Bose–Einstein model of a photon gasEdit

Main article: Bose gas

In 1924, Satyendra Nath Bose derived Planck's law of black-body radiation without using any electromagnetism, but rather a modification of coarse-grained counting of phase space.[1] Einstein showed that this modification is equivalent to assuming that photons are rigorously identical and that it implied a "mysterious non-local interaction",[2][3] now understood as the requirement for a symmetric quantum mechanical state. This work led to the concept of coherent states and the development of the laser. In the same papers, Einstein extended Bose's formalism to material particles (bosons) and predicted that they would condense into their lowest quantum state at low enough temperatures; this Bose–Einstein condensation was observed experimentally in 1995.[4]

The modern view on this is that photons are, by virtue of their integer spin, bosons (as opposed to fermions with half-integer spin). By the spin-statistics theorem, all bosons obey Bose–Einstein statistics (whereas all fermions obey Fermi-Dirac statistics).[5]

The photon as a gauge bosonEdit

Main article: Gauge theory

The electromagnetic field can be understood as a gauge theory, i.e., as a field that results from requiring that symmetry hold independently at every position in spacetime.[6] For the electromagnetic field, this gauge symmetry is the Abelian U(1) symmetry of a complex number, which reflects the ability to vary the phase of a complex number without affecting real numbers made from it, such as the energy or the Lagrangian.

The quanta of an Abelian gauge field must be massless, uncharged bosons, as long as the symmetry is not broken; hence, the photon is predicted to be massless, and to have zero electric charge and integer spin. The particular form of the electromagnetic interaction specifies that the photon must have spin ±1; thus, its helicity must be $ \pm \hbar $. These two spin components correspond to the classical concepts of right-handed and left-handed circularly polarized light. However, the transient virtual photons of quantum electrodynamics may also adopt unphysical polarization states.[6]

In the prevailing Standard Model of physics, the photon is one of four gauge bosons in the electroweak interaction; the other three are denoted W+, W and Z0 and are responsible for the weak interaction. Unlike the photon, these gauge bosons have invariant mass, owing to a mechanism that breaks their SU(2) gauge symmetry. The unification of the photon with W and Z gauge bosons in the electroweak interaction was accomplished by Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam and Steven Weinberg, for which they were awarded the 1979 Nobel Prize in physics.[7][8][9] Physicists continue to hypothesize grand unified theories that connect these four gauge bosons with the eight gluon gauge bosons of quantum chromodynamics; however, key predictions of these theories, such as proton decay, have not been observed experimentally.[10]

See alsoEdit


  1. Bose, S.N. (1924). "Plancks Gesetz und Lichtquantenhypothese". Zeitschrift für Physik 26: 178–181. doi:10.1007/BF01327326.  Template:Languageicon
  2. Einstein, A. (1924). "Quantentheorie des einatomigen idealen Gases". Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin), Physikalisch-mathematische Klasse 1924: 261–267.  Template:Languageicon
  3. Einstein, A. (1925). "Quantentheorie des einatomigen idealen Gases, Zweite Abhandlung". Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin), Physikalisch-mathematische Klasse 1925: 3–14.  Template:Languageicon
  4. Anderson, M.H.; Ensher, J.R.; Matthews, M.R.; Wieman, C.E.; Cornell, E.A. (1995). "Observation of Bose–Einstein Condensation in a Dilute Atomic Vapor". Science 269 (5221): 198–201. doi:10.1126/science.269.5221.198. PMID 17789847, 
  5. Streater, R.F.; Wightman, A.S. (1989). PCT, Spin and Statistics, and All That, Addison-Wesley. ISBN 020109410X. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ryder, L.H. (1996). Quantum field theory (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-47814-6. OCLC 32853321. 
  7. Sheldon Glashow Nobel lecture, delivered 8 December 1979.
  8. Abdus Salam Nobel lecture, delivered 8 December 1979.
  9. Steven Weinberg Nobel lecture, delivered 8 December 1979.
  10. E.g. chapter 14 in Hughes, I. S. (1985). Elementary particles (2nd ed.), Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-26092-2.