assume that the Lagrangian does not change under small rotations of an angle δθ about an axis n; such a rotation transforms the
Cartesian coordinatesA Cartesian coordinate system specifies each point uniquely in a plane by a pair of numerical coordinates, which are the signed distances from the point to two fixed perpendicular directed lines, measured in the same unit of length...
by the equation
Since time is not being transformed, T equals zero. Taking δθ as the ε parameter and the Cartesian coordinates r as the generalized coordinates q, the corresponding Q variables are given by
Then Noether's theorem states that the following quantity is conserved
In other words, the component of the angular momentum L along the n axis is conserved. If n is arbitrary, i.e., if the system is insensitive to any rotation, then every component of L is conserved; in short,
angular momentumIn physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...
is conserved.
Fieldtheory version
Although useful in its own right, the version of her theorem just given was a special case of the general version she derived in 1915. To give the flavor of the general theorem, a version of the Noether theorem for continuous fields in fourdimensional spacetime is now given. Since field theory problems are more common in modern physics than
mechanicsMechanics is the branch of physics concerned with the behavior of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements, and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment....
problems, this fieldtheory version is the most commonly used version of Noether's theorem.
Let there be a set of differentiable
fieldsIn physics, a field is a physical quantity associated with each point of spacetime. A field can be classified as a scalar field, a vector field, a spinor field, or a tensor field according to whether the value of the field at each point is a scalar, a vector, a spinor or, more generally, a tensor,...
φ
_{k} defined over all space and time; for example, the temperature T(x, t) would be representative of such a field, being a number defined at every place and time. The
principle of least actionIn physics, the principle of least action – or, more accurately, the principle of stationary action – is a variational principle that, when applied to the action of a mechanical system, can be used to obtain the equations of motion for that system...
can be applied to such fields, but the action is now an integral over space and time
(the theorem can actually be further generalized to the case where the Lagrangian depends on up to the n
^{th} derivative using
jet bundleIn differential geometry, the jet bundle is a certain construction which makes a new smooth fiber bundle out of a given smooth fiber bundle. It makes it possible to write differential equations on sections of a fiber bundle in an invariant form...
s)
Let the action be invariant under certain transformations of the spacetime coordinates x
^{μ} and the fields φ
_{k}
where the transformations can be indexed by r = 1, 2, 3, …, N
For such systems, Noether's theorem states that there are N conserved
current densitiesIn physics a conserved current is a current, j^\mu, that satisfies the continuity equation \partial_\mu j^\mu=0. The continuity equation represents a conservation law, hence the name....
In such cases, the
conservation lawIn physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves....
is expressed in a fourdimensional way
which expresses the idea that the amount of a conserved quantity within a sphere cannot change unless some of it flows out of the sphere. For example,
electric chargeElectric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...
is conserved; the amount of charge within a sphere cannot change unless some of the charge leaves the sphere.
For illustration, consider a physical system of fields that behaves the same under translations in time and space, as considered above; in other words, the fields do not depend on the absolute position in space and time. In that case, N = 4, one for each dimension of space and time. Since only the positions in spacetime are being warped, not the fields, the Ψ are all zero and the X
_{μ}^{ν} equal the
Kronecker delta δ
_{μ}^{ν}, where we have used μ instead of r for the index. In that case, Noether's theorem corresponds to the conservation law for the
stressenergy tensorThe stress–energy tensor is a tensor quantity in physics that describes the density and flux of energy and momentum in spacetime, generalizing the stress tensor of Newtonian physics. It is an attribute of matter, radiation, and nongravitational force fields...
T
_{μ}^{ν}
The conservation of
electric chargeElectric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...
can be derived by considering transformations of the fields themselves. In
quantum mechanicsQuantum mechanics, also known as quantum physics or quantum theory, is a branch of physics providing a mathematical description of much of the dual particlelike and wavelike behavior and interactions of energy and matter. It departs from classical mechanics primarily at the atomic and subatomic...
, the
probability amplitudeIn quantum mechanics, a probability amplitude is a complex number whose modulus squared represents a probability or probability density.For example, if the probability amplitude of a quantum state is \alpha, the probability of measuring that state is \alpha^2...
ψ(x) of finding a particle at a point x is a complex field, because it ascribes a
complex numberA complex number is a number consisting of a real part and an imaginary part. Complex numbers extend the idea of the onedimensional number line to the twodimensional complex plane by using the number line for the real part and adding a vertical axis to plot the imaginary part...
to every point in space and time. The probability amplitude itself is physically unmeasurable; only the probability p = ψ
^{2} can be inferred from a set of measurements. Therefore, the system is invariant under transformations of the ψ field and its
complex conjugateIn mathematics, complex conjugates are a pair of complex numbers, both having the same real part, but with imaginary parts of equal magnitude and opposite signs...
field ψ
^{*} that leave ψ
^{2} unchanged, such as
In the limit when
becomes infinitesimally small
, it may be taken as the ε, and the
are equal to
and
respectively. A specific example is the Klein–Gordon equation, the
relativistically correctSpecial relativity is the physical theory of measurement in an inertial frame of reference proposed in 1905 by Albert Einstein in the paper "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies".It generalizes Galileo's...
version of the
Schrödinger equationThe Schrödinger equation was formulated in 1926 by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Used in physics , it is an equation that describes how the quantum state of a physical system changes in time....
for
spinlessIn quantum mechanics and particle physics, spin is a fundamental characteristic property of elementary particles, composite particles , and atomic nuclei.It is worth noting that the intrinsic property of subatomic particles called spin and discussed in this article, is related in some small ways,...
particles, which has the Lagrangian density
In this case, Noether's theorem states that the conserved current equals
which, when multiplied by the charge on that type of particle, equals the electric current density due to that type of particle. This transformation was first noted by
Hermann WeylHermann Klaus Hugo Weyl was a German mathematician and theoretical physicist. Although much of his working life was spent in Zürich, Switzerland and then Princeton, he is associated with the University of Göttingen tradition of mathematics, represented by David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski.His...
and is one of the fundamental gauge symmetries of modern physics.
One independent variable
Consider the simplest case, a system with one independent variable, time. Suppose the dependent variables
are such that the action integral
is invariant under brief infinitesimal variations in the dependent variables. In other words, they satisfy the Euler–Lagrange equations
And suppose that the integral is invariant under a continuous symmetry. Mathematically such a symmetry is represented as a
flowIn mathematics, a flow formalizes the idea of the motion of particles in a fluid. Flows are ubiquitous in science, including engineering and physics. The notion of flow is basic to the study of ordinary differential equations. Informally, a flow may be viewed as a continuous motion of points over...
,
, which acts on the variables as follows
where
is a real variable indicating the amount of flow and T is a real constant (which could be zero) indicating how much the flow shifts time.
The action integral flows to
which may be regarded as a function of ε. Calculating the derivative at
and using the symmetry, we get
Notice that the Euler–Lagrange equations imply
Substituting this into the previous equation, one gets
Again using the Euler–Lagrange equations we get
Substituting this into the previous equation, one gets
From which one can see that
is a constant of the motion, i.e. a conserved quantity. Since
, we get
and so the conserved quantity simplifies to
To avoid excessive complication of the formulas, this derivation assumed that the flow does not change as time passes. The same result can be obtained in the more general case.
Fieldtheoretic derivation
Noether's theorem may also be derived for tensor fields φ
^{A} where the index A ranges over the various components of the various tensor fields. These field quantities are functions defined over a fourdimensional space whose points are labeled by coordinates x
^{μ} where the index μ ranges over time (μ=0) and three spatial dimensions (μ=1,2,3). These four coordinates are the independent variables; and the values of the fields at each event are the dependent variables. Under an infinitesimal transformation, the variation in the coordinates is written
whereas the transformation of the field variables is expressed as
By this definition, the field variations δφ
^{A} result from two factors: intrinsic changes in the field themselves and changes in coordinates, since the transformed field α
^{A} depends on the transformed coordinates ξ
^{μ}. To isolate the intrinsic changes, the field variation at a single point x
^{μ} may be defined
If the coordinates are changed, the boundary of the region of spacetime over which the Lagrangian is being integrated also changes; the original boundary and its transformed version are denoted as Ω and Ω’, respectively.
Noether's theorem begins with the assumption that a specific transformation of the coordinates and field variables does not change the
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
, which is defined as the integral of the Lagrangian density over the given region of spacetime. Expressed mathematically, this assumption may be written as
where the comma subscript indicates a partial derivative with respect to the coordinate(s) that follows the comma, e.g.
Since ξ is a dummy variable of integration, and since the change in the boundary Ω is infinitesimal by assumption, the two integrals may be combined using the fourdimensional version of the
divergence theoremIn vector calculus, the divergence theorem, also known as Gauss' theorem , Ostrogradsky's theorem , or Gauss–Ostrogradsky theorem is a result that relates the flow of a vector field through a surface to the behavior of the vector field inside the surface.More precisely, the divergence theorem...
into the following form
The difference in Lagrangians can be written to firstorder in the infinitesimal variations as
However, because the variations are defined at the same point as described above, the variation and the derivative can be done in reverse order; they
commuteIn mathematics an operation is commutative if changing the order of the operands does not change the end result. It is a fundamental property of many binary operations, and many mathematical proofs depend on it...
Using the Euler–Lagrange field equations
the difference in Lagrangians can be written neatly as
Thus, the change in the action can be written as
Since this holds for any region Ω, the integrand must be zero
For any combination of the various
symmetryIn physics, symmetry includes all features of a physical system that exhibit the property of symmetry—that is, under certain transformations, aspects of these systems are "unchanged", according to a particular observation...
transformations, the perturbation can be written
where
is the
Lie derivativeIn mathematics, the Lie derivative , named after Sophus Lie by Władysław Ślebodziński, evaluates the change of a vector field or more generally a tensor field, along the flow of another vector field...
of
in the
direction. When
is a scalar or
,
These equations imply that the field variation taken at one point equals
Differentiating the above divergence with respect to ε at ε=0 and changing the sign yields the conservation law
where the conserved current equals
Manifold/fiber bundle derivation
Suppose we have an ndimensional oriented
Riemannian manifoldIn Riemannian geometry and the differential geometry of surfaces, a Riemannian manifold or Riemannian space is a real differentiable manifold M in which each tangent space is equipped with an inner product g, a Riemannian metric, which varies smoothly from point to point...
, M and a target manifold T. Let
be the
configuration space Configuration space in physics :In classical mechanics, the configuration space is the space of possible positions that a physical system may attain, possibly subject to external constraints...
of
smooth functionIn mathematical analysis, a differentiability class is a classification of functions according to the properties of their derivatives. Higher order differentiability classes correspond to the existence of more derivatives. Functions that have derivatives of all orders are called smooth.Most of...
s from M to T. (More generally, we can have smooth sections of a
fiber bundleIn mathematics, and particularly topology, a fiber bundle is intuitively a space which locally "looks" like a certain product space, but globally may have a different topological structure...
over M.)
Examples of this M in physics include:
 In classical mechanics
In physics, classical mechanics is one of the two major subfields of mechanics, which is concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the action of a system of forces...
, in the HamiltonianHamiltonian mechanics is a reformulation of classical mechanics that was introduced in 1833 by Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton.It arose from Lagrangian mechanics, a previous reformulation of classical mechanics introduced by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1788, but can be formulated without...
formulation, M is the onedimensional manifold R, representing time and the target space is the cotangent bundleIn mathematics, especially differential geometry, the cotangent bundle of a smooth manifold is the vector bundle of all the cotangent spaces at every point in the manifold...
of spaceSpace is the boundless, threedimensional extent in which objects and events occur and have relative position and direction. Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it, with time, to be part of a boundless fourdimensional continuum...
of generalized positions.
 In field theory
In physics, a field is a physical quantity associated with each point of spacetime. A field can be classified as a scalar field, a vector field, a spinor field, or a tensor field according to whether the value of the field at each point is a scalar, a vector, a spinor or, more generally, a tensor,...
, M is the spacetimeIn physics, spacetime is any mathematical model that combines space and time into a single continuum. Spacetime is usually interpreted with space as being threedimensional and time playing the role of a fourth dimension that is of a different sort from the spatial dimensions...
manifold and the target space is the set of values the fields can take at any given point. For example, if there are m realIn mathematics, a real number is a value that represents a quantity along a continuum, such as 5 , 4/3 , 8.6 , √2 and π...
valued scalar fieldIn mathematics and physics, a scalar field associates a scalar value to every point in a space. The scalar may either be a mathematical number, or a physical quantity. Scalar fields are required to be coordinateindependent, meaning that any two observers using the same units will agree on the...
s, , then the target manifold is R^{m}. If the field is a real vector field, then the target manifold is isomorphic to R^{3}.
Now suppose there is a
functionalIn mathematics, and particularly in functional analysis, a functional is a map from a vector space into its underlying scalar field. In other words, it is a function that takes a vector as its input argument, and returns a scalar...
called the
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
. (Note that it takes values into
, rather than
; this is for physical reasons, and doesn't really matter for this proof.)
To get to the usual version of Noether's theorem, we need additional restrictions on the
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
. We assume
is the
integralIntegration is an important concept in mathematics and, together with its inverse, differentiation, is one of the two main operations in calculus...
over M of a function
called the Lagrangian density, depending on
, its
derivativeIn calculus, a branch of mathematics, the derivative is a measure of how a function changes as its input changes. Loosely speaking, a derivative can be thought of as how much one quantity is changing in response to changes in some other quantity; for example, the derivative of the position of a...
and the position. In other words, for
in
Suppose we are given boundary conditions, i.e., a specification of the value of
at the
boundaryIn topology and mathematics in general, the boundary of a subset S of a topological space X is the set of points which can be approached both from S and from the outside of S. More precisely, it is the set of points in the closure of S, not belonging to the interior of S. An element of the boundary...
if M is
compactIn mathematics, specifically general topology and metric topology, a compact space is an abstract mathematical space whose topology has the compactness property, which has many important implications not valid in general spaces...
, or some limit on
as x approaches ∞. Then the
subspaceIn topology and related areas of mathematics, a subspace of a topological space X is a subset S of X which is equipped with a natural topology induced from that of X called the subspace topology . Definition :Given a topological space and a subset S of X, the...
of
consisting of functions
such that all
functional derivativeIn mathematics and theoretical physics, the functional derivative is a generalization of the gradient. While the latter differentiates with respect to a vector with discrete components, the former differentiates with respect to a continuous function. Both of these can be viewed as extensions of...
s of
at
are zero, that is:
and that
satisfies the given boundary conditions, is the subspace of on shell solutions. (See principle of stationary action)
Now, suppose we have an
infinitesimal transformationIn mathematics, an infinitesimal transformation is a limiting form of small transformation. For example one may talk about an infinitesimal rotation of a rigid body, in threedimensional space. This is conventionally represented by a 3×3 skewsymmetric matrix A...
on
, generated by a
functionalIn mathematics, and particularly in functional analysis, a functional is a map from a vector space into its underlying scalar field. In other words, it is a function that takes a vector as its input argument, and returns a scalar...
derivationDerivation may refer to:* Derivation , a function on an algebra which generalizes certain features of the derivative operator* Derivation * Derivation in differential algebra, a unary function satisfying the Leibniz product law...
, Q such that
for all compact submanifolds N or in other words,
for all x, where we set
If this holds on shell and off shell, we say Q generates an offshell symmetry. If this only holds on shell, we say Q generates an onshell symmetry.
Then, we say Q is a generator of a
one parameterIn mathematics, a oneparameter group or oneparameter subgroup usually means a continuous group homomorphismfrom the real line R to some other topological group G...
symmetrySymmetry generally conveys two primary meanings. The first is an imprecise sense of harmonious or aesthetically pleasing proportionality and balance; such that it reflects beauty or perfection...
Lie groupIn mathematics, a Lie group is a group which is also a differentiable manifold, with the property that the group operations are compatible with the smooth structure...
.
Now, for any N, because of the Euler–Lagrange theorem, on shell (and only onshell), we have
Since this is true for any N, we have
But this is the
continuity equationA continuity equation in physics is a differential equation that describes the transport of a conserved quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described...
for the current
defined by:
which is called the Noether current associated with the
symmetrySymmetry generally conveys two primary meanings. The first is an imprecise sense of harmonious or aesthetically pleasing proportionality and balance; such that it reflects beauty or perfection...
. The continuity equation tells us that if we
integrateIntegration is an important concept in mathematics and, together with its inverse, differentiation, is one of the two main operations in calculus...
this current over a spacelike slice, we get a
conservedIn physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves....
quantity called the Noether charge (provided, of course, if M is noncompact, the currents fall off sufficiently fast at infinity).
Comments
Noether's theorem is really a reflection of the relation between the boundary conditions and the variational principle. Assuming no boundary terms in the action, Noether's theorem implies that
Noether's theorem is an on shell theorem. The quantum analog of Noether's theorem are the
Ward–Takahashi identitiesIn quantum field theory, a WardTakahashi identity is an identity between correlation functions that follows from the global or gauged symmetries of the theory, and which remains valid after renormalization....
.
Generalization to Lie algebras
Suppose say we have two symmetry derivations Q
_{1} and Q
_{2}. Then, [Q
_{1}, Q
_{2}] is also a symmetry derivation. Let's see this explicitly. Let's say
and
Then,
where f
_{12}=Q
_{1}[f
_{2}^{μ}]Q
_{2}[f
_{1}^{μ}]. So,
This shows we can extend Noether's theorem to larger Lie algebras in a natural way.
Generalization of the proof
This applies to any local symmetry derivation Q satisfying
, and also to more general local functional differentiable actions, including ones where the Lagrangian depends on higher derivatives of the fields. Let ε be any arbitrary smooth function of the spacetime (or time) manifold such that the closure of its support is disjoint from the boundary. ε is a test function. Then, because of the variational principle (which does not apply to the boundary, by the way), the derivation distribution q generated by q[ε][Φ(x)] = ε(x)Q[Φ(x)] satisfies
for any ε, or more compactly,
for all x not on the boundary (but remember that q(x) is a shorthand for a derivation distribution, not a derivation parametrized by x in general). This is the generalization of Noether's theorem.
To see how the generalization related to the version given above, assume that the action is the spacetime integral of a Lagrangian that only depends on
and its first derivatives. Also, assume
Then,
for all ε.
More generally, if the Lagrangian depends on higher derivatives, then
Example 1: Conservation of energy
Looking at the specific case of a Newtonian particle of mass m, coordinate x, moving under the influence of a potential V, coordinatized by time t. The
actionIn physics, action is an attribute of the dynamics of a physical system. It is a mathematical functional which takes the trajectory, also called path or history, of the system as its argument and has a real number as its result. Action has the dimension of energy × time, and its unit is...
, S, is:

Consider the generator of time translations . In other words, . Note that x has an explicit dependence on time, whilst V does not; consequently:
so we can set
Then,

The right hand side is the energy and Noether's theorem states that (i.e. the principle of conservation of energy is a consequence of invariance under time translations).
More generally, if the Lagrangian does not depend explicitly on time, the quantity
(called the HamiltonianHamiltonian mechanics is a reformulation of classical mechanics that was introduced in 1833 by Irish mathematician William Rowan Hamilton.It arose from Lagrangian mechanics, a previous reformulation of classical mechanics introduced by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1788, but can be formulated without...
) is conserved.
Example 2: Conservation of center of momentum
Still considering 1dimensional time, let

i.e. N Newtonian particles where the potential only depends pairwise upon the relative displacement.
For , let's consider the generator of Galilean transformations (i.e. a change in the frame of reference). In other words,
Note that
This has the form of so we can set
Then,

where is the total momentum, M is the total mass and is the center of mass. Noether's theorem states:
Example 3: Conformal transformation
Both examples 1 and 2 are over a 1dimensional manifold (time). An example involving spacetime is a conformal transformation of a massless real scalar field with a quartic potential in (3 + 1)Minkowski spacetime.
For Q, consider the generator of a spacetime rescaling. In other words,
The second term on the right hand side is due to the "conformal weight" of φ. Note that
This has the form of
(where we have performed a change of dummy indices) so set
Then,
Noether's theorem states that (as one may explicitly check by substituting the Euler–Lagrange equations into the left hand side).
(Aside: If one tries to find the Ward–TakahashiIn quantum field theory, a WardTakahashi identity is an identity between correlation functions that follows from the global or gauged symmetries of the theory, and which remains valid after renormalization....
analog of this equation, one runs into a problem because of anomaliesIn quantum physics an anomaly or quantum anomaly is the failure of a symmetry of a theory's classical action to be a symmetry of any regularization of the full quantum theory. In classical physics an anomaly is the failure of a symmetry to be restored in the limit in which the symmetrybreaking...
.)
Applications
Application of Noether's theorem allows physicists to gain powerful insights into any general theory in physics, by just analyzing the various transformations that would make the form of the laws involved invariant. For example:
 the invariance of physical systems with respect to spatial translation
In physics, translation is movement that changes the position of an object, as opposed to rotation. For example, according to Whittaker:...
(in other words, that the laws of physics do not vary with locations in space) gives the law of conservation of linear momentum;
 invariance with respect to rotation
A rotation is a circular movement of an object around a center of rotation. A threedimensional object rotates always around an imaginary line called a rotation axis. If the axis is within the body, and passes through its center of mass the body is said to rotate upon itself, or spin. A rotation...
gives the law of conservation of angular momentumIn physics, angular momentum, moment of momentum, or rotational momentum is a conserved vector quantity that can be used to describe the overall state of a physical system...
;
 invariance with respect to time
Time is a part of the measuring system used to sequence events, to compare the durations of events and the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change such as the motions of objects....
translation gives the wellknown law of conservation of energy
In quantum field theoryQuantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and manybody systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...
, the analog to Noether's theorem, the Ward–Takahashi identityIn quantum field theory, a WardTakahashi identity is an identity between correlation functions that follows from the global or gauged symmetries of the theory, and which remains valid after renormalization....
, yields further conservation laws, such as the conservation of electric chargeElectric charge is a physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. Electric charge comes in two types, called positive and negative. Two positively charged substances, or objects, experience a mutual repulsive force, as do two...
from the invariance with respect to a change in the phase factorFor any complex number written in polar form , the phase factor is the exponential part, i.e. eiθ. As such, the term "phase factor" is similar to the term phasor, although the former term is more common in quantum mechanics. This phase factor is itself a complex number of absolute value 1...
of the complexA complex number is a number consisting of a real part and an imaginary part. Complex numbers extend the idea of the onedimensional number line to the twodimensional complex plane by using the number line for the real part and adding a vertical axis to plot the imaginary part...
field of the charged particle and the associated gauge of the electric potentialIn classical electromagnetism, the electric potential at a point within a defined space is equal to the electric potential energy at that location divided by the charge there...
and vector potentialIn vector calculus, a vector potential is a vector field whose curl is a given vector field. This is analogous to a scalar potential, which is a scalar field whose negative gradient is a given vector field....
.
The Noether charge is also used in calculating the entropyEntropy is a thermodynamic property that can be used to determine the energy available for useful work in a thermodynamic process, such as in energy conversion devices, engines, or machines. Such devices can only be driven by convertible energy, and have a theoretical maximum efficiency when...
of stationary black holes.
See also
 Charge (physics)
In physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers.Formal definition:...
 Gauge symmetry
 Invariant (physics)
In mathematics and theoretical physics, an invariant is a property of a system which remains unchanged under some transformation.Examples:In the current era, the immobility of polaris under the diurnal motion of the celestial sphere is a classical illustration of physical invariance.Another...
 Symmetry in physics
In physics, symmetry includes all features of a physical system that exhibit the property of symmetry—that is, under certain transformations, aspects of these systems are "unchanged", according to a particular observation...
External links
(Original in Gott. Nachr. 1918:235257)