As I was reading Griffiths' "Introduction to Elementary Particles" Wiley 2008, on chapter 4 "Symmetries", the question stroke me.

The same as Parity operator (inversion in 3-dimensional space) we could have imagined and defined another complicated operator. So I do not see how Parity is that special as to assume that elementary particles are eigen-states of it. Griffiths does not explain why, not even introduce the question, he just start talking from the beginning about the parity of certain particles. But I do not see why they MUST have a definitive value of parity: they might as well be a linear combination of eigen-states.


1 Answer 1


How do we know that elementary particles possess definite parity?

From the fitting of experimental data.

Here is a review from 1965 , when we were still discovering the plethora of particles and started classifying them according to their quantum numbers.

Since spin and parity are closely related quantities, there is usually some advantage in discussing them together. The methods which have been suc­cessfully used to determine them differ widely according to the nature of the particle, the manner of its production, and its decay mode. In their simplest form the arguments involve only such general concepts as angular momen­tum conservation, parity conservation, and Fermi or Bose statistics. Re­stricted to these assumed properties, however, our knowledge of particle spins and parities, particularly for the less accessible recently discovered states, would be extremely limited. Further assumptions involving the dynamics of the transformation such as contained in continuous energy de­pendences, reasonable form factors, and simplest matrix elements greatly extend the analytic method at our disposal. We exhibit in this review various methods and results, referring the reader to the original papers for further discussion and qualification of original experiments.

Parity conservation was a working hypothesis until the weak interaction was found to violated it.

The electromagnetic and strong interactions are invariant under the parity transformation. It was a reasonable assumption that this was just the way nature behaved, oblivious to whether the coordinate system was right-handed or left-handed. But for several years physicists had puzzled over the decay of the neutral kaons, which had equal mass but decayed to products of opposite parity. In 1956, T. D. Lee and C. N. Yang predicted the nonconservation of parity in the weak interaction. Their prediction was quickly tested when C. S. Wu and collaborators studied the beta decay of Cobalt-60 in 1957.

But I do not see why they MUST have a definitive value of parity: they might as well be a linear combination of eigen-states.

Well, the experimental evidence says otherwise. (It is not like neutrino flavors for example).

  • $\begingroup$ OK. But then I read this post physics.stackexchange.com/questions/100416/… $\endgroup$
    – Lagrang3
    Jan 24, 2016 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ OK. Also the intrinsic parity of the photon should be -1, because from Maxwell equations it is a vector field. But then I read this post physics.stackexchange.com/questions/100416/…. So they say that the proton parity is +1 by convention!?. So at the end parity is not something that you really measure, but you find from interaction process assuming that 1st) it is conserved and 2nd) the initial and final particles are eigen-states. $\endgroup$
    – Lagrang3
    Jan 24, 2016 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ So it's not still very clear, I should read the review from 1965. But anyways, why is it important the parity in the first place, if I cannot measure it? ... Oh, yes it helps me determine when a weak process have occurred, because I cannot even say that certain process are forbidden for parity conservation. $\endgroup$
    – Lagrang3
    Jan 24, 2016 at 20:38

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