Group elements can be represented by matrices, although the term "represented" has a specific and precise meaning in this context. A representation of a group is a mapping from the group elements to the general linear group of matrices. As notation, let a, b, c... denote elements of a group G with group product signified without any symbol, so ab is the group product of a and b and is also an element of G, and let representations be indicated by D. The representation of a is written
By definition of group representations, the representation of a group product is translated into matrix multiplication of the representations:
and similarly for all other group elements. The last two staments correspond to the requirement that D is a group homomorphism.
which diagonalizes every matrix in the representation into the same pattern of diagonal blocks – each of the blocks are representations of the group independent of each other. The representations D(a) and D′(a) are said to be equivalent representations. The representation can be decomposed into a direct sum of k > 1 matrices:
so D(a) is decomposable, and it is customary to label the decomposed matrices by a superscript in brackets, as in D(n)(a) for n = 1, 2, ..., k, although some authors just write the numerical label without parentheses.
In quantum physics and quantum chemistry, each set of degenerate eigenstates of the Hamiltonian operator comprises a vector space V for a representation of the symmetry group of the Hamiltonian, a "multiplet", best studied through reduction to its irreducible parts. Identifying the irreducible representations therefore allows one to label the states, predict how they will split under perturbations; or transition to other states in V. Thus, in quantum mechanics, irreducible representations of the symmetry group of the system partially or completely label the energy levels of the system, allowing the selection rules to be determined.
The irreps of D(K) and D(J), where J is the generator of rotations and K the generator of boosts, can be used to build to spin representations of the Lorentz group, because they are related to the spin matrices of quantum mechanics. This allows them to derive relativistic wave equations.