Quantum Electrodynamics. III. The Electromagnetic Properties of the Electron—Radiative Corrections to Scattering

Phys. Rev. 76, 790 – Published 15 September 1949
Julian Schwinger


The discussion of vacuum polarization in the previous paper of this series was confined to that produced by the field of a prescribed current distribution. We now consider the induction of current in the vacuum by an electron, which is a dynamical system and an entity indistinguishable from the particles associated with vacuum fluctuations. The additional current thus attributed to an electron implies an alteration in its electromagnetic properties which will be revealed by scattering in a Coulomb field and by energy level displacements. This paper is concerned with the computation of the second-order corrections to the current operator and the application to electron scattering. Radiative corrections to energy levels will be treated in the next paper of the series. Following a canonical transformation which effectively renormalizes the electron mass, the correction to the current operator produced by the coupling with the electromagnetic field is developed in a power series, of which first- and second-order terms are retained. One thus obtains second-order modifications in the current operator which are of the same general nature as the previously treated vacuum polarization current, save for a contribution that has the form of a dipole current. The latter implies a fractional increase of α2π in the spin magnetic moment of the electron. The only flaw in the second-order current correction is a logarithmic divergence attributable to an infra-red catastrophe. It is remarked that, in the presence of an external field, the first-order current correction will introduce a compensating divergence. Thus, the second-order corrections to particle electromagnetic properties cannot be completely stated without regard for the manner of exhibiting them by an external field. Accordingly, we consider in the second section the interaction of three systems, the matter field, the electromagnetic field, and a given current distribution. It is shown that this situation can be described in terms of an external potential coupled to the current operator, as modified by the interaction with the vacuum electromagnetic field. Application is made to the scattering of an electron by an external field, in which the latter is regarded as a small perturbation. It is found convenient to calculate the total rate at which collisions occur and then identify the cross sections for individual events. The correction to the cross section for radiationless scattering is determined by the second-order correction to the current operator, while scattering that is accompanied by single quantum emission is a consequence of the first-order current correction. The final object of calculation is the differential cross section for scattering through a given angle with a prescribed maximum energy loss, which is completely free of divergences. Detailed evaluations are given in two situations, the essentially elastic scattering of an electron, in which only a small fraction of the kinetic energy is radiated, and the scattering of a slowly moving electron with unrestricted energy loss. The Appendix is devoted to an alternative treatment of the polarization of the vacuum by an external field. The conditions imposed on the induced current by the charge conservation and gauge invariance requirements are examined. It is found that the fulfillment of these formal properties requires the vanishing of an integral that is not absolutely convergent, but naturally vanishes for reasons of symmetry. This null integral is then used to simplify the expression for the induced current in such a manner that direct calculation yields a gauge invariant result. The induced current contains a logarithmically divergent multiple of the external current, which implies that a non-vanishing total charge, proportional to the external charge, is induced in the vacuum. The apparent contradiction with charge conservation is resolved by showing that a compensating charge escapes to infinity. Finally, the expression for the electromagnetic mass of the electron is treated with the methods developed in this paper.

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.76.790

  • Received 26 May 1949
  • Published in the issue dated September 1949

© 1949 The American Physical Society

Authors & Affiliations

Julian Schwinger

  • Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts


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