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Dirac Sea

The Dirac sea is a theoretical model of the vacuum as an infinite sea of particles with negative energy. It was first postulated by the British physicist Paul Dirac in 1930 to explain the anomalous negative energy quantum states predicted by the Dirac equation for relativistic electrons. The positron, the antimatter counterpart of the electron, was originally conceived of as a hole in the Dirac sea, well before its experimental discovery in 1932. Dirac, Einstein and others recognised that it is related to the "metaphysical" aether:

"... with the new theory of electrodynamics we are rather forced to have an aether."
– P.A.M. Dirac, ‘Is There An Aether?,’ Nature, v.168, 1951, p.906.

The equation relating energy, mass and momentum in special relativity is:

E2 = p2c2 + m2c4,

In the special case of a particle at rest (i.e. p = 0), the above equation reduces to E2 = m2c4, which is usually quoted as the familiar E = mc2. However, this is a simplification because, while x * x = x2, we can also see that ( − x) * ( − x) = x2. Therefore, the correct equation to use to relate energy and mass in the Hamiltonian of the Dirac equation is:


Here the negative solution is antimatter, discovered by Carl Anderson as the positron. The interpretation of this result requires a Dirac sea, showing that the Dirac equation is not merely a combination of special relativity and quantum field theory, but it also implies that the number of particles cannot be conserved. (WikiPedia)

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Page last modified on Monday 21 of June, 2010 21:31:27 MDT

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