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Lecture notes on Quantum Field Theory 1/8∗

Anthony Zee

Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of

California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106 and Department of
Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106

February 14, 2011

1 introduction
I was asked to give a series of lectures on various topics in Quantum Field
Theory as applied to condensed matter physics and particle physics. What
I plan to do is actually the following, is to start with some topics that are
relevant to condensed matter physics and hopefully depending on how fast I
can go I will eventually get to some particle physics.
A very fascinating intellectually very interesting development in theoreti-
cal physics in the last twenty years or so is to use the relativistic quantum field
theory in condensed matter physics and in particular the Dirac equation as
coming to condensed matter physics, some area of condensed matter physics.
A first sight of the insight is total surprise because the Dirac equation de-
scribes relativistic fast moving electrons and condensed matter dealing with
very slow moving electrons by the standards of particle physics the electron
are almost sitting there. So this is certainly a big surprise. I’d like to also say
a few words about the use of relativistic quantum field theory on condensed
matter physics. This is very different from when I was in graduate school.

These series lectures are given at Academia Sinica in Taiwan R.O.C. and this note is
taken by Yu-Sheng Liu, Nien-En Lee, and Shen-Hsi Yu. If there is any error or suggestion,
please mail to:

At that time they was use on relativistic quantum field theory on condensed
matter physics.
And the Feynman diagram is just a use of bookkeeping devise because
everything is small perturbative with a small coupling constant. So Feynman
diagram is to keep track of different terms. But now is completely different.
Some new books1 which give a sort of more modern view on relativistic field
theory. And how is different is in the old day the degree of freedom does not
change. The electrons remain electrons. But in the modern development,
the degrees of freedom in many cases are completely different. The most
famous example of course is the quantum Hall effect for which two Nobel
Prize were given. One of the really fascinating aspect why people consider the
quantum Hall effect so interesting is that the microscopic degree of freedom is
of course electrons. But somehow the macroscopic degree of freedom involve
distances turns out to be Chern-Simons gauge which is completely different.
On microscopic level of course there’s some lattice and the electrons moving
around. There is certainly no gauge field, the electrons never heard of Chern-
Simons. Somehow the degree of freedom changed.
High-TC superconductivity is another interesting example. Of course
here we don’t have a fixed, unique theory. We don’t know what the correct
theory is. So there’re many theories. Again the basic degree of freedom are
electrons but some theory are also gauge theory. You probably heard of that
holons, spinons and also various gauge theory and so on. So again many of
the concept from relativistic quantum field theory.

2 Non-Relativistic vs Relativistic
2.1 Basic Notations

xµ = (x0 , xi ) = (x0 , x1 , x2 , x3 )

∂µ ≡ (1)
( ∂ )2 −→
∂ 2 = η µν ∂µ ∂ν = ∂02 − ∂i2 = − ∇2
The diagonal terms of Minkowski metric ηµν are (-1,1,1,1). We will set c = 1
and ~ = 1 in the following contents.
X. G. Wen, A. Tsvelik, A. Altland et al.

2.2 From Relativistic to Non-Relativistic
I’m going to start with a relativistic scalar field Φ → eiα Φ, this is a complex
scalar field, which means that we can change component by a phase angle of
phi. We write down the Lagrangian.
( )( ) ( )2
L = ∂µ Φ† ∂ µ Φ − m2 Φ† Φ − λ Φ† Φ (2)

This is the simplest kind of the relativistic field theory that people write
down. Where m is the mass. The equation of motion from this Lagrangian
is ( 2 ) ( )
∂ + m2 Φ = −2λ Φ† Φ Φ (3)
So to understand the relationship between the non-relativistic and relativistic
physics, let’s first study free field λ = 0. Then we have this equation.
( 2 )
∂ + m2 Φ = 0 (4)

This is the Klein-Gordon equation. So we expect in quantum mechanics we

have the field oscillating like Φ ∝ e−iEt , and E = m + ϵ. ϵ is the difference
between total energy and the mass. In non-relativistic physics, ϵ ≪ m. So
when the non-relativistic energy is small, we can make an approximation

Φ(⃗x, t) = e−iEt φ(⃗x, t) (5)

We factor out the fast time dependence. e−iEt is oscillating very fast and
φ(⃗x, t) is changing much slowly.
Differentiate (5) with respect to time
∂ [ ∂]
Φ(⃗x, t) = e−iEt − im + φ(⃗x, t) (6)
∂t ∂t
Do it twice
∂2 [ ∂ ]2
Φ(⃗x, t) = e − im + φ(⃗x, t)
∂t2 ∂t (7)
( ∂ ∂2 )
= e−iEt − m2 − 2im + 2 φ(⃗x, t)
∂t ∂t
so far everything is exact. But now the approximation is that we neglect the
secondary derivative term
∂2 ( ∂)
x , t) ≈ e − m 2
− 2im φ(⃗x, t) (8)
∂t2 ∂t
So this is the physics at the fundamental level is relativistic, and it’s
only in certain regime that become non-relativistic. In term of the actual
practice of physics, in terms of how many people are working on different field
probably 95% of physicists are working on non- relativistic physics, which is
an approximation. So it’s very interesting to see how the non- relativistic
physics approximation comes out.
Plug (8) into (4)
( ∂ →2 )

− 2im − ∇ φ = 0 (9)
Divide by 2m

∂ ∇
−i φ= φ (10)
∂t 2m
This is the Schrödinger equation.
Of course this is old news, not new news. If any of you done this in 1926,
you would have won the Nobel Prize. But to do this in 90 years later is not
so profound. At that time is highly nontrivial, and it’s still highly nontrivial
to me that it took me many years to understand because at first sight it
looks very non-obvious since these two equations look very different. And
in particular there is lots of confusion when the particle physicists talk to
condensed matter physicists. For example, the m in (10) is in the denomi-
nator, but for particle physicists the m square is an additive term, which is
something you add to the gradient square.
Historically it is quite interesting because Schrodinger actually derived
the Klein-Goren equation first before Klein and Gordon. Because by 1926
everybody understand special relativistic, so it’s actual more natural to de-
rive the relativistic equation first. Many people wrote down Klein-Gordon
equation including Schrodinger, Klein and Gordon. But Schrodinger note
that applying Klein-Gordon equation to the Hydrogen atom, it did not get
the right answer. So it took him some time to find the Schrodinger equa-
tion. It’s backward the way the students learn it. The students learn the
very ugly Schrodinger equation first, and they learn about the Klein-Gordon
equation. The other very important thing to realize is that in particle physics
and in condensed matter physics, the time derivative is different. The time
derivative in non-relativistic physics is first-order, and the space derivative is
second-order. While in relativistic physics of course the space and time are
treated in equal footing.
one of the thing is in relativistic theory you can derive the current. As
I said there is a global U (1) symmetry Φ → eiα Φ. With this global U(1)

symmetry there is an associated current.
[ ( ) ]
Jµ = i Φ† ∂µ Φ − ∂µ Φ† Φ (11)
In non-relativistic physics we do the same thing,
√ that we have the decompo-
sition as before except that we divide it by 2m.
Φ(⃗x, t) = √ e−iEt φ(⃗x, t) (12)
Plug (12) into (11) and the non-relativistic limit of current become
J0 = φ † φ
i [ † ( ) ] (13)
Ji = φ ∂i φ − ∂i φ† φ
So in non-relativistic physics we don’t talk about one single current but we
talk about the number density and the density current. But in relativistic
physics they are unified.
When I teach a course on non-relativistic quantum mechanics, I realize
there are different levels of students. So we can start with the lowest level
first. The lowest level students are totally idiot, don’t understand anything.
And then the higher level people who understand things and of course they
are good students can apply all the equations and get 100 in the final exam.
Then there are really really good students in the course of non-relativistic
quantum mechanics look at the number density and the current and worry
and can not go to sleep. These are really good students because these for-
mulas look completely different. So the question is when you took a course
on non-relativistic quantum mechanics, did you worried about this? I didn’t
worry about this, but I should because it really look completely different.
It looks very strange. But in fact you see now in the context of relativis-
tic physics why it comes from the same thing. Now the fact is so different
actually leads to another Nobel Prize in physics if you’re smart enough.
Plug (12) into (2)
∂Φ† ∂Φ
− m2 Φ† Φ
∂t ∂t
1 [( ∂ ) † ][( ∂) ] m †
= im + φ − im + φ − φφ
2m ∂t ∂t 2 (14)
i † ∂φ ∂φ † ) †
1 ∂φ ∂φ
= φ − φ +
2 ∂t ∂t 2m ∂t ∂t
≈ iφ†
In the third line we neglect the last term and after integration by parts. We
arrive the following Lagrangian
∂φ 1
L = iφ† − ∂i φ† ∂i φ − g 2 (φ† φ)2 (15)
∂t 2m
where g = 4m 2 . This Lagrangian is what condensed matter physicists used to

discuss thing like superfluid and also the starting point on superconductivity,
Landau-Ginzberg theory. Since φ† φ is the density in non-relativistic physics,
we can give another name for this density ρ = φ† φ. Then we rewrite

φ= ρeiθ (16)

Plug (16) into (15)

i 1 [ 1 ]
L = ∂0 ρ − ρ∂0 θ − ρ(∂i θ)2 + (∂i ρ)2 − g 2 ρ2 (17)
2 2m 4ρ
That is a very simple Klein-Gordon Lagrangian for the relativistic scalar field
using rho and theta. As I said this can describe superfluid and so on because
the scalar field describes a bunch of bosons. Collection of helium atoms for
example could be describe by this Lagrangian. Now once again, if you’re
very smart you look at this Lagrangian, you see that there is something very
strange. So there is another Nobel Prize there waiting for you to claim. But
almost none of us are that smart certainly not I’m smart enough to see where
the Nobel Prize is. So the Nobel Prize is the time derivative term of θ in
(17). This term, as you can see, is very strange because Heisenberg told us
many years ago as he is in the same age as many people in this room that
the conjugate momentum is p = δL δ q̇
and then Heisenberg said that there is
a new area of physics, which is a revolution in physics, that is p and q are
no longer to be considered as c-numbers and their commutator is [p, q] = −i,
and this is called Quantum Mechanics.
But now here you see some very strange because there is something really
odd here, the time derivative of theta ρ ∂θ
. This is not possible in relativistic
physics. To particle physicists it is very strange because that means time
and space are not the same. In relativistic physics time and space are always
connected, so we can’t have a simple thing like this. We all use Newtonian
mechanics in which everything is second order in time, but how this become
first order in time.

The conjugate momentum to theta is δLδ θ̇
= −ρ. As Heisenberg told us
that the commutator between rho and theta is

[ρ(⃗x, t), θ(⃗x ′ , t)] = iδ (D) (⃗x − ⃗x ′ ) (18)

We integrate this over d-dimensional space, then we get

[N, θ] = i (19)

where N ≡ dD xρ(⃗x, t) is the total number. This is one of the most amazing
thing in physics.
Einstein said that the most comprehensible thing about nature is that
nature is comprehensible. So I always like to say that one of the most amazing
things about students in physics is that they are not amazed. Because I just
show you one of the most amazing thing. And you think about it, it is
so profound. Anderson 2 says that this relationship is the most important
relationship in condensed matter physics. If you think about it, it is very
strange. Number and angle is conjugate to each other in quantum mechanics.
Number we understand, angle we also understand, but why but why these
two things are conjugate? You should be amazed.
Who is the smart student who saw that this is a Nobel Prize that he can
get? Of course is Brian Josephson. This is the physics of Josephson junction,
and now is used in all kind of high-tech applications such as superconductivity
and so on. N is the number of cooper pairs and θ is the phase angle of
superconductivity. So in fact the story was something like Josephson heard
Anderson giving a lecture, I think Anderson is pretty upset that he missed
the Nobel Prize, but he won the Nobel Prize later for some other thing.
Josephson is the student listening to the lecture, I think Joseph is 21 years
old at that time. And he saw that there is something very strange. So
this applies to superconductivity in Josephson junction. This is a very long
story we can not go into here because this is obviously not a course on

2.3 Language Barriers

I’m going to talk about language barrier. Obviously there is language barrier
between every languages in the world. But there is more serious language
See P. Anderson, Basic Notions of Condensed Matter Physics, p.235.

barrier because in the late 1980 lots of particle physicists went into condensed
matter physicists. For example, X. G. Wen and S. C. Chiang. These are
famous people now in condensed matter physics. They were all young guys
like you. They were both hired by Santa Barbara as particle physics postdocs.
They both switch while they were post doc to condensed matter physics. So
now one is the professor in MIT and the other is the professor in Stanford.
In particular I know that X. G. Wen when he came to Santa Barbara he
didn’t know anything about condensed matter physics. But six month later,
he knew everything. He told me that one of the problems is the language
barrier. So let me explain to you.
At first I find it very hard to understand what the condensed matter
people are doing because the language barrier is very big. Here is an example,
to us the mass square is just a term in the Lagrangian. But to them the
mass is something in the denominator. The other language barrier is that
the particle physicist have to remember that the condensed matter physicist
are not interested in the vacuum, or emptiness. They are not interested
in empty spacetime. But in particle physicist, we’re interested in empty
spacetime. That’s the most interesting thing to us because everything comes
from the emptiness. This is a huge difference.
They will see the Lagrangian describes a bunch of bosons, but it is around
the vacuum. So let’s look at this term, g 2 ρ2 in (17). But this cause another
interest in vacuum they interested in stuff around. This is really a cultural
variety because particle physicist wants to look at something really basic and
the only thing that is basic is spacetime. And condensed matter physicists
want to look at a lump of stuff which is not basic at all, which is just a lump.
They have finite density of particles. So how do we introduce finite density
particles? We shift the Hamiltonian by introducing chemical potential.

H → H + µN (20)

Sometimes when we chatting to postdoc and student we’d like to make up

a list like ”the ten worst words in physics”. Most people vote chemical
potential. Because you don’t know what it is, it smells like chemistry. I’ll
tell you a joke in Santa Barbara that my colleague Walter Kohn, who won a
Nobel Prize. But the Nobel Prize was in chemistry. So we told him that he
is not allowed into the physics department. When I saw this term, chemical
potential, I could not understand, it took me many years. When I was
an assistant professor, I finally understand chemical potential. In order to

introduce some stuff enough to study emptiness, they say you have to take
you Lagrangian, and introduce chemical potential. The number density is
just φ† φ. So we have to make the shift, where we take

g 2 (φ† φ)2 → g 2 (φ† φ)2 − µ(φ† φ)

= g 2 (φ† φ − ρ)2 + upto some additive constant

where we complete the square in the first line.

To particle physicists, this is very exciting because this is one of thins
that they really in love with, the double well potential which particle physi-
cists call it the Higgs potential, and condensed matter physicists find this is
very strange, they call it the Anderson potential. So Particle physicists are
going to find a very amazing phenomena which is the negative mass square.
That’s because in particle physics this term −µ(φ† φ) is the mass term. Neg-
ative mass square is this minus sign. Condensed matter physicist would say
that this is completely trivial, this is just the chemical potential. There’s a
language barrier, that to learn different languages. What is to us is mass, to
them is the chemistry potential.
The chemical potential is a knob that the experimentalist could turn.
The chemical potential is like temperature which is something external that
you can adjust. I mean it has to do with the density of electrons for example
in the Quantum Hall Effect or in many systems you can adjust density of
electrons versus density of holes. So something you can adjust, it’s a external
parameter. In particle physics where the negative mass square comes from
of course nobody knows. So that’s also a parameter for us, but it’s not
something we can adjust. So in many ways the two fields condensed matter
and particle physics complement each other and they has to be a very fruitful
history of cross fertilization. So in theoretical physics there has been very
important for example all this concepts of spontaneous symmetry breaking in
particle physics gauge fields and so on. Many of them came from condensed
matter physics went into particle physics. And some of the idea of particle
physics now coming back in the condensed matter physics in particular the
Dirac equation. So I would say it fair to say that 30 years ago, none of the
condensed matter physicist know anything about Dirac equation. And in
fact that time the generation gap is huge in condensed matter physics. So in
particle physics the generation gap is even bigger.
I like to tell this story because I want to inspire young people here, because
I don’t know what the young people here are waiting for. Do the same thing

that the students in United States do which is waiting for something. And
so I’m always asking the students what they are waiting for. You should
make your great discovery now. You know when you’re young. What are
you waiting for, you’re waiting for somebody to give you a piece of paper,
and that’s completely crazy. Newton did not wait for a piece of paper. So
the question is what you are waiting for. So even I mean in the old days,
in the days of Galileo there was not even this piece of paper, nobody had a
piece of paper.

3 From Galilean Group to Poincaré Group

3.1 Galilean Algebra
I will now discuss the Galileo algebra which is of course the algebra of non-
relativistic physics. Galileo is of course a super smart guy in all the stuff,
it’s amazing that I always find reading Galileo’s papers. You know you read
the papers that us post on the ArXiv and such nonsense you read three
sentences and you want to throw it away. Then if you read Galileo’s paper
it is so beautiful. Galileo figures out the Galilean algebra. He talks about
the butterflies in the ship, that’s how he understand Galilean algebra. Say
considering a sailing ship moving alone, and underneath it some butterflies
flying around. And the butterflies did not affected by the velocity of the
I am going to write down some generators of Galilean algebra

T ranslation Px = , etc.
∂ ∂
Rotation Jx = x − y , etc.
∂y ∂x
Note that if I acting (I + aPx ) on Lagrangian, then Mr. Taylor from 18th
century tells us

(I + aPx )L(x, y, z) = (I + a )L(x, y, z) ≈ L(x + a, y, z) (23)
for a is an infinitesimal transformation.
In Quantum Mechanics we promote these generators to physical quanti-

We can check it quickly

[Ji , Jj ] = −ϵijk Jk , [Ji , Pj ] = −ϵijk Pk , [Pi , Pj ] = 0, (24)

These are the algebras. So far this is just geometry of Euclidean space.
So we can even call these Euclidean algebra. To have Galilean algebra we
need physics, physics is dynamics. So dynamics is translation in time. This
operator we call it H.

Dynamics H = (25)
H is for Hamilton. The commutators

[Pi , H] = 0, [Ji , H] = 0 (26)

But now we haven’t even introduce Galileo yet. Mr. Galileo with his
sailing ship is going to tell us about boost

Boost Kx = t , etc. (27)
For example if we act (I + vKx ) on the coordinate

x′ = (I + vKx )x = x + vt
y′ = (I + vKx )y = y
z′ = (I + vKx )z = z
t′ = (I + vKx )t = t

The coordinates with prime are the transformed boosted frame. It is easy to
[Ki , Kj ] = 0, [Ji , Kj ] = −ϵijk Kk (29)
Now comes the less obvious stuff, something more profound.

[Ki , H] = Pi (30)

This commutator is not zero and this is something we can understand. Under
boost, the energy
p2 (⃗p + m⃗u)2 p2
E= → = + ⃗u· p⃗ + O(u2 ) (31)
2m 2m 2m
So you said the change in energy is in fact momentum.

[Ki , Pj ] = 0 (32)
So this is it. We summarize the Galilean algebra

[Ji , Jj ] = −ϵijk Jk , [Ji , Pj ] = −ϵijk Pk , [Pi , Pj ] = 0,

[Pi , H] = 0, [Ji , H] = 0, [Ki , Kj ] = 0 (33)
[Ji , Kj ] = −ϵijk Kk , [Ki , H] = Pi , [Ki , Pj ] = 0

Now we are going to talk about something profound.

3.2 Central Extension

When I got to graduate school, I sign up for Schwinger’s class of Quantum
Field Theory. At that time he was still at Harvard. He gives Quantum Field
Theory every year. And all of the students sign up for the class every year. It
doesn’t matter if they’ve already taken three times or more. The first day I
arrived, first class that’s what Schwinger’s lecture was about Galilean group.
Without understanding Galilean group he said you understand nothing. This
is my first day of graduate school, and Schwinger stopped here, and he said
now come something profound.
Look at these equations (33). The zero of [Ki , Pj ] = 0 looks very strange.
In mathematics there’s something called central extension of algebra. To a
mathematician, if you give him a algebra, he’ll ask how can this algebra be
extended. So to mathematicians this zero means it commute with all other
generators. So for example we can check this.

[H, [Ki , Pj ]] = −[Ki , [Pj , H]] − [Pj , [H, Ki ]] (34)

Here we use the Jacobi identity. It is easy to check that the right hand side
is zero which is consistent with the left hand side.
So therefore we can promote [Ki , Pj ] to a c-number.

[Ki , Pj ] = δij M (35)

This c-number is one of the most important things in physics. We use the
letter M. We discover something amazing which is called mass, but math-
ematicians call it central charge because this is from central extension. By
dimensional analysis [M ] = [KP ] = LT2 , [~] = [pq] = MTL , and ~=1. So M

has just dimension of mass. We consider this object 2M
and you discover
this object has a very nice property.

P2 1 ( )
[Ki , ]= [Ki , Pj ]Pj + Pj [Ki , Pj ]
2M 2M (36)
= (2M δij )Pj = Pi
With [Ki , H] = Pi , I find that in some combination

[Ki , H − ]=0 (37)
Therefore it is consistent to write
H= + arbitrary c − number (38)
In some civilizations somewhere in the galaxy, one can discover the newtonian
mechanics in this amazing high power way.