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Levi-Civita symbol and cross product vector/tensor
Patrick Guio

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Patrick Guio

$Id: levi-civita.tex,v 1.3 2011/10/03 14:37:33 patrick Exp $

1 Denitions

The Levi-Civita symbol

ijk

is a tensor of rank three and is dened by

ijk

=

_

_

_

0, if any two labels are the same

1, if i, j, k is an even permutation of 1,2,3

1, if i, j, k is an odd permutation of 1,2,3

(1)

The Levi-Civita symbol

ijk

is anti-symmetric on each pair of indexes.

The determinant of a matrix A with elements a

ij

can be written in term of

ijk

as

det

a

11

a

12

a

13

a

21

a

22

a

23

a

31

a

32

a

33

=

3

i=1

3

j=1

3

k=1

ijk

a

1i

a

2j

a

3k

=

ijk

a

1i

a

2j

a

3k

(2)

Note the compact notation where the summation over the spatial directions is dropped. It is this

one that is in use.

Note that the Levi-Civita symbol can therefore be expressed as the determinant, or mixed

triple product, of any of the unit vectors ( e

1

, e

2

, e

3

) of a normalised and direct orthogonal frame

of reference.

ijk

= det( e

i

, e

j

, e

k

) = e

i

( e

j

e

k

) (3)

Now we can dene by analogy to the denition of the determinant an additional type of

product, the vector product or simply cross product

ab = det

e

1

e

2

e

3

a

1

a

2

a

3

b

1

b

2

b

3

=

ijk

e

i

a

j

b

k

(4)

or for each coordinate

(ab)

i

=

ijk

a

j

b

k

(5)

1

2 Properties

The Levi-Civita tensor

ijk

has 3 3 3 = 27 components.

3 (6 + 1) = 21 components are equal to 0.

3 components are equal to 1.

3 components are equal to 1.

3 Identities

The product of two Levi-Civita symbols can be expressed as a function of the Kroneckers sym-

bol

ij

ijk

lmn

= +

il

jm

kn

+

im

jn

kl

+

in

jl

km

im

jl

kn

il

jn

km

in

jm

kl

(6)

Setting i = l gives

ijk

imn

=

jm

kn

jn

km

(7)

proof

ijk

imn

=

ii

(

jm

kn

jn

km

) +

im

jn

ki

+

in

ji

km

im

ji

kn

in

jm

ki

= 3(

jm

kn

jn

km

) +

km

jn

+

jn

km

jm

kn

kn

jm

=

jm

kn

jn

km

Setting i = l and j = m gives

ijk

ijn

= 2

kn

(8)

Setting i = l, j = m and k = n gives

ijk

ijk

= 6 (9)

Therefore

a(bc) = b(a c) c(a b) (10)

proof

d = a(bc)

d

m

=

mni

a

n

(

ijk

b

j

c

k

)

=

imn

ijk

a

n

b

j

c

k

= (

mj

nk

mk

nj

)a

n

b

j

c

k

= b

m

a

k

c

k

c

m

a

j

b

j

= [b(a c)]

m

[c(a b)]

m

2

In the same way

[(a)]

i

=

ijk

kmn

m

a

n

=

kij

kmn

m

a

n

=

j

i

a

j

j

a

i

=

i

j

a

j

j

a

i

=

_

( a)

2

a

i

4 Properties

The cross product is a special vector. If we transform both vectors by a reection transformation,

for example a central symmetry by the origin, i.e. v v

conserved.

proof

p = ab =

_

_

a

2

b

3

a

3

b

2

a

3

b

1

a

1

b

3

a

1

b

2

a

2

b

1

_

_

p

= a

=

_

_

(a

2

)(b

3

) (a

3

)(b

2

)

(a

3

)(b

1

) (a

1

)(b

3

)

(a

1

)(b

2

) (a

2

)(b

1

)

_

_

= p

The cross product does not have the same properties as an ordinary vector. Ordinary vectors

are called polar vectors while cross product vector are called axial (pseudo) vectors. In one way

the cross product is an articial vector.

Actually, there does not exist a cross product vector in space with more than 3 dimensions.

The fact that the cross product of 3 dimensions vector gives an object which also has 3 dimensions

is just pure coincidence.

The cross product in 3 dimensions is actually a tensor of rank 2 with 3 independent coordi-

nates.

3

proof

(ab)

ij

= a

i

b

j

a

j

b

i

= c

ij

=

_

_

0 a

1

b

2

a

2

b

1

a

1

b

3

a

3

b

1

a

2

b

1

a

1

b

2

0 a

2

b

3

a

3

b

2

a

3

b

1

a

1

b

3

a

3

b

2

a

2

b

3

0

_

_

=

_

_

0 (a

2

b

1

a

1

b

2

) a

1

b

3

a

3

b

1

a

2

b

1

a

1

b

2

0 (a

3

b

2

a

2

b

3

)

(a

1

b

3

a

3

b

1

) a

3

b

2

a

2

b

3

0

_

_

=

_

_

0 c

3

c

2

c

3

0 c

1

c

2

c

1

0

_

_

The correct or consistent approach of calculating the cross product vector from the tensor

(ab)

ij

is the so called index contraction

(ab)

i

=

1

2

(a

j

b

k

a

k

b

j

)

ijk

=

1

2

(ab)

jk

ijk

(11)

proof

(ab)

i

=

1

2

c

jk

ijk

= c

i

=

1

2

a

j

b

k

ijk

1

2

b

j

a

k

ijk

=

1

2

(ab)

i

1

2

(ba)

i

= (ab)

i

In 4 dimensions, the cross product tensor is thus written

a

i

b

j

= (a

i

b

j

a

j

b

i

) =

_

_

_

_

0 c

21

c

31

c

41

c

21

0 c

32

c

42

c

31

c

32

0 c

43

c

41

c

42

c

43

0

_

_

_

_

(12)

This tensor has 6 independent components. There should be 4 components for a 4 dimensions

vector, therefore it cannot be represented as a vector.

More generally, if n is the dimension of the vector, the cross product tensor a

i

b

j

is a tensor

of rank 2 with

1

2

n(n 1) independent components.

The cross product is connected to rotations and has a structure which also looks like rotations,

called a simplectic structure.

4

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