Noether’s Theorem

Today I thought I’d write a blog post about an interesting theorem I learnt whilst studying my Variational Principles module – Noether’s Theorem.

To understand Noether’s Theorem, we must first understand what is meant by a symmetry of a functional.


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suppose we change the variables by the transformation t –> t*(t) and x –> x*(t) to obtain a new independent variable and a new function. This givesScreen Shot 2017-08-08 at 11.45.51 AM.png

where α* = t*(α) and β* = t*(β).

If F*[x*] = F[x] for all x, α and β, then this transformation * is called a symmetry.

What is a continuous symmetry?

Intuitively, a continuous symmetry is a symmetry that we can do a bit ofFor example, a rotation is a continuous symmetry, but a reflection is not. 

Noether’s Theorem


Noether’s Theorem – proven by mathematician Emmy Noether in 1915 and published in 1918 – states that every continuous symmetry of F[x] the solutions (i.e. the stationary points of F[x]) will have a corresponding conserved quantity.


Consider symmetries that involve only the x variable. Then, up to first order, the symmetry can be written as:

t –> t, x(t) –> x(t) + εh(t)

where h(t) represents the symmetry transformation. As the transformation is a symmetry, we can pick ε to be any small constant number and F[x] does not change, i.e. δF = 0. Also, since x(t) is a stationary point of F[x], we know that if ε is any non-constant, but vanishes at the end-points, then we have δF = 0 again. Combining these two pieces of information, we can show that there is a conserved quantity in the system.

For now, do not make any assumptions about ε. Under the transformation, the change in F[x] is given by

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Firstly, consider the case where ε is constant. Then the second integral vanishes and we obtain

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So we know that

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 11.58.41 AM.png

Now, consider a variable ε that is not constant, but vanishes at the endpoints. Then, as is a solution, we must have that δF = 0. Therefore,

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If we integrate the above expression by parts, we get that

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Hence the conserved quantity is:

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 12.01.56 PM.png

Not all symmetries involve just the x variable, for example we may have a time translation, but we can encode this as a transformation of the x variable only.

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MATHS BITE: Apéry’s Constant

Apéry’s constant is defined as the number

{\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}\zeta (3)&=\sum _{n=1}^{\infty }{\frac {1}{n^{3}}}\\&=\lim _{n\to \infty }\left({\frac {1}{1^{3}}}+{\frac {1}{2^{3}}}+\cdots +{\frac {1}{n^{3}}}\right)\end{aligned}}}

where ζ is the Riemann Zeta Function.

This constant is named after the French mathematician Roger Apéry who proved that it was irrational in 1978. However it is still unknown whether or not it is transcendental.


The Basel Problem asked about the convergence of the following sum:
Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 2.16.05 PM.png

In the 18th century, Leonhard Euler proved that in fact it did – to π^2/6. However, the limit of the following sum remained unknown:Screen Shot 2017-06-10 at 2.19.28 PM.png

Although mathematicians made some progress, including Euler who calculated the first 16 decimal digits of the sum, it was not known whether the number was rational or irrational, until Apéry.

Furthermore, it is currently not known specifically whether any other particular ζ(n), for n odd, is irrational. “The best we’ve got is from Wadim Zudilin, in 2001, who showed that at least one of ζ(5), ζ(7), ζ(9), ζ(11) must be irrational, and Tanguy Rivoal, in 2000, who showed that infinitely many of the ζ(2k+1) must be irrational.”

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