Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Tensors: Lorentz vs Galilean invariance

  1. Sep 23, 2007 #1
    What is the physical significance of tensors?

    Occasionally, motivating statements are made roughly along the lines of "if an equation can be expressed purely in terms of tensors, then it is true for all observers". But that doesn't seem quite complete because different tensor-users would have contradictory views on which coordinate frames do and do not represent physical observers.

    As I understand it, the exact same set of simple transformation rules is used for translating the components of all tensors between all pairs of coordinate frames. What then distinguishes the tensor equations in relativity theory from tensor equations in Newtonian mechanics (or Engineering)?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2007 #2
    There is no unique answer to that since different tensors apply to different physical phenomena. A tensor has a mathematical definition. The definition has to do with various things. E.g. a tensor called a "Cartesian Tensor" is a set of "component" which has a certain transformation property under an orthogonal transformation. A "Lorentz tensor" is a tensor which has a certain transformation property under a Lorentz transformation. etc.
    That's a mouthful which I will respond to by citing the web pages I made for such an explanation. They are


    The aloowable set of coordinate transformations. In the case of a Cartesian tensor, used in Newtonian physics, the allowable transformations are orthogonal transformations.

    For a solid example of a tensor in Classical Physics please see


    Best wishes

Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook