MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY
Physics Department
Physics 8.07: Electromagnetism II
September 7, 2012
LECTURE NOTES 2
ROTATIONS IN INDEX NOTATION
These notes will be an elaboration of a topic that I discussed very hastily at the
end of the lecture of Friday, September 7, 2012. How does one describe the rotation of a
vector in index notation?
Rotations can be described in an active sense, or a passive sense, where active refers
to rotating the object being described, while passive refers to rotating the coordinate
system. I have always found it easier to visualize an active rotation, probably because
it is easier to imagine an object rotating than it is to imagine one’s own head spinning.
Especially when one tries to think about successive rotations about diﬀerent axes, the
active description seems much easier to visualize. So here I will describe the rotations as
active.
(I have to admit, however, that the idea of a passive rotation is easier to rigorously
deﬁne. If you rotate the coordinate system, you don’t need to say anything about the
object. If we are rotating the object, however, we have to imagine that we can cause the
object to rotate without aﬀecting it in any other way. For a rigid object, like a block of
wood, this sounds easy, as long as one does not care about microscopic vibrations. But
if we had to rotate a stream of water falling from a faucet, it would be hard to ﬁgure out
how to do it. So, if anybody asks what we are really talking about, it is probably best
to say that we are rotating the coordinate system. But I still ﬁnd it most convenient
to describe it actively, in terms of what happens to the object. The counterclockwise
rotation of an object by an angle φ about the z-axis corresponds to a clockwise rotation
of the coordinate system by the same amount.)
So, as an example, let us consider what happens to a vector if we rotate it counter
A which can
clockwise by an angle φ about the z-axis. We consider an arbitrary vector A,
be expanded in unit vectors as
A = Aj êj .
(2.1)
A
A j denote the result of rotating A
A as described above. If A
A is expanded in basis
We let A
j
A can be expressed by using the same expansion coeﬃcients
vectors as in Eq. (2.1), then A
Aj , but with rotated basis vectors. That is, we can write
A j = Aj êj ,
A
j
(2.2)
where êjj is the result of rotating êj counterclockwise by an angle φ about the z-axis. The
vectors êjj can be expressed in terms of the basis vectors êj by drawing a diagram: 8.07 LECTURE NOTES 2, FALL 2012
p. 2
One can read from the diagram that
êjx = êx cos φ + êy sin φ
êjy = −êx sin φ + êy cos φ
(2.3)
êjz = eˆz .
We can rewrite the above equation by deﬁning a matrix Rij , writing
êjj = êi Rij ,
(2.4)
where in this case we call the rotation matrix Rz (φ), with
j=1
Rz (φ)ij
i=1 cos φ
sin φ
= i=2
i=3
0
j=2
j=3
− sin φ
cos φ
0
0
0
1
.
(2.5)
When Rij is written as a matrix, the ﬁrst index (in this case i) labels the rows, and the
second index (j in this case) labels the columns. By substituting Eq. (2.4) into Eq. (2.2),
we ﬁnd
A j = Aj êi Rij ,
A
or, by reordering the factors,
A j = (Rij Aj ) êi .
A
(2.6)
A j are deﬁned by
The components Aji of the vector A
A j = Aj êi ,
A
i
(2.7)
so by comparing Eq. (2.6) with Eq. (2.7), we see that
Aji = Rij Aj ,
(2.8) 8.07 LECTURE NOTES 2, FALL 2012
p. 3
where of course j is summed from 1 to 3, since it is a repeated index.
Note that if the repeated indices are adjacent, as in Eq. (2.8), and if the number of
indices on any one factor is not larger than two, then the index notation is just another
way of writing matrix multiplication. That is, Eq. (2.8) could also be written as an
explicit matrix equation,
j
A1 R11
Aj
=
R
2j
21
R31
A3
R12
R22
R32
R13 A1
,
A
R23
2
R33
A3
(2.9)
where the rules for matrix multiplication are equivalent to the sum over j.
As an aside,* I mention that it is not diﬃcult to generalize Eq. (2.5) to describe a
rotation about the direction of n̂, where n̂ is an arbitrary unit vector. Eq. (2.5) describes
rotations for n̂i = δi3 , so we can try to rewrite Eq. (2.5) in terms of n̂. If we start with
the matrix elements on the diagonal, we can get those right by writing
Rz (φ)ij = δij cos φ + n̂i n̂j (1 − cos φ) + oﬀ-diagonal terms.
The oﬀ-diagonal elements are not so obvious. We want R21 = −R12 = sin φ, while the
other oﬀ-diagonal terms should vanish. With a little thought, we see that we can build
such an expression out of n̂ and the Levi-Civita symbol:
R(n̂, φ)ij = δij cos φ + n̂i n̂j (1 − cos φ) − εijk n̂k sin φ .
(2.10)
By inspection, we can see that Eq. (2.10) agrees with Eq. (2.5) for the special case n̂ = êz .
But any other case is just a rotation of this case. If we knew just a little more about
rotational invariance than we are going to include in this course, we would be able to
conclude that both sides of Eq. (2.10) behave the same way under rotations; that is,
they behave as tensors. Thus, if the equation is valid for the coordinate system in which
the rotation axis is the z-axis, then it is also valid in any rotated system, where n̂ is an
arbitrary unit vector.
* An “aside” means that if you have trouble following this part, you can safely ignore
it. It will not be needed for the rest of the course, and will not appear on any exams.

Lecture Notes 2: Rotations in Index Notation

of 3

Report

Tell us what’s wrong with it:

Thanks, got it!
We will moderate it soon!

Free up your schedule!

Our EduBirdie Experts Are Here for You 24/7! Just fill out a form and let us know how we can assist you.

Take 5 seconds to unlock

Enter your email below and get instant access to your document