# 3D rotation group

The group SO(3) is used to describe the possible rotational symmetries of an object, as well as the possible orientations of an object in space. Its representations are important in physics, where they give rise to the elementary particles of integer spin.

Besides just preserving length, rotations also preserve the angles between vectors. This follows from the fact that the standard dot product between two vectors u and v can be written purely in terms of length:

where RT denotes the transpose of R and I is the 3 × 3 identity matrix. Matrices for which this property holds are called orthogonal matrices. The group of all 3 × 3 orthogonal matrices is denoted O(3), and consists of all proper and improper rotations.

In addition to preserving length, proper rotations must also preserve orientation. A matrix will preserve or reverse orientation according to whether the determinant of the matrix is positive or negative. For an orthogonal matrix R, note that det RT = det R implies (det R)2 = 1, so that det R = ±1. The subgroup of orthogonal matrices with determinant +1 is called the special orthogonal group, denoted SO(3).

Thus every rotation can be represented uniquely by an orthogonal matrix with unit determinant. Moreover, since composition of rotations corresponds to matrix multiplication, the rotation group is isomorphic to the special orthogonal group SO(3).

Improper rotations correspond to orthogonal matrices with determinant −1, and they do not form a group because the product of two improper rotations is a proper rotation.

Furthermore, the rotation group is nonabelian. That is, the order in which rotations are composed makes a difference. For example, a quarter turn around the positive x-axis followed by a quarter turn around the positive y-axis is a different rotation than the one obtained by first rotating around y and then x.

The orthogonal group, consisting of all proper and improper rotations, is generated by reflections. Every proper rotation is the composition of two reflections, a special case of the Cartan–Dieudonné theorem.

For example, counterclockwise rotation about the positive z-axis by angle φ is given by

Using these properties one can show that any rotation can be represented by a unique angle φ in the range 0 ≤ φ ≤ π and a unit vector n such that

In the next section, this representation of rotations is used to identify SO(3) topologically with three-dimensional real projective space.

These identifications illustrate that SO(3) is connected but not simply connected. As to the latter, in the ball with antipodal surface points identified, consider the path running from the "north pole" straight through the interior down to the south pole. This is a closed loop, since the north pole and the south pole are identified. This loop cannot be shrunk to a point, since no matter how you deform the loop, the start and end point have to remain antipodal, or else the loop will "break open". In terms of rotations, this loop represents a continuous sequence of rotations about the z-axis starting (by example) at identity (center of ball), through south pole, jump to north pole and ending again at the identity rotation (i.e. a series of rotation through an angle φ where φ runs from 0 to 2π).

Surprisingly, if you run through the path twice, i.e., run from north pole down to south pole, jump back to the north pole (using the fact that north and south poles are identified), and then again run from north pole down to south pole, so that φ runs from 0 to 4π, you get a closed loop which can be shrunk to a single point: first move the paths continuously to the ball's surface, still connecting north pole to south pole twice. The second path can then be mirrored over to the antipodal side without changing the path at all. Now we have an ordinary closed loop on the surface of the ball, connecting the north pole to itself along a great circle. This circle can be shrunk to the north pole without problems. The plate trick and similar tricks demonstrate this practically.

The same argument can be performed in general, and it shows that the fundamental group of SO(3) is the cyclic group of order 2 (a fundamental group with two elements). In physics applications, the non-triviality (more than one element) of the fundamental group allows for the existence of objects known as spinors, and is an important tool in the development of the spin–statistics theorem.

In this section, we give two different constructions of a two-to-one and surjective homomorphism of SU(2) onto SO(3).

The group SU(2) is isomorphic to the quaternions of unit norm via a map given by[4]

One can work this homomorphism out explicitly: the unit quaternion, q, with

This is a rotation around the vector (x, y, z) by an angle 2θ, where cos θ = w and |sin θ| = ||(x, y, z)||. The proper sign for sin θ is implied, once the signs of the axis components are fixed. The 2:1-nature is apparent since both q and q map to the same Q.

The general reference for this section is Gelfand, Minlos & Shapiro (1963). The points P on the sphere

can, barring the north pole N, be put into one-to-one bijection with points S(P) = P' on the plane M defined by z = − 1/2, see figure. The map S is called stereographic projection.

Let the coordinates on M be (ξ, η). The line L passing through N and P can be parametrized as

which, unsurprisingly, is a rotation in the complex plane. In an analogous way, if gθ is a rotation about the x-axis through and angle θ, then

For the same reason, the matrix is not uniquely defined since multiplication by I has no effect on either the determinant or the Möbius transformation. The composition law of Möbius transformations follow that of the corresponding matrices. The conclusion is that each Möbius transformation corresponds to two matrices g, −g ∈ SL(2, C).

These matrices are unitary and thus Πu(SO(3)) ⊂ SU(2) ⊂ SL(2, C). In terms of Euler angles[nb 1] one finds for a general rotation

With the substitutions, Π(gα, β) assumes the form of the right hand side (RHS) of (2), which corresponds under Πu to a matrix on the form of the RHS of (1) with the same φ, θ, ψ. In terms of the complex parameters α, β,

To verify this, substitute for α. β the elements of the matrix on the RHS of (2). After some manipulation, the matrix assumes the form of the RHS of (1).

It is clear from the explicit form in terms of Euler angles that the map

just described is a smooth, 2:1 and surjective group homomorphism. It is hence an explicit description of the universal covering space of SO(3) from the universal covering group SU(2).

where j is integer or half-integer, and referred to as the spin or angular momentum.

So, the 3 × 3 generators L displayed above act on the triplet (spin 1) representation, while the 2 × 2 generators below, t, act on the doublet (spin-1/2) representation. By taking Kronecker products of D1/2 with itself repeatedly, one may construct all higher irreducible representations Dj. That is, the resulting generators for higher spin systems in three spatial dimensions, for arbitrarily large j, can be calculated using these spin operators and ladder operators.

For every unitary irreducible representations Dj there is an equivalent one, Dj−1. All infinite-dimensional irreducible representations must be non-unitary, since the group is compact.

In quantum mechanics, the Casimir invariant is the "angular-momentum-squared" operator; integer values of spin j characterize bosonic representations, while half-integer values fermionic representations. The antihermitian matrices used above are utilized as spin operators, after they are multiplied by i, so they are now hermitian (like the Pauli matrices). Thus, in this language,

Note, however, how these are in an equivalent, but different basis, the spherical basis, than the above iL in the Cartesian basis.[nb 3]

The exponential map for SO(3), is, since SO(3) is a matrix Lie group, defined using the standard matrix exponential series,

For any skew-symmetric matrix A ∈ 𝖘𝖔(3), eA is always in SO(3). The proof uses the elementary properties of the matrix exponential

since the matrices A and AT commute, this can be easily proven with the skew-symmetric matrix condition. This is not enough to show that 𝖘𝖔(3) is the corresponding Lie algebra for SO(3), and shall be proven separately.

The level of difficulty of proof depends on how a matrix group Lie algebra is defined. Hall (2003) defines the Lie algebra as the set of matrices

in which case it is trivial. Rossmann (2002) uses for a definition derivatives of smooth curve segments in SO(3) through the identity taken at the identity, in which case it is harder.[10]

For a fixed A ≠ 0, etA, −∞ < t < ∞ is a one-parameter subgroup along a geodesic in SO(3). That this gives a one-parameter subgroup follows directly from properties of the exponential map.[11]

The exponential map provides a diffeomorphism between a neighborhood of the origin in the 𝖘𝖔(3) and a neighborhood of the identity in the SO(3).[12] For a proof, see Closed subgroup theorem.

The exponential map is surjective. This follows from the fact that every R ∈ SO(3), since every rotation leaves an axis fixed (Euler's rotation theorem), and is conjugate to a block diagonal matrix of the form

together with the fact that 𝖘𝖔(3) is closed under the adjoint action of SO(3), meaning that BθLzB−1 ∈ 𝖘𝖔(3).

As shown above, every element A ∈ 𝖘𝖔(3) is associated with a vector ω = θ u, where u = (x,y,z) is a unit magnitude vector. Since u is in the null space of A, if one now rotates to a new basis, through some other orthogonal matrix O, with u as the z axis, the final column and row of the rotation matrix in the new basis will be zero.

Thus, we know in advance from the formula for the exponential that exp(OAOT) must leave u fixed. It is mathematically impossible to supply a straightforward formula for such a basis as a function of u, because its existence would violate the hairy ball theorem; but direct exponentiation is possible, and yields

This is manifest by inspection of the mixed symmetry form of Rodrigues' formula,

Suppose X and Y in the Lie algebra are given. Their exponentials, exp(X) and exp(Y), are rotation matrices, which can be multiplied. Since the exponential map is a surjection, for some Z in the Lie algebra, exp(Z) = exp(X) exp(Y), and one may tentatively write

for C some expression in X and Y. When exp(X) and exp(Y) commute, then Z = X + Y, mimicking the behavior of complex exponentiation.

The general case is given by the more elaborate BCH formula, a series expansion of nested Lie brackets.[13] For matrices, the Lie bracket is the same operation as the commutator, which monitors lack of commutativity in multiplication. This general expansion unfolds as follows,[nb 4]

The infinite expansion in the BCH formula for SO(3) reduces to a compact form,

The inner product is the Hilbert–Schmidt inner product and the norm is the associated norm. Under the hat-isomorphism,

The above identity holds for all faithful representations of 𝖘𝖔(3). The kernel of a Lie algebra homomorphism is an ideal, but 𝖘𝖔(3), being simple, has no nontrivial ideals and all nontrivial representations are hence faithful. It holds in particular in the doublet or spinor representation. The same explicit formula thus follows in a simpler way through Pauli matrices, cf. the 2×2 derivation for SU(2).

The Pauli vector version of the same BCH formula is the somewhat simpler group composition law of SU(2),

the spherical law of cosines. (Note a', b', c' are angles, not the a, b, c above.)

For uniform normalization of the generators in the Lie algebra involved, express the Pauli matrices in terms of t-matrices, σ → 2i t, so that

To verify then these are the same coefficients as above, compute the ratios of the coefficients,

The quaternion formulation of the composition of two rotations RB and RA also yields directly the rotation axis and angle of the composite rotation RC = RBRA.

Let the quaternion associated with a spatial rotation R is constructed from its rotation axis S and the rotation angle φ this axis. The associated quaternion is given by,

Then the composition of the rotation RR with RA is the rotation RC = RBRA with rotation axis and angle defined by the product of the quaternions

Divide both sides of this equation by the identity, which is the law of cosines on a sphere,

This is Rodrigues' formula for the axis of a composite rotation defined in terms of the axes of the two rotations. He derived this formula in 1840 (see page 408).[15]

The three rotation axes A, B, and C form a spherical triangle and the dihedral angles between the planes formed by the sides of this triangle are defined by the rotation angles.

The matrices in the Lie algebra are not themselves rotations; the skew-symmetric matrices are derivatives. An actual "differential rotation", or infinitesimal rotation matrix has the form

These matrices do not satisfy all the same properties as ordinary finite rotation matrices under the usual treatment of infinitesimals .[16] To understand what this means, consider

differing from an identity matrix by second order infinitesimals, discarded here. So, to first order, an infinitesimal rotation matrix is an orthogonal matrix.

Again discarding second order effects, note that the angle simply doubles. This hints at the most essential difference in behavior, which we can exhibit with the assistance of a second infinitesimal rotation,

again to first order. In other words, the order in which infinitesimal rotations are applied is irrelevant.

This useful fact makes, for example, derivation of rigid body rotation relatively simple. But one must always be careful to distinguish (the first order treatment of) these infinitesimal rotation matrices from both finite rotation matrices and from Lie algebra elements. When contrasting the behavior of finite rotation matrices in the BCH formula above with that of infinitesimal rotation matrices, where all the commutator terms will be second order infinitesimals one finds a bona fide vector space. Technically, this dismissal of any second order terms amounts to Group contraction.

The group SO(3) of three-dimensional Euclidean rotations has an infinite-dimensional representation on the Hilbert space

If f is an arbitrary square integrable function defined on the unit sphere S2, then it can be expressed as[17]

The Lorentz group action restricts to that of SO(3) and is expressed as

The D() can be obtained from the D(m, n) of above using Clebsch–Gordan decomposition, but they are more easily directly expressed as an exponential of an odd-dimensional su(2)-representation (the 3-dimensional one is exactly 𝖘𝖔(3)).[18][19] In this case the space L2(S2) decomposes neatly into an infinite direct sum of irreducible odd finite-dimensional representations V2i + 1, i = 0, 1, ... according to[20]

This is characteristic of infinite-dimensional unitary representations of SO(3). If Π is an infinite-dimensional unitary representation on a separable[nb 6] Hilbert space, then it decomposes as a direct sum of finite-dimensional unitary representations.[17] Such a representation is thus never irreducible. All irreducible finite-dimensional representations (Π, V) can be made unitary by an appropriate choice of inner product,[17]

where the integral is the unique invariant integral over SO(3) normalized to 1, here expressed using the Euler angles parametrization. The inner product inside the integral is any inner product on V.

In special relativity, one works in a 4-dimensional vector space, known as Minkowski space rather than 3-dimensional Euclidean space. Unlike Euclidean space, Minkowski space has an inner product with an indefinite signature. However, one can still define generalized rotations which preserve this inner product. Such generalized rotations are known as Lorentz transformations and the group of all such transformations is called the Lorentz group.

In general, the rotation group of an object is the symmetry group within the group of direct isometries; in other words, the intersection of the full symmetry group and the group of direct isometries. For chiral objects it is the same as the full symmetry group.