In physics, the Smatrix or scattering matrix relates the initial state and the final state of a physical system undergoing a scattering process. It is used in quantum mechanics, scattering theory and quantum field theory (QFT).
More formally, in the context of QFT, the Smatrix is defined as the unitary matrix connecting sets of asymptotically free particle states (the instates and the outstates) in the Hilbert space of physical states. A multiparticle state is said to be free (noninteracting) if it transforms under Lorentz transformations as a tensor product, or direct product in physics parlance, of oneparticle states as prescribed by equation (1) below. Asymptotically free then means that the state has this appearance in either the distant past or the distant future.
While the Smatrix may be defined for any background (spacetime) that is asymptotically solvable and has no event horizons, it has a simple form in the case of the Minkowski space. In this special case, the Hilbert space is a space of irreducible unitary representations of the inhomogeneous Lorentz group (the Poincaré group); the Smatrix is the evolution operator between (the distant past), and (the distant future). It is defined only in the limit of zero energy density (or infinite particle separation distance).
It can be shown that if a quantum field theory in Minkowski space has a mass gap, the state in the asymptotic past and in the asymptotic future are both described by Fock spaces.
The Smatrix was first introduced by John Archibald Wheeler in the 1937 paper "On the Mathematical Description of Light Nuclei by the Method of Resonating Group Structure".^{[1]} In this paper Wheeler introduced a scattering matrix – a unitary matrix of coefficients connecting "the asymptotic behaviour of an arbitrary particular solution [of the integral equations] with that of solutions of a standard form",^{[2]} but did not develop it fully.
In the 1940s, Werner Heisenberg independently developed and substantiated the idea of the Smatrix. Because of the problematic divergences present in quantum field theory at that time, Heisenberg was motivated to isolate the essential features of the theory that would not be affected by future changes as the theory developed. In doing so, he was led to introduce a unitary "characteristic" Smatrix.^{[2]}
Today, however, exact Smatrix results are a crowning achievement of conformal field theory, integrable systems, and several further areas of quantum field theory and string theory. Smatrices are not substitutes for a fieldtheoretic treatment, but rather, complement the end results of such.
In highenergy particle physics one is interested in computing the probability for different outcomes in scattering experiments. These experiments can be broken down into three stages:
The process by which the incoming particles are transformed (through their interaction) into the outgoing particles is called scattering. For particle physics, a physical theory of these processes must be able to compute the probability for different outgoing particles when different incoming particles collide with different energies.
The Smatrix in quantum field theory achieves exactly this. It is assumed that the smallenergydensity approximation is valid in these cases.
The Smatrix is closely related to the transition probability amplitude in quantum mechanics and to cross sections of various interactions; the elements (individual numerical entries) in the Smatrix are known as scattering amplitudes. Poles of the Smatrix in the complexenergy plane are identified with bound states, virtual states or resonances. Branch cuts of the Smatrix in the complexenergy plane are associated to the opening of a scattering channel.
In the Hamiltonian approach to quantum field theory, the Smatrix may be calculated as a timeordered exponential of the integrated Hamiltonian in the interaction picture; it may also be expressed using Feynman's path integrals. In both cases, the perturbative calculation of the Smatrix leads to Feynman diagrams.
In scattering theory, the Smatrix is an operator mapping free particle instates to free particle outstates (scattering channels) in the Heisenberg picture. This is very useful because often we cannot describe the interaction (at least, not the most interesting ones) exactly.
A simple prototype in which the Smatrix is 2dimensional is considered first, for the purposes of illustration. In it, particles with sharp energy E scatter from a localized potential V according to the rules of 1dimensional quantum mechanics. Already this simple model displays some features of more general cases, but is easier to handle.
Each energy E yields a matrix S = S(E) that depends on V. Thus, the total Smatrix could, figuratively speaking, be visualized, in a suitable basis, as a "continuous matrix" with every element zero except for 2 × 2blocks along the diagonal for a given V.
Consider a localized one dimensional potential barrier V(x), subjected to a beam of quantum particles with energy E. These particles are incident on the potential barrier from left to right.
The solutions of Schrödinger's equation outside the potential barrier are plane waves given by
for the region to the left of the potential barrier, and
for the region to the right to the potential barrier, where
is the wave vector. The time dependence is not needed in our overview and is hence omitted. The term with coefficient A represents the incoming wave, whereas term with coefficient C represents the outgoing wave. B stands for the reflecting wave. Since we set the incoming wave moving in the positive direction (coming from the left), D is zero and can be omitted.
The "scattering amplitude", i.e., the transition overlap of the outgoing waves with the incoming waves is a linear relation defining the Smatrix,
The above relation can be written as
where
The elements of S completely characterize the scattering properties of the potential barrier V(x).
The unitary property of Smatrix is directly related to the conservation of the probability current in quantum mechanics.
The probability current J of the wave function ψ(x) is defined as
The current density to the left of the barrier is
while the current density to the right of the barrier is
For conservation of the probability current density, J_{L} = J_{R}. This implies the Smatrix is a unitary matrix.
Proof 

If the potential V(x) is real, then the system possesses timereversal symmetry. Under this condition, if ψ(x) is a solution of Schrödinger's equation, then ψ*(x) is also a solution.
The timereversed solution is given by
for the region to the left to the potential barrier, and
for the region to the right to the potential barrier, where the terms with coefficient B*, C* represent incoming wave, and terms with coefficient A*, D* represent outgoing wave.
They are again related by the Smatrix,
that is,
Now, the relations
together yield a condition
This condition, in conjunction with the unitarity relation, implies that the Smatrix is symmetric, as a result of time reversal symmetry,
The transmission coefficient from the left of the potential barrier is, when D = 0,
The reflection coefficient from the left of the potential barrier is, when D = 0,
Similarly, the transmission coefficient from the right of the potential barrier is, when A = 0,
The reflection coefficient from the right of the potential barrier is, when A = 0,
The relations between the transmission and reflection coefficients are
and
This identity is a consequence of the unitarity property of the Smatrix.
In the case of free particles V(x) = 0, the Smatrix is^{[3]}
Whenever V(x) is different from zero, however, there is a departure of the Smatrix from the above form, to
This departure is parameterized by two complex functions of energy, r and t. From unitarity there also follows a relationship between these two functions,
The analogue of this identity in three dimensions is known as the optical theorem.
A straightforward way to define the Smatrix begins with considering the interaction picture.^{[4]} Let the Hamiltonian H be split into the free part H_{0} and the interaction V, H = H_{0} + V. In this picture, the operators behave as free field operators and the state vectors have dynamics according to the interaction V. Let
denote a state that has evolved from a free initial state
The Smatrix element is then defined as the projection of this state on the final state
Thus
where S is the Soperator. The great advantage of this definition is that the timeevolution operator U evolving a state in the interaction picture is formally known,^{[5]}
where T denotes the timeordered product. Expressed in this operator,
from which
Expanding using the knowledge about U gives a Dyson series,
or, if V comes as a Hamiltonian density,
Being a special type of timeevolution operator, S is unitary. For any initial state and any final state one finds
This approach is somewhat naïve in that potential problems are swept under the carpet.^{[6]} This is intentional. The approach works in practice and some of the technical issues are addressed in the other sections.
Here a slightly more rigorous approach is taken in order to address potential problems that were disregarded in the interaction picture approach of above. The final outcome is, of course, the same as when taking the quicker route. For this, the notions of in and out states are needed. These will be developed in two ways, from vacua, and from free particle states. Needless to say, the two approaches are equivalent, but they illuminate matters from different angles.
If a^{†}(k) is a creation operator, its hermitian adjoint is an annihilation operator and destroys the vacuum,
In Dirac notation, define
as a vacuum quantum state, i.e. a state without real particles. The asterisk signifies that not all vacua are necessarily equal, and certainly not equal to the Hilbert space zero state 0. All vacuum states are assumed Poincaré invariant, invariance under translations, rotations and boosts,^{[6]} formally,
where P^{μ} is the generator of translation in space and time, and M^{μν} is the generator of Lorentz transformations. Thus the description of the vacuum is independent of the frame of reference. Associated to the in and out states to be defined are the in and out field operators (aka fields) Φ_{i} and Φ_{o}. Attention is here focused to the simplest case, that of a scalar theory in order to exemplify with the least possible cluttering of the notation. The in and out fields satisfy
the free Klein–Gordon equation. These fields are postulated to have the same equal time commutation relations (ETCR) as the free fields,
where π_{i,j} is the field canonically conjugate to Φ_{i,j}. Associated to the in and out fields are two sets of creation and annihilation operators, a^{†}_{i}(k) and a^{†}_{f} (k), acting in the same Hilbert space,^{[7]} on two distinct complete sets (Fock spaces; initial space i, final space f ). These operators satisfy the usual commutation rules,
The action of the creation operators on their respective vacua and states with a finite number of particles in the in and out states is given by
where issues of normalization have been ignored. See the next section for a detailed account on how a general nparticle state is normalized. The initial and final spaces are defined by
The asymptotic states are assumed to have well defined Poincaré transformation properties, i.e. they are assumed to transform as a direct product of oneparticle states.^{[8]} This is a characteristic of a noninteracting field. From this follows that the asymptotic states are all eigenstates of the momentum operator P^{μ},^{[6]}
In particular, they are eigenstates of the full Hamiltonian,
The vacuum is usually postulated to be stable and unique,^{[6]}^{[nb 1]}
The interaction is assumed adiabatically turned on and off.
The Heisenberg picture is employed henceforth. In this picture, the states are timeindependent. A Heisenberg state vector thus represents the complete spacetime history of a system of particles.^{[8]} The labeling of the in and out states refers to the asymptotic appearance. A state Ψ_{α, in} is characterized by that as t→−∞ the particle content is that represented collectively by α. Likewise, a state Ψ_{β, out} will have the particle content represented by β for t→+∞. Using the assumption that the in and out states, as well as the interacting states, inhabit the same Hilbert space and assuming completeness of the normalized in and out states (postulate of asymptotic completeness^{[6]}), the initial states can be expanded in a basis of final states (or vice versa). The explicit expression is given later after more notation and terminology has been introduced. The expansion coefficients are precisely the Smatrix elements to be defined below.
While the state vectors are constant in time in the Heisenberg picture, the physical states they represent are not. If a system is found to be in a state Ψ at time t = 0, then it will be found in the state U(τ)Ψ =e^{−iHτ}Ψ at time t = τ. This is not (necessarily) the same Heisenberg state vector, but it is an equivalent state vector, meaning that it will, upon measurement, be found to be one of the final states from the expansion with nonzero coefficient. Letting τ vary one sees that the observed Ψ (not measured) is indeed the Schrödinger picture state vector. By repeating the measurement sufficiently many times and averaging, one may say that the same state vector is indeed found at time t = τ as at time t = 0. This reflects the expansion above of an in state into out states.
For this viewpoint, one should consider how the archetypical scattering experiment is performed. The initial particles are prepared in well defined states where they are so far apart that they don't interact. They are somehow made to interact, and the final particles are registered when they are so far apart that they have ceased to interact. The idea is to look for states in the Heisenberg picture that in the distant past had the appearance of free particle states. This will be the in states. Likewise, an out state will be a state that in the distant future has the appearance of a free particle state.^{[8]}
The notation from the general reference for this section, Weinberg (2002) will be used. A general noninteracting multiparticle state is given by
where
These states are normalized as
Permutations work as such; if s ∈ S_{k} is a permutation of k objects (for a kparticle state) such that
then a nonzero term results. The sign is plus unless s involves an odd number of fermion transpositions, in which case it is minus. The notation is usually abbreviated letting one Greek letter stand for the whole collection describing the state. In abbreviated form the normalization becomes
When integrating over freeparticle states one writes in this notation
where the sum includes only terms such that no two terms are equal modulo a permutation of the particle type indices. The sets of states sought for are supposed to be complete. This is expressed as
which could be paraphrased as
where for each fixed α, the right hand side is a projection operator onto the state α. Under an inhomogeneous Lorentz transformation (Λ, a), the field transforms according to the rule

(1) 
where W(Λ, p) is the Wigner rotation and D^{(j)} is the (2j + 1)dimensional representation of SO(3). By putting Λ = 1, a = (τ, 0, 0, 0), for which U is exp(iHτ), in (1), it immediately follows that
so the in and out states sough after are eigenstates of the full Hamiltonian that are necessarily noninteracting due to the absence of mixed particle energy terms. The discussion in the section above suggests that the in states Ψ^{+} and the out states Ψ^{−} should be such that
for large positive and negative τ has the appearance of the corresponding package, represented by g, of freeparticle states, g assumed smooth and suitably localized in momentum. Wave packages are necessary, else the time evolution will yield only a phase factor indicating free particles, which cannot be the case. The right hand side follows from that the in and out states are eigenstates of the Hamiltonian per above. To formalize this requirement, assume that the full Hamiltonian H can be divided into two terms, a freeparticle Hamiltonian H_{0} and an interaction V, H = H_{0} + V such that the eigenstates Φ_{γ} of H_{0} have the same appearance as the in and outstates with respect to normalization and Lorentz transformation properties,
The in and out states are defined as eigenstates of the full Hamiltonian,
satisfying
for τ → −∞ or τ → +∞ respectively. Define
then
This last expression will work only using wave packages.From these definitions follow that the in and out states are normalized in the same way as the freeparticle states,
and the three sets are unitarily equivalent. Now rewrite the eigenvalue equation,
where the ±iε terms has been added to make the operator on the LHS invertible. Since the in and out states reduce to the freeparticle states for V → 0, put
on the RHS to obtain
Then use the completeness of the freeparticle states,
to finally obtain
Here H_{0} has been replaced by its eigenvalue on the freeparticle states. This is the Lippmann–Schwinger equation.
The initial states can be expanded in a basis of final states (or vice versa). Using the completeness relation,
where C_{m}^{2} is the probability that the interaction transforms
into
By the ordinary rules of quantum mechanics,
and one may write
The expansion coefficients are precisely the Smatrix elements to be defined below.
The Smatrix is now defined by^{[8]}
Here α and β are shorthands that represent the particle content but suppresses the individual labels. Associated to the Smatrix there is the Soperator S defined by^{[8]}
where the Φ_{γ} are free particle states.^{[8]}^{[nb 2]} This definition conforms with the direct approach used in the interaction picture. Also, due to unitary equivalence,
As a physical requirement, S must be a unitary operator. This is a statement of conservation of probability in quantum field theory. But
By completeness then,
so S is the unitary transformation from instates to out states. Lorentz invariance is another crucial requirement on the Smatrix.^{[8]}^{[nb 3]} The Soperator represents the quantum canonical transformation of the initial in states to the final out states. Moreover, S leaves the vacuum state invariant and transforms inspace fields to outspace fields,^{[nb 4]}
In terms of creation and annihilation operators, this becomes
hence
A similar expression holds when S operates to the left on an out state. This means that the Smatrix can be expressed as
If S describes an interaction correctly, these properties must be also true:
Define a timedependent creation and annihilation operator as follows,
so, for the fields,
where
We allow for a phase difference, given by
because for S,
Substituting the explicit expression for U, one has
where is the interaction part of the hamiltonian and is the time ordering.
By inspection, it can be seen that this formula is not explicitly covariant.
The most widely used expression for the Smatrix is the Dyson series. This expresses the Smatrix operator as the series:
where:
Since the transformation of particles from black hole to Hawking radiation could not be described with an Smatrix, Stephen Hawking proposed a "notSmatrix", for which he used the dollar sign ($), and which therefore was also called "dollar matrix".^{[9]}
volume=
has extra text (help) §125