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The Disappearance and Reappearance of Potential Energy in Classical and Quantum Electrodynamics

Sebens, Charles T. (2022) The Disappearance and Reappearance of Potential Energy in Classical and Quantum Electrodynamics. Foundations of Physics, 52 (5). Art. No. 113. ISSN 0015-9018. doi:10.1007/s10701-022-00630-5.

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In electrostatics, we can use either potential energy or field energy to ensure conservation of energy. In electrodynamics, the former option is unavailable. To ensure conservation of energy, we must attribute energy to the electromagnetic field and, in particular, to electromagnetic radiation. If we adopt the standard energy density for the electromagnetic field, then potential energy seems to disappear. However, a closer look at electrodynamics shows that this conclusion actually depends on the kind of matter being considered. Although we cannot get by without attributing energy to the electromagnetic field, matter may still have electromagnetic potential energy. Indeed, if we take the matter to be represented by the Dirac field (in a classical precursor to quantum electrodynamics), then it will possess potential energy (as can be seen by examining the symmetric energy-momentum tensor of the Dirac field). Thus, potential energy reappears. Upon field quantization, the potential energy of the Dirac field becomes an interaction term in the Hamiltonian operator of quantum electrodynamics.

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Sebens, Charles T.0000-0001-7671-2141
Issue or Number:5
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20221104-609510400.2
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ID Code:117711
Deposited By: Research Services Depository
Deposited On:17 Nov 2022 18:52
Last Modified:17 Nov 2022 18:52

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