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In mathematics, specifically in the representation theory of groups and algebras, an irreducible representation \( (\Pi, V) \) or irrep of an algebraic structure A is a nonzero representation that has no proper subrepresentation \( (\Pi,W), W \subset V \) closed under the action of \( \Pi(a), a\in A \).

Every finite-dimensional unitary representation on a Hermitian vector space V is the direct sum of irreducible representations. As irreducible representations are always indecomposable (i.e. cannot be decomposed further into a direct sum of representations), these terms are often confused; however, in general there are many reducible but indecomposable representations, such as the two-dimensional representation of the real numbers acting by upper triangular unipotent matrices.


Group representation theory was generalized by Richard Brauer from the 1940s to give modular representation theory, in which the matrix operators act over a field K of arbitrary characteristic, rather than a vector of real or complex numbers. The structure analogous to an irreducible representation in the resulting theory is a simple module.

For more details on this topic, see Group representation.

Let \rho be a representation i.e. a homomorphism \( \rho: G\to GL(V) \)of a group G where V is a vector space over a field F. If we pick a basis B for \( V, \rho \) can be thought of as a function (a homomorphism) from a group into a set of invertible matrices and in this context is called a matrix representation. However, it simplifies things greatly if we think of the space V without a basis.

A linear subspace W\subset V is called G-invariant if gw\in W for all \( g\in G \) and all \( w\in W \). The restriction of \rho to a G-invariant subspace W\subset V is known as a subrepresentation. A representation \( \rho: G\to GL(V) \) is said to be irreducible if it has only trivial subrepresentations (all representations can form a subrepresentation with the trivial G-invariant subspaces, e.g. the whole vector space V, and {0}). If there is a proper non-trivial invariant subspace, \rho is said to be reducible.
Notation and terminology of group representations

Group elements can be represented by matrices, although the term "represented" has a specific and precise meaning in this context. A representation of a group is a mapping from the group elements to the general linear group of matrices. As notation, let a, b, c... denote elements of a group G with group product signified without any symbol, so ab is the group product of a and b and is also an element of G, and let representations be indicated by D. The representation of a is written

\( D(a) = \begin{pmatrix} D(a)_{11} & D(a)_{12} & \cdots & D(a)_{1n} \\ D(a)_{21} & D(a)_{22} & \cdots & D(a)_{2n} \\ \vdots & \vdots & \ddots & \vdots \\ D(a)_{n1} & D(a)_{n2} & \cdots & D(a)_{nn} \\ \end{pmatrix} \)

By definition of group representations, the representation of a group product is translated into matrix multiplication of the representations:

D(ab) = D(a)D(b)

If e is the identity element of the group (so that ae = ea = a, etc.), then D(e) is an identity matrix, or identically a block matrix of identity matrices, since we must have

D(ea) = D(ae) = D(a)D(e) = D(e)D(a) = D(a)

and similarly for all other group elements.

Decomposable and Indecomposable representations

A representation is decomposable if a similar matrix P can be found for the similarity transformation:[1]

\( D(a) \rightarrow P^{-1} D(a) P \)

which diagonalizes every matrix in the representation into the same pattern of diagonal blocks – each of the blocks are representation of the group independent of each other. The representations D(a) and P−1D(a)P are said to be equivalent representations.[2] The representation can be decomposed into a direct sum of k matrices:

\( D(a) = \begin{pmatrix} D^{(1)}(a) & 0 & \cdots & 0 \\ 0 & D^{(2)}(a) & \cdots & 0 \\ \vdots & \vdots & \ddots & \vdots \\ 0 & 0 & \cdots & D^{(k)}(a) \\ \end{pmatrix} = D^{(1)}(a) \oplus D^{(2)}(a) \oplus \cdots \oplus D^{(k)}(a) \)

so D(a) is decomposable, and it is customary to label the decomposed matrices by a superscript in brackets, as in D(n)(a) for n = 1, 2, ..., k, although some authors just write the numerical label without brackets.

The dimension of D(a) is the sum of the dimensions of the blocks:

\( \mathrm{dim}[D(a)] = \mathrm{dim}[D^{(1)}(a)] + \mathrm{dim}[D^{(2)}(a)] + \ldots + \mathrm{dim}[D^{(k)}(a)] \)

If this is not possible, then the representation is indecomposable.[1][3]

Applications in theoretical physics and chemistry
See also: Symmetry in quantum mechanics and Jahn–Teller effect

In quantum physics and quantum chemistry, each set of degenerate eigenstates of the Hamiltonian operator makes up[clarification needed] a representation of the symmetry group of the Hamiltonian, that barring accidental degeneracies will correspond to an irreducible representation. Identifying the irreducible representations therefore allows one to label the states, predict how they will split under perturbations; and predict non-zero transition elements.

In quantum mechanics, irreducible representations of the symmetry group of the system label the energy levels of the system, allowing the selection rules to be determined.[4]

Lie groups
Main article: Representation theory of Lie groups

Lorentz group
Main article: Representation theory of the Lorentz group

The irreps of D(K) and D(J), where J is the generator of rotations and K the generator of boosts, can be used to build to spin representations of the Lorentz group, because they are related to the spin matrices of quantum mechanics. This allows them to derive relativistic wave equations.[5]
See also
Associative algebras

Simple module
Indecomposable module
Representation of an associative algebra

Lie groups

Representation theory of Lie algebras
Representation theory of SU(2)
Representation theory of SL2(R)
Representation theory of the Galilean group
Representation theory of diffeomorphism groups
Representation theory of the Poincaré group


E.P. Wigner (1959). Group theory and its application to the quantum mechanics of atomic spectra. Pure and applied physics. Academic press. p. 73.
W.K. Tung (1985). Group Theory in Physics. World Scientific. p. 32. ISBN 997-1966-565.
W.K. Tung (1985). Group Theory in Physics. World Scientific. p. 33. ISBN 997-1966-565.
"A Dictionary of Chemistry," (6th ed.). Oxford Dictionary of Chemistry.

T. Jaroszewicz, P.S Kurzepa (1992). "Geometry of spacetime propagation of spinning particles". Annals of Physics (California, USA).


H. Weyl (1950). The theory of groups and quantum mechanics. Courier Dover Publications. p. 203.

A. D. Boardman, D. E. O'Conner, P. A. Young (1973). Symmetry and its applications in science. McGraw Hill. ISBN 0-07-084011-3.

V. Heine (republished: 2007 original: 1960). Group theory in quantum mechanics: an introduction to its present usage. Dover. ISBN 0-07-084011-3. Check date values in: |date= (help)

V. Heine (1993). Group Theory in Quantum Mechanics: An Introduction to Its Present Usage. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 048-6675-858.

E. Abers (2004). Quantum Mechanics. Addison Wesley. p. 425. ISBN 978-0-13-146100-0.

B. R. Martin, G.Shaw. Particle Physics (3rd ed.). Manchester Physics Series, John Wiley & Sons. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-470-03294-7.

Weinberg, S (1995), The Quantum Theory of Fields 1, Cambridge university press, pp. 230–231, ISBN 0-521-55001-7
Weinberg, S (1996), The Quantum Theory of Fields 2, Cambridge university press, ISBN 0-521-55002-5
Weinberg, S (2000), The Quantum Theory of Fields 3, Cambridge university press, ISBN 0-521-66000-9
R. Penrose (2007). The Road to Reality. Vintage books. ISBN 0-679-77631-1.

P. W. Atkins (1970). Molecular Quantum Mechanics (Parts 1 and 2): An introduction to quantum chemistry 1. Oxford University Press. pp. 125–126. ISBN 0-19-855129-0.


Bargmann, V.; Wigner, E. P. (1948). "Group theoretical discussion of relativistic wave equations". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 34 (5): 211–23. Bibcode:1948PNAS...34..211B. doi:10.1073/pnas.34.5.211.
E. Wigner (1937). "On Unitary Representations Of The Inhomogeneous Lorentz Group" (PDF). Annals of Mathematics 40 (1): 149.

Further reading

Artin, Michael (1999). "Noncommutative Rings" (PDF). Chapter V.

External links

(2010) Commission on Mathematical and Theoretical Crystallography, Summer Schools on Mathematical Crystallography
Some notes on group theory
Representation Theory
Some Notes on Young Tableaux as useful for irreps of su(n)
Irreducible Representation (IR) Symmetry Labels
Representations of Lorentz Group
Representations of Lorentz and Poincaré groups
Quantum Mechanics for Mathematicians: Representations of the Lorentz Group
Representations of the Symmetry Group of Spacetime
Lie Algebra for the Poincaré, and Lorentz, Groups
The unitary representations of the Poincaré group in any spacetime dimension
"McGraw-Hill dictionary of scientific and technical terms".

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