History of Topics in Special Relativity/Four-current

History of 4-Vectors (edit)
History of Topics in Special Relativity (edit)

Overview edit

The w:Four-current is the four-dimensional analogue of the w:electric current density


where c is the w:speed of light,   the four-velocity, ρ is the w:charge density,   the rest charge density , and j the conventional w:current density. Alternatively, it can be defined in terms of the inhomogeneous Maxwell equations as the negative product of the D'Alembert operator and the electromagnetic potential  , or the four-divergence of the electromagnetic tensor  :


and the generally covariant form


The Lorentz transformation of the four-potential components was given by #Poincaré (1905/6) and #Marcolongo (1906). It was explicitly formulated in modern form by #Minkowski (1907/15) and reformulated in different notations by #Born (1909), #Bateman (1909/10), #Ignatowski (1910), #Sommerfeld (1910), #Lewis (1910), Wilson/Lewis (1912), #Von Laue (1911), #Silberstein (1911). The generally covariant form was first given by #Kottler (1912) and #Einstein (1913).

Historical notation edit

Poincaré (1905/6) edit

w:Henri Poincaré (June 1905[R 1]; July 1905, published 1906[R 2]) showed that the four quantities related to charge density   are connected by a Lorentz transformation:


and in his July paper he further stated the continuity equation and the invariance of Jacobian D:[R 3]


Even though Poincaré didn't directly use four-vector notation in those cases, his quantities are the components of four-current (a).

Marcolongo (1906) edit

Following Poincaré, w:Roberto Marcolongo defined the general Lorentz transformation   of the components of the four independent variables   and its continuity equation:[R 4]


equivalent to the components of four-current (a), and pointed out its relation to the components   of the four-potential


equivalent to the components of Maxwell's equations (b).

Minkowski (1907/15) edit

w:Hermann Minkowski from the outset employed vector and matrix representation of four-vectors and six-vectors (i.e. antisymmetric second rank tensors) and their product. In a lecture held in November 1907, published 1915, Minkowski defined the four-current in vacuum with   as charge density and   as velocity:[R 5]


equivalent to (a), and the electric four-current in matter with   as current and   as charge density:[R 6]


In another lecture from December 1907, Minkowski defined the “space-time vector current” and its Lorentz transformation[R 7]


equivalent to (a). In moving media and dielectrics, Minkowski more generally used the current density vector “electric current”   which becomes   in isotropic media:[R 8]


Born (1909) edit

Following Minkowski, w:Max Born (1909) defined the “space-time vector of first kind” (four-vector) and its continuity equation[R 9]


equivalent to (a), and pointed out its relation to Maxwell's equations as the product of the D'Alembert operator with the electromagnetic potential  :


equivalent to (c). He also expressed the four-current in terms of rest charge density and four-velocity


equivalent to (b).

Bateman (1909/10) edit

A discussion of four-current in terms of integral forms (even though in the broader context of w:spherical wave transformations), was given by w:Harry Bateman in a paper read 1909 and published 1910, who defined the Lorentz transformations of its components  [R 10]


forming the following invariant relations together with the differential four-position and four-potential:[R 11]


with   in relativity.

Ignatowski (1910) edit

w:Wladimir Ignatowski (1910) defined the “vector of first kind” using charge density   and three-velocity  :[R 12]


equivalent to four-current (a).

Sommerfeld (1910) edit

In influential papers on 4D vector calculus in relativity, w:Arnold Sommerfeld defined the four-current P, which he called four-density (Viererdichte):[R 13]


equivalent to (a). In the second paper he pointed out its relation to four-potential   and the electromagnetic tensor (six-vector) f together with the continuity condition:[R 14]


equivalent to Maxwell's equations (c). The scalar product with the four-potential[R 15]


he called “electro-kinetic potential” whereas the vector product with the electromagnetic tensor[R 16]


he called the electrodynamic force (four-force density).

Lewis (1910), Wilson/Lewis (1912) edit

w:Gilbert Newton Lewis (1910) devised an alternative 4D vector calculus based on w:Dyadics which, however, never gained widespread support. The four-current is a “1-vector”:[R 17]


equivalent to (a) and its relation to the four-potential   and electromagnetic tensor  :


equivalent to (c,d).

In 1912, Lewis and w:Edwin Bidwell Wilson used only real coordinates, writing the above expressions as[R 18]


equivalent to (c,d).

Von Laue (1911) edit

In the first textbook on relativity in 1911, w:Max von Laue elaborated on Sommerfeld's methods and explicitly used the term “four-current” (Viererstrom) of density   in relation to four-potential   and electromagnetic tensor  :[R 19]


equivalent to (a,c,d). He went on to define four-force density F as vector-product with  , four-convection K and four-conduction   using four-velocity Y:[R 20]


Silberstein (1911) edit

w:Ludwik Silberstein devised an alternative 4D calculus based on w:Biquaternions which, however, never gained widespread support. He defined the “current-quaternion” (i.e. four-current) C and its relation to the “electromagnetic bivector” (i.e. field tensor)   and “potential-quaternion” (i.e. four-potential)  [R 21]


Kottler (1912) edit

w:Friedrich Kottler defined the four-current   and its relation to four-velocity  , four-potential  , four-force  , electromagnetic field-tensor  , stress-energy tensor  :[R 22]


equivalent to (a,b,c,d) and subsequently was the first to give the generally covariant formulation of Maxwell's equations using metric tensor  [R 23]


equivalent to (e).

Einstein (1913) edit

Independently of Kottler (1912), w:Albert Einstein defined the general covariant four-current in the context of his Entwurf theory (a precursor of general relativity):[R 24]


equivalent to (a), and the generally covariant formulation of Maxwell's equations


equivalent to (e) in the case of   being the Minkowski tensor.

Historical sources edit

  1. Poincaré (1905a), p. 1505
  2. Poincaré (1905b), p. 133–134
  3. Poincaré (1905b), p. 134
  4. Marcolongo (1906), p. 348-349
  5. Minkowski (1907/15), p. 929
  6. Minkowski (1907/15), p. 933
  7. Minkowski (1907/8), p. 57, 60, 67
  8. Minkowski (1907/8), p. 71
  9. Born (1909), p. 573-574, 576-577
  10. Bateman (1910), p. 241
  11. Bateman (1910), p. 252
  12. Ignatowsky (1910), p. 24-25
  13. Sommerfeld (1910a), p. 751
  14. Sommerfeld (1910b), p. 651
  15. Sommerfeld (1910a), p. 764
  16. Sommerfeld (1910a), p. 770
  17. Lewis (1910), p. 176ff
  18. Wilson & Lewis (1910), p. 488ff
  19. Laue (1911), p. 77f, 100f
  20. Laue (1911), p. 80, 102, 119
  21. Silberstein (1911), p. 796, 801f
  22. Kottler (1912), p. 1661, 1686ff
  23. Kottler (1912), p. 1688-1689
  24. Einstein & Grossmann (1913), p. 241
  • Bateman, H. (1910) [1909], "The Transformation of the Electrodynamical Equations", Proceedings of the London Mathematical Society, 8: 223–264
  • Poincaré, H. (1905), "Sur la dynamique de l'électron", Comptes Rendus, 140: 1504–1508
  • Poincaré, H. (1906) [1905], "Sur la dynamique de l'électron", Rendiconti del Circolo Matematico di Palermo, 21: 129–176