Classical and Quantum Polyhedra by John Schliemann

This week I have been  looking again at the Quantum Tetrahedron and quantum polyhedra in general. I’ll be doing further  numerical studies to add to the numerical work done in earlier posts:

Quantum polyhedra constructed from angular momentum operators are the building blocks of space in its quantum description by Loop Quantum Gravity. The author extends results on the semiclassical properties of quantum polyhedra. They compare results from a canonical quantization of the classical system with a recent wave function based approach to the large-volume sector of the quantum system. Both methods agree in the leading order of the resulting effective operator given by an harmonic oscillator, while minor differences occur in higher corrections. Perturbative inclusion of such corrections improves the approximation to the eigenstates. Moreover, the comparison of both methods leads also to a full wave function description of the eigenstates of the (square of the) volume operator at negative eigenvalues of large modulus.

For the case of general quantum polyhedra described by discrete angular momentum quantum numbers the authors formulate a set of quantum operators fullling in the semiclassical regime the standard commutation relations between momentum and position. The position variable here is chosen to have dimension of Planck length squared which facilitates the identication of quantum corrections.

The quantum volume operator is pivotal for the construction of space-time dynamics within this Loop Quantum Gravity. Traditionally two versions of such an operator are discussed, due to Rovelli and Smolin, and to Ashtekar and Lewandowski, and more recently, Bianchi, Dona, and Speziale offered a third proposal for a volume operator which is closer to the concept of spin foams. It relies on an older geometric theorem due to Minkowski stating that N face areas Ai with normal vectors ni such that


uniquely define a convex polyhedron of N faces with areas Ai.

The approach amounts to expressing the volume of a classical polyhedron in terms of its face areas, which are in turn promoted to be operators. Minkowski’s proof, however, is not constructive,
and a remaining obstacle of this approach  to a volume operator is to actually find the shape of a general polyhedron given its face areas and face normals. Such difficulties do not occur in the simplest case
of a polyhedron, i.e. a tetrahedron consisting of four faces represented by angular momentum operators coupling to a total spin singlet. Indeed, for such a quantum tetrahedron all three definitions of the volume operator coincide. On the other hand, for a classical tetrahedron the general phase space parametrization
devised by Kapovich and Millson results in just one pair of canonical variables, and the square of the volume operator can explicitly formulated in terms of these . Bianchi and Haggard have performed a Bohr-Sommerfeld quantization of the classical tetrahedron where the role of an Hamiltonian generating classical orbits is played by the volume operator squared. The resulting semiclassical eigenvalues agree extremely well with exact numerical data, see the post


The above observations make clear that classical tetrahedra, the simplest structures a volume can be ascribed to, should be considered as perfectly integrable systems. In turn, a quantum tetrahedron can be viewed as the hydrogen atom of quantum spacetime, whereas the next complicated case of a pentahedron might be referred to as the helium atom.

Recently, Schliemann put forward another approach to the semiclassical regime of quantum tetrahedra, see the post

Here, by combining observations on the volume operator squared and its eigenfunctions as opposed to the eigenvalues, an effective operator in terms of a quantum harmonic oscillator was derived providing an accurate as well as transparent description of the the large-volume sector.

One of the purposes of this paper is to demonstrate the relation between the different treatments of quantum tetrahedra sketched above.

The outline of this paper is as follows.

  • Summarize the Kapovich-Millson phase space parametrization of general classical polyhedra.
  • Reviewing  the classical tetrahedron and expand of the volume squared around its maximum and minimum in up to quadrilinear order.
  • The quantum tetrahedron.

 Classical Polyhedra

 Kapovich-Millson Phase Space Variables

Viewing the vectors Ai as angular momenta, the Poisson
bracket of arbitrary functions of these variables read


To implement the closure relation   define


resulting in N -3 momenta pi =|pi|. The canonical conjugate variables qi are then given by the angle between the vector


These quantities fulfill the canonical Poisson relations


The Tetrahedron

The classical volume of a tetrahedron can be expressed


Look at the quantity,


This can be  expressed in terms of the phase space variables p1, q1 using;

CCqTequ8and with

CCqTequ9where Δ(a, b, c) is the area of a triangle with edges a,b, c expressed via Heron’s formula,



CCqTequ11such that


In order to make closer contact to the quantum tetrahedron introduce the notation


fullling {p,A} = 1 and




where A varies according to Amin ≤A ≤Amax with


β(A) is a nonnegative function with β(Amin) = β (Amax) = 0, and it has a unique maximum at  A between Amin and Amax. Thus, Q has a maximum at A = k and p = 0 while the unique minimum lies at p = . Expanding around the maximum gives







The analogous expansion around the minimum reads



Concentrating in both cases on the quadratic contributions,
one obtains two harmonic oscillators,



The Quantum Tetrahedron

General Properties

A quantum tetrahedron is defined by four angular momentum operators ji representing its faces and coupling to a total singlet the Hilbert space consists of all states |k〉 fulling



 A usual way to construct this space is to couple first the pairs j1,j2 and j3, j4 to two irreducible SU(2) representations of dimension 2k+1 each. For j1, j2 this standard construction reads explicitly


CCqTequ27such that


where 〈j1m1j2m2|km〉 are Clebsch-Gordan coefficients

Defining analogous states |km〉34 for j3, j4, the quantum number k  becomes restricted by kmin ≤ k ≤kmax with


The two multiplets |km〉12, |km〉34 are then coupled to a
total singlet,

CCqTequ31The states jki span a Hilbert space of dimension d = kmax – kmin + 1.

The volume operator of a quantum tetrahedron can be
formulated as


where the operators


represent the faces of the tetrahedron with CCqTequ33abeing the Planck length squared. Consider the operator


which reads in the basis of the states |k〉 as


For even d, the eigenvalues of Q come in pairs (q, -q), and since


the corresponding eigenstates fulfill


For odd d an additional zero eigenvalue occurs.

To make further contact between the classical and the
quantum tetrahedron define








is the projector onto the singlet space.

So far have followed the formalism common to
the literature and parametrized the Hilbert space of the
quantum tetrahedron by a dimensionless quantum number
k, whereas the phase space variable A of the classical
tetrahedron has dimension of area. In order to establish
closer contact between both descriptions, rescale the
involved quantum numbers by the Planck length squared
according to


to quantities having also dimension of area.

This gives,




β(a) has a unique maximum at some a.

The Quantum Tetrahedron at Large Volumes

In the post Large-Volume Limit of a Quantum Tetrahedron is a Quantum Harmonic Oscillator

It was shown how to accurately describe the large-volume semiclassical regime of Q or R by a quantum harmonic oscillator in real-space representation with respect to a or k, respectively.

Here the  analysis is extended by taking into account higher order corrections.

label the eigenstates of Q by |n〉, n ∈ {0,1, 2….}, in descending order of eigenvalues with |0〉 being the state of largest eigenvalue. With respect to the basis states |k〉 they can be expressed as


Taking the view of the standard Schrodinger formalism of elementary quantum mechanics, the coefficients 〈a|n〉 are the wave function of the state |n〉 with respect to the coordinate a.

Evaluating the matrix elements


one obtains up to fourth order in the expansions




Introducing the operators


The effective operator expression is


Concentrating on the quadratic contributions in gives the harmonic-oscillator expression


with eigenvalues


and corresponding eigenfunctions


where Hn(x) are the usual Hermite polynomials.




The investigation of the semiclassical limit of Loop
Quantum Gravity is one of the key issues in that approach to  quantum gravity. This paper has focussed  on the semiclassical properties of quantum polyhedra. Regarding tetrahedra as their simplest examples, it has been established that there is a connection
between a canonical quantization of the classical system  and the  wave function based approach  to the large-volume sector of the quantum system. In the leading order both routes concur yielding a quantum harmonic oscillator as an effective
description for the square of the volume operator.

A further interesting point is the zero eigenvalue occurring for tetrahedra with odd Hilbert space dimension d. The Bohr-Sommerfeld quantization carried out by Bianchi and Haggard gives accurate results for eigenvalues.

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