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A What is the coordinate free stress-energy-momentum tensor

  1. May 19, 2016 #1
    Without regard to a coordinate system (I only wish to consider special relativity) the stress-energy-momentum tensor defines a linear transformation from a 4-vector to a 4-vector. Let T be the linear transformation then b = T(a), a and b are 4-vectors. What is the physical meaning of a and b or for a and b arbitrary vectors what is the physical meaning of a⋅T(b).
  2. jcsd
  3. May 20, 2016 #2


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    It depends on your choice of four-vector, I'd say. Take for example the energy-momentum tensor of a dust and contract it with the four-velocity. What do you get?
  4. May 20, 2016 #3
    I am not sure what you mean but if you look for example at the Einstein-Hilbert Wikipedia page you can get a definition for the stress-energy tensor in terms of the variation of the lagrangian matter density w.r.t your metric.
  5. May 20, 2016 #4
    For a Lagrangian, ##\mathcal{L}##, in which the ##\phi_{i}## are vector fields the stress-energy-momentum tensor is give by the following coordinate free geometric algebra expression -
    $$T(n) = \dot{\nabla}\left < \dot{\phi}_{i}\partial_{\nabla\phi_{i}}\mathcal{L}n\right >-n\mathcal{L}$$
    where ##\nabla## is the 4-vector gradient, ##n## a 4-vector, ##\left < A \right >## the scalar part of the multivector ##A##, and the overdot indicating that the partial derivatives of ##\nabla## only operate on ##\phi_{i}##. The question is what is the physical meaning of ##T(n)##?
  6. May 20, 2016 #5


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    If you have MTW's "Gravitation", look at page 131.

    If you let u be the 4-velocity of some observer, then T(u), where T is the stress-energy tensor regarded as a linear map in the manner you suggest, can be regarded as the density of energy-momentum seen by that observer - i.e the amount of energy/momentum contained in a unit volume.

    MTW suggests other useful physical interpretations for the stress energy tensor. The other definitions don't use the notion of the tensor as a linear map from a vector to a vector, ##T^a{}_b## as you ask, but rather regard it as a linear map from two vectors to a scalar ##T_{ab}##. It's a bit of a digression to give them all (as well as being more work), so I won't give these interpretations here, unless you are curious and ask.
  7. May 20, 2016 #6


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    Wow, talking about disgusting notation :D

    Instead of giving fancy-pancy coordinate free definition, let's start with the stresstensor of a dust. It is given by

    T_{ab} = \rho u_a u_b

    where rho is the energy density and u is the 4-velocity of the dust-particles. If you contract this with the four velocities twice, you get

    T_{ab} u^a u^b = \rho

    That's a start of an interpretation, right?
  8. May 20, 2016 #7
    Thank you pervect. Your answer referencing MTW was exactly what I was looking for.
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