Newton, Roger G. Department of Physics, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.
Last reviewed:June 2020
- Definition and properties
- Inverse scattering
- Related Primary Literature
- Additional Reading
An infinite-dimensional matrix or operator that expresses the state of a scattering system consisting of waves or particles or both in the far future in terms of its state in the remote past; also called the S matrix. In the case of electromagnetic (or acoustic) waves, it connects the intensity, phase, and polarization of the outgoing waves in the far field at various angles to the direction and polarization of the beam pointed toward an obstacle. It is used most prominently in the quantum-mechanical description of particle scattering, in which context it was invented in 1937 by J. A. Wheeler to describe nuclear reactions. Because an analog of the Schrödinger equation for the description of particle dynamics is lacking in the relativistic domain, W. Heisenberg proposed in 1943 that the S matrix rather than the hamiltonian or the lagrangian be regarded as the fundamental dynamical entity of quantum mechanics. This program played an important role in high-energy physics during the 1960s but is now largely abandoned. The physics of fundamental particles is now described primarily in terms of quantum gauge fields, and these are used to determine the S matrix and its elements for the collision and reaction processes observed in the laboratory. See also: Elementary particle; Gauge theory; Nonrelativistic quantum theory; Nuclear reaction; Quantum mechanics; Relativistic quantum theory; Scattering experiments (atoms and molecules); Scattering experiments (nuclei)
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