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Unitary Matrices and Hermitian Matrices

Recall that the conjugate of a complex number

conjugate of

is denoted



. The

In this section, I'll use

for complex conjugation of numbers of matrices. I want
to use
to denote an operation on matrices, the conjugate transpose.

Complex conjugation satisfies the following properties:

(a) If

, then

(b) If

, then

(c) If

, then

if and only if z is a real number.

The proofs are easy; just write out the complex numbers (e.g.
) and compute.
The conjugate of a matrix A is the matrix
element: That is,

obtained by conjugating each

You can check that if A and B are matrices and

, then

You can prove these results by looking at individual elements of the matrices and
using the properties of conjugation of numbers given above.
Definition. If A is a complex matrix,

is the conjugate transpose of A:

Note that the conjugation and transposition can be done in either order: That
. To see this, consider the
element of the matrices:

Example. If

Since the complex conjugate of a real number is the real number, if B is a real
matrix, then

Remark. Most people call

the adjoint of A --- though, unfortunately, the word
"adjoint" has already been used for the transpose of the matrix of cofactors in the
determinant formula for
. (Sometimes people try to get around this by using
the term "classical adjoint" to refer to the transpose of the matrix of cofactors.) In
modern mathematics, the word "adjoint" refers to a property of
that I'll prove
below. This property generalizes to other things which you might see in more
advanced courses.
operation is sometimes called the Hermitian --- but this has always
sounded ugly to me, so I won't use this terminology.
Since this is an introduction to linear algebra, I'll usually refer to
the conjugate transpose, which at least has the virtue of saying what the thing is.
Proposition. Let U and V be complex matrices, and let

(d) If

, their dot product is given by

Proof. I'll prove (a), (c), and (d).

For (a), I use the fact noted above that

along with the facts that


can be done in either order,

I have

This proves (a).

For (c), I have

For (d), recall that the dot product of complex vectors


Notice that you take the complex conjugates of the components of v before
This can be expressed as the matrix multiplication


It's a common notational abuse to write the number "

it as a
matrix "

" instead of writing

There are two points about the equation

which might be confusing.
First, why is it necessary to conjugate and transpose v? The reason for the
conjugation goes back to the need for inner products to be positive definite
is a nonnegative real number).

The reason for the transpose is that I'm using the convention that vectors
are column vectors. So if u and v are n-dimensional column vectors and I want the
product to be a number --- i.e. a
matrix --- I have to multiply an ndimensional row vector (
) and an n-dimensional column vector (
). To
get the row vector, I have to transpose the column vector.
Finally, why do u and v switch places in going from the left side to the right side?
The reason you write
instead of
is because inner products are defined to
be linear in the first variable. If you use
you get a product which is linear in
the second variable.
Of course, none of this makes any difference if you're dealing with real numbers.
So if x and y are vectors in
, you can write

Definition. A complex matrix U is unitary if

Notice that if U happens to be a real matrix,

, and the equation
--- that is, U is orthogonal. In other words, unitary is the complex
analog of orthogonal.
By the same kind of argument I gave for orthogonal matrices,
--- that is,
Proposition. Let U be a unitary matrix.
(a) U preserves inner products:

. Consequently, it also preserves

(b) An eigenvalue of U must have length 1.

(c) The columns of a unitary matrix form an orthonormal set.
Proof. (a)

Since U preserves inner products, it also preserves lengths of vectors, and the
angles between them. For example,

(b) Suppose x is an eigenvector corresponding to the eigenvalue

, so

of U.

But U preserves lengths, so

, and hence

(c) Suppose



is the complex conjugate of the
, transposed to make it a
row vector. If you look at the dot products of the rows of
and the columns of U,
and note that the result is I, you see that the equation above exactly expresses the
fact that the columns of U are orthonormal.
For example, take the first row
. Its product with the columns
on give the first row of the identity matrix, so

, and so

This says that has length 1 and is perpendicular to the other columns. Similar
statements hold for , ...,
Example. Find c and d so that the following matrix is unitary:

I want the columns to be orthogonal, so their complex dot product should be 0.

First, I'll find a vector that is orthogonal to the first column. I may ignore the factor

; I need

This gives

I may take


. Then

So I need to divide each of a and b by

Proposition. ( Adjointness) let

to get a unit vector. Thus,

and let

. Then


Remark. If
is any inner product on a vector space V and
is a linear
transformation, the adjoint
of T is the linear transformation which satisfies

(This definition assumes that there is such a transformation.) This explains why, in
the special case of the complex inner product, the matrix
is called the adjoint.
It also explains the term self-adjoint in the next definition.
Corollary. ( Adjointness) let

and let

. Then

Proof. This follows from adjointness in the complex case, because

real matrix.
Definition. An complex matrix A is Hermitian (or self-adjoint) if

for a

Note that a Hermitian matrix is automatically square.

For real matrices,
symmetric matrix.

, and the definition above is just the definition of a

Example. Here are examples of Hermitian matrices:

It is no accident that the diagonal entries are real numbers --- see the result that

Here's a table of the correspondences between the real and complex cases:

Proposition. Let A be a Hermitian matrix.

(a) The diagonal elements of A are real numbers, and elements on opposite sides of
the main diagonal are conjugates.
(b) The eigenvalues of a Hermitian matrix are real numbers.
(c) Eigenvectors of A corresponding to different eigenvalues are orthogonal.
Proof. (a) Since
, I have
. This shows that elements on opposite
sides of the main diagonal are conjugates.

, I have

But a complex number is equal to its conjugate if and only if it's a real number,
is real.
(b) Suppose A is Hermitian and


is an eigenvalue of A with eigenvector v. Then

--- but a number that equals its complex conjugate must be real.

(c) Suppose is an eigenvalue of A with eigenvector u and

A with eigenvector v. Then


is an eigenvalue of

, so if the eigenvalues are different, then

Since real symmetric matrices are Hermitian, the previous results apply to them as
well. I'll restate the previous result for the case of a symmetric matrix.
Corollary. Let A be a symmetric matrix.
(a) The elements on opposite sides of the main diagonal are equal.
(b) The eigenvalues of a symmetric matrix are real numbers.
(c) Eigenvectors of A corresponding to different eigenvalues are orthogonal.

Example. Consider the symmetric matrix

The characteristic polynomial is

Note that the eigenvalues are real numbers.


, an eigenvector is


, an eigenvector is



, the eigenvectors are orthogonal.

Example. A

real symmetric matrix A has eigenvalues 1 and 3.

is an eigenvector corresponding to the eigenvalue 1.

(a) Find an eigenvector corresponding to the eigenvalue 3.

be an eigenvector corresponding to the eigenvalue 3.

Since eigenvectors for different eigenvalues of a symmetric matrix must be

orthogonal, I have

So, for example,

is a solution.

(b) Find A.
From (a), a diagonalizing matrix and the corresponding diagonal matrix are


, so

Note that the result is indeed symmetric.

Example. Let

, and consider the

Hermitian matrix

Compute the characteristic polynomial of A, and show directly that the eigenvalues
must be real numbers.

The discriminant is

Since this is a sum of squares, it can't be negative. Hence, the roots of the
characteristic polynomial --- the eigenvalues --- must be real numbers.