**Semiclassical gravity** is the approximation to the theory of

quantum gravityQuantum gravity is the field of theoretical physics which attempts to develop scientific models that unify quantum mechanics with general relativity...

in which one treats matter fields as being quantum and the

gravitational fieldGravitation, or gravity, is a natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract with a force proportional to their mass. Gravitation is most familiar as the agent that gives weight to objects with mass and causes them to fall to the ground when dropped...

as being classical.

In semiclassical gravity, matter is represented by quantum matter fields that propagate according to the theory of

quantum fields in curved spacetimeQuantum field theory in curved spacetime is an extension of standard, Minkowski-space quantum field theory to curved spacetime. A general prediction of this theory is that particles can be created by time dependent gravitational fields , or by time independent gravitational fields that contain...

. The spacetime in which the fields propagate is classical but dynamical. The curvature of the spacetime is given by the

*semiclassical Einstein equations*, which relate the curvature of the spacetime, given by the

Einstein tensorIn differential geometry, the Einstein tensor , named after Albert Einstein, is used to express the curvature of a Riemannian manifold...

, to the expectation value of the

energy-momentum tensorThe stressâ€“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 non-gravitational force fields...

operator,

, of the matter fields:

where

*G* is

Newton's constantThe gravitational constant, denoted G, is an empirical physical constant involved in the calculation of the gravitational attraction between objects with mass. It appears in Newton's law of universal gravitation and in Einstein's theory of general relativity. It is also known as the universal...

and

indicates the quantum state of the matter fields.

There is some ambiguity in regulating the stress-energy tensor, and this depends upon the curvature. According to

Robert WaldRobert M. Wald is a physicist who specializes in general relativity and the thermodynamics of black holes. He is well known as the author of a widely used graduate textbook, General Relativity . Wald is a professor at the Enrico Fermi Institute and the University of Chicago...

, this ambiguity can be absorbed into the

cosmological constantIn physical cosmology, the cosmological constant was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe...

, Newton's constant, and the

quadratic couplingsf gravity is a type of modified gravity theory first proposed in 1970by Buchdahl as a generalisation of Einstein's General Relativity. Although it is an active field of research, there are known problems with the theory...

and

. There's also the other quadratic term

, but in 4D, this term is a linear combination of the other two terms and a surface term. See

Gauss-Bonnet gravity for more details.

Since the theory of quantum gravity is not yet known, it is difficult to say what is the regime of validity of semiclassical gravity. However, one can formally show that semiclassical gravity could be deduced from quantum gravity by considering

*N* copies of the quantum matter fields, and taking the limit of

*N* going to infinity while keeping the product

*GN* constant. At diagrammatic level, semiclassical gravity corresponds to summing all

Feynman diagramFeynman diagrams are a pictorial representation scheme for the mathematical expressions governing the behavior of subatomic particles, first developed by the Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Richard Feynman, and first introduced in 1948...

s which do not have loops of gravitons (but have an arbitrary number of matter loops). Semiclassical gravity can also be deduced from an axiomatic approach.

There are cases where semiclassical gravity breaks down. For instance, if

*M* is a huge mass, then the superposition

where

*A* and

*B* are widely separated, then the expectation value of the stress-energy tensor is

*M/2* at

*A* and

*M/2* at

*B*, but we would never observe the metric sourced by such a distribution. Instead, we decohere into a state with the metric sourced at

*A* and another sourced at

*B* with a 50% chance each.

The most important applications of semiclassical gravity are to understand the

Hawking radiationHawking radiation is a thermal radiation with a black body spectrum predicted to be emitted by black holes due to quantum effects. It is named after the physicist Stephen Hawking, who provided a theoretical argument for its existence in 1974, and sometimes also after the physicist Jacob Bekenstein...

of

black holesA black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing, not even light, can escape. The theory of general relativity predicts that a sufficiently compact mass will deform spacetime to form a black hole. Around a black hole there is a mathematically defined surface called an event horizon that...

and the generation of random gaussian-distributed perturbations in the theory of

cosmic inflationIn physical cosmology, cosmic inflation, cosmological inflation or just inflation is the theorized extremely rapid exponential expansion of the early universe by a factor of at least 1078 in volume, driven by a negative-pressure vacuum energy density. The inflationary epoch comprises the first part...

, which is thought to occur at the very beginnings of the

big bangThe Big Bang theory is the prevailing cosmological model that explains the early development of the Universe. According to the Big Bang theory, the Universe was once in an extremely hot and dense state which expanded rapidly. This rapid expansion caused the young Universe to cool and resulted in...

.