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Compton Scattering from Quantum Electrodynamics

Andrew Lawson

17 January, 2014

Abstract

We present a derivation of the differential cross section for the Compton scattering of an electron and
a photon. We explicitly calculate the squared matrix element for this process in Feynman gauge before
recovering an expression for the cross-section for this process by explicitly performing an integration in
Lorentz-invariant phase space. We derive two expressions for the differential cross section of this process,
d/dt and d/d cos , which we then analyse to deduce some of the physical properties of this scattering
process.

1 Introduction
Compton scattering is the inelastic scattering of a photon with an electically charged particle, first discovered
in 1923 by Arthur Compton [1]. This scattering process is of particular historical importance as classical
electromagnetism is insufficient to describe the process; a successful description requires us to take into
account the particle-like properties of light. Furthermore, the Compton scattering of an electron and a
photon is a process that can be described to a high level of precision by the theory of quantum electrodynamics
(QED). The cross-section is an important quantity in particle physics, as it is directly measurable quantity
that can be used to test the validity of a theory [2]. In this report we therefore present a derivation of the
differential cross section for this process using QED.
Our derivation will proceed as follows: in section 2 we use QED to derive the squared matrix element for
this scattering process. In section 3 we will then derive two expressions for the differential cross section: the
general Lorentz-invariant expression d/dt and then the directly measurable quantity d/d cos (in the rest
frame of the incident electron). We also discuss the physical relevance of these derived quantities. Finally we
present our conclusions in section 4.

2 Scattering Matrix Elements


At tree level, two diagrams contribute to the Compton scattering process. These diagrams are shown in Fig.
2.1. We have indicated the respective 4-momenta of the incident electron and photon to be

p p0 , p ,

= (2.1)

k0 , k ,

k = (2.2)

1
(a) (b)

Figure 2.1: The two tree-level Feynman diagrams contributing to the matrix element of the Compton scat-
tering process.

as well as 4-momenta for the outgoing electron and photon respectively:

p p00 , p0 ,

= (2.3)
k k 00 , k0 .

= (2.4)

Using the Feynman rules for QED, we can calculate the matrix elements corresponding to the diagrams
Fig. 2.1(a) and Fig. 2.1(b) rather simply. We can thus write down the respective matrix elements rather
simply:
" #
2 (s0 ) 0 / + k/ + m
p
M1 = e u (p ) 0


2  u(s) (p) , (2.5)
(p + k) m2
" #
0 / k/ + m
p
M2 = e2 u(s ) (p0 )  2 0 (s)
u (p) , (2.6)
(p k 0 ) m2

where the spinor u(s) (p) represents the incoming electron and  is the polarisation vector describing our
incident photon.The total matrix element is given by the sum of the matrix elements corresponding to these
two diagrams, i.e. M = M1 + M2 .
In order to write our expressions in a manifestly Lorentz-invariant way, we will make use of the Mandelstam
variables:

2 2
s = (p + k ) = (p0 + k 0 ) , (2.7)
0 2 0 2
t = (k k ) = (p p ) , (2.8)
0 2 0 2
u = (p k ) = (k p ) . (2.9)

As the variables satisfy s + t + u = 2m2e , along with p p = p0 p0 = m2e and k k = k 0 k0 = 0 we can use

2
the following relations:

1
p k s m2 ,

= (2.10)
2
1
p p0 = (s + u) , (2.11)
2
1
k p0 m2 u .

= (2.12)
2

We now proceed with the calculation of the total squared matrix element. The calculation can be split up
using the formula
2 2 2
|M1 + M2 | = |M1 | + |M2 | + M1 M2 + M2 M1 . (2.13)

We will illustrate the calculation in detail for the first squared element; the rest follow by similar working.
We start with the full expression including a sum over the spins and polarisations of all the incoming and
outgoing electrons:

2 e4 XX 0 0
h 0  (s) i h (s)  (s0 ) i
|M1 | = 2 r r r r u(s ) p
/ + k/ + me u u p / + k/ + me u . (2.14)
4 (s m2e ) s,s0 r,r 0

Making use of the polarisation sum


X
r r
= g , (2.15)
r

and the spinor completeness relation

(s) (s)
X 
uj (p) uk (p) = p
/ + me jk
, (2.16)
s=1,2

we can write the amplitude as a trace, leaving us with

2 e4  0
    
|M1 | = 2 Tr p
/ + me p/ + k/ + me p / + k/ + me
/ + m e p
4 (s m2e )
4
e  0
   
= 2 Tr 2p
/ + 4me / + k/ + me
p 2p
/ + 4me / + k/ + me
p
4 (s m2e )
4
e  0   0
 
2 Tr p / p/ + k/ p/ p/ + k/ + m2e p
/p / + 4m2e p/ + k/ p/ + k/
= (s m2e )
0
  
4p / p/ + k/ 4 p / + k/ p / + 4m4e
e4 h
2 2
2 8p0 (p + k ) p (p + k ) 4 (p + k ) p0 p + 4m2e p0 p + 16m2e (p + k )
= (s m2e )
16p0 (p + k ) 16p (p + k ) + 16m4e


2e4
su + m2e (3s + u) + m4e .
 
= 2 (2.17)
(s m2e )

In line 4 we used cyclicity of trace and p /. As Tr [ 1 . . . n ] = 0 for n odd, we have only


/ = 2p

3
considered terms with even numbers of matrices. Next we have

2 e4 h
0
  0


  0
 i
|M2 | = 2 Tr p
/ + me p / k/ + me p / k/ + me
/ + me p
4 (u m2e )
4
2e
su + (3u + s) m2e + m4e .
 
= ... = 2 (2.18)
(u m2e )

Finally we can calculate

e4 n h
0
    0
 i
Tr p/ + me p / + k/ + me p / + me p / k/ + me +
M1 M2 + M2 M1 = 4 (s m2e ) (u m2e ) h     io
0 0

Tr p/ + m e p
/ /
k + me p
/ + me p
/ + /
k + me

4e4  4
2me + m2e (s + u) .

= ... = (2.19)
(s m2e ) (u m2e )

The full squared matrix element for the Compton scattering process is therefore
" #
2 4 su + m2e (3s + u) + m4e su + m2e (3u + s) + m4e 8m4e + 4m2e (s + u)
|M1 + M2 | = 2e 2 + 2 + . (2.20)
(s m2e ) (u m2e ) (s m2e ) (u m2e )

3 Cross Section
In general, the cross section of a 2 n scattering process is given by

n n
!
2
Y d4 qi 4
X |M|
qi2 m2i qi0
 
= 3 (2) qi p k , (3.1)
i=1 (2) i=1
F

where F is the Mller flux factor, given by

F = E1 E2 v12 = 2 s m2e .

(3.2)

The energies E1 and E2 are the energies of the incident particles, and v12 is their relative velocity [2]. Of
course here we will take n = 2 and use the 4-vectors we introduced in the previous section.

3.1 Centre of Mass Frame


We can plug our expression for the amplitude (2.20) into the formula for the cross-section to yield
2
1 4 0 4 0 02 2
 02
 00
 00
 4 0 0 |M1 + M2 |
= 2 d p d k p m e k p k (p + k p k)
(2) 2 (s m2 )
2
1 00 |M1 + M2 |
 
4 0 0 2 2 02 00 0 0
  
= 2 d k (p + k k ) m e k k p + k k
(2) 2 (s m2e )

1 
2
  2 2
  |M1 + M2 |2
dk 0 d3 k 0 (p + k k 0 ) m2e k 00 |k0 | k 00 p0 + k 0 k 00

= 2 ,
(2) 2 (s m2e )
(3.3)

To simplify the integral further we must consider this scattering process in an arbitrary frame with the
incoming and outgoing 4-vector described by (2.1), (2.2), (2.3) and (2.4). We can now simplify the second

4
delta function in our expression using the definition
 2 2
 1 
k 02 = k 00 |k0 | = k 00 + |k0 | + k 00 |k0 | .
  
0
(3.4)
2 |k |

However the k 00 + |k0 | expression can be neglected as our step function k 00 ensures that we only have
 

contributions from postive k 00 , so we can perform the integration over k 00 to yield



1 d3 k 0  0 2 2

0 0 0
 |M1 + M2 |2
= 2 (p + k k ) me p + k |k | . (3.5)
(2) 2 |k0 | 2 (s m2e )

This integral can be simplified by converting to spherical polar coordinates and replacing

2
d3 k 0 = |k0 | d |k0 | sin dd. (3.6)

To simplify things further, we choose our frame to be the centre of mass frame. We can therefore define the
4-vector

p + k =

s, 0 . (3.7)

This definition allows us to rewrite the remaining delta function as


 
2
(p + k k 0 ) m2e = s 2 (p + k ) k0 m2e


= s m2e 2 s |k0 | .

(3.8)

We can write sin d = d cos and use the definition of t to transform the integral further, as

2
t = (k k 0 ) = 2k 0 k 00 + 2 |k| |k0 | cos , (3.9)

implies that
dt
= 2 |k| |k0 | . (3.10)
d cos
We can substitute these definitions into our expression (3.5) and use the step function to cut off the part of
the integral that doesnt contribute to result in

1 s
dt  |M1 + M2 |2
= d |k0 | s m2e 2 s |k0 | . (3.11)
8 0 2 |k| 2 (s m2e )

Because 0 < s m2e /2 s < s, we can use the remaining delta function to obtain an expression involving
only an integral over t,
2
1 |M1 + M2 |
= dt . (3.12)
32 |k| s (s m2e )
In our chosen frame we can substitute
s m2e
|k| = (3.13)
2 s

5
back into this expression; and thus it follows that
2
d |M1 + M2 |
= 2
dt 16 (s m2e )
" #
e4 su + m2e (3s + u) + m4e su + m2e (3u + s) + m4e 8m4e + 4m2e (s + u)
= 2 2 + 2 + . (3.14)
8 (s m2e ) (s m2e ) (u m2e ) (s m2e ) (u m2e )

3.2 Lab Frame


It is of particular use to calculate the quantity

d
, (3.15)
d cos

in the rest frame of our incident electron (i.e. the lab frame); we can perform this calculation by two different
methods. The first and most obvious method would be to return to our Lorentz invariance phase space
integral and simplifying using the rest frame of our incident electron rather than the centre of mass frame.
We thus return to (3.5) and use the frame specified by the 4-vectors

p = (me , 0) , (3.16)
k = (, k) , (3.17)
p 
0
p = m2e + |p0 |, p0 , (3.18)
k 0 = ( 0 , k0 ) . (3.19)

Subbing these into (3.5) and changing to polar coordinates we result in the expression
me +|k| 2
1 |M1 + M2 |
= |k0 | d |k0 | d cos (2me (|k| |k0 |) + 2 |k| |k0 | (cos 1)) . (3.20)
4 0 2 (s m2e )

This time the delta function simplifies to


 
1 me |k|
(2 |k0 | |k| (cos 1) + 2me (|k| |k0 |)) = |k0 | , (3.21)
2me 2 |k| (cos 1) me |k| (cos 1)

which allows us to perform the integration over |k0 | to yield


2
1 0 |M1 + M2 |
= d cos , (3.22)
8 me (cos 1) 2 (s m2e )

where we have subbed in |k| = and |k0 | = 0 . Note that although we have kept the variables 0 in explicitly,
the action of the delta function requires that the relation

1 1 1
= (cos 1) (3.23)
0 me

is satisfied. This is of course the usual formula for the frequency shift that we do indeed observe for Compton
scattering [1].
We can now take the derivative of (3.22) with respect to cos to find the result we need. We are thus left

6
2.5

2.0

e4 d cos
1.5

16m2e d
1.0

0.5

0.0
1.0 0.5 0.0 0.5 1.0
cos

Figure 3.1: Plot showing the variation of d/d cos as cos varies, at centre of mass energies s & m2e (blue),
s 2m2e (green) and s  m2e (red).

with the expression


2
0 0

d 1 2 1 2
= |M1 + M2 | = |M1 + M2 | , (3.24)
d cos 32 m2e me 2 (1 cos ) 32 me

where we have used the relation


1
s m2e .

me = (3.25)
2
However by noting that (3.14) is valid in all reference frames, we can obtain (3.24) by directly converting
dt into d cos . Recalling the definition of t as

2
t = (k k 0 ) = 2 0 (cos 1) , (3.26)

we can simply take the derivative of t with respect to cos (while also making use of the relation (3.23)) to
obtain
dt d 0 2 02
= 2 0 + 2 (cos 1) = 2 0 + (cos 1) = 2 02 . (3.27)
d cos d cos me
If we multiply (3.27) by our expression (3.14) we obtain the desired relation,
2
0

d dt d 1 2
= = |M1 + M2 | . (3.28)
dt d cos d cos 32 me

It is easily seen that the results of the two methods agree with each other.
Finally it remains to write our expression for our squared matrix element in terms of and 0 , which
requires use of (3.25) and the relation
1
me 0 = m2e u .

(3.29)
2
Subbing in (3.25) and (3.29) into (3.24), by rearranging and making use of the relation (3.23) we end up
with: 2 
e4 0 0
 
d 2
= + sin . (3.30)
d cos 16 me 0

7
We now have enough information to deduce some of the physical properties of Compton scattering from our
differential cross sections. Fig. 3.1 shows plots of d/d cos against cos . For the case (a), where s & m2e
(i.e.  me , we recover the non-relativistic, elastic version of Compton scattering, known as Thomson
scattering. In this case we see that photons are predominantly scattered either in the same direction or in
the complete reverse direction with relatively equal regularity. At s 2m2e (i.e. m2e /2) we begin to see
that forward scattering begins to dominate, and for s  m2e (i.e.  me ) forward scattering dominates
almost completely.

4 Conclusions
In this paper we have presented a derivation of the cross section for the Compton scattering of a process
using QED. In particular we have managed to recover two of the primary relations used to measure Compton
scattering; firstly the energy shift between the incident and outgoing photons and the differential cross section
in the electron rest frame. The agreement of these theoretical results with experiment thus show that QED
provides an extremely accurate, relativistically invariant description of electromagnetism.

References
[1] A. H. Compton, A Quantum Theory of the Scattering of X-Rays by Light Elements, Physical Review
21 (1923) 483.

[2] M. E. Peskin and D. V. Schroeder, An Introduction to Quantum Field Theory, Westview Press, 1995.