A central issue in the development of a kinetic model for open
systems is the stability of the resulting time-dependent solutions,
which depends upon the eigenvalue spectrum of the Liouville
superoperator. Zwanzig (1964) has
presented an excellent discussion of the properties of superoperators (or
tetradics). However, the present analysis requires a somewhat different
group of expressions, so the subject will be developed here. The density operators which represent the state of a statistically
mixed system themselves form a linear vector space analogous to the space
of pure quantum states represented by wavefunctions. A linear
combination of density operators might be used to describe the results
of superposing two partially polarized beams of particles, for example
(using the present normalization of ).
Anything which generates linear transformations on a density operator
[such as the right-hand side of the Liouville equation
(2.3)] is a superoperator. In a finite, discrete system with
**N** states, a wavefunction will be a vector (a singly-indexed object)
with **N** elements, the density operator will be a matrix (a doubly-indexed
object) with elements, and a superoperator will be a tetradic (a
quadruply-indexed object) with elements. The linear algebra of
superoperators is isomorphic to that of ordinary operators, but to
define concepts such as Hermiticity or unitarity of superoperators, we
must have a definition for the inner product of two ordinary operators.
The simplest definition is

where **A** and **B** are operators and the notation is
introduced to indicate expressions in the linear space of operators.
It is easily shown that this satisfies the axioms (Apostol, 1969) defining
an inner product on a complex vector space. Then a Hermitian
superoperator satisfies

and a unitary superoperator satisfies

Superoperators are usually derived from ordinary quantum observable
operators by forming the commutator or anticommutator with the operator
being acted upon. For an operator **C** let us denote these superoperators

If **C** is Hermitian () the Hermiticity of
and follow immediately:

and similarly for . The Hermiticity (or lack thereof) of the Liouville superoperator is the critical issue in formulating a kinetic model of open systems.

Of particular importance are the superoperators generated by the
position operator **x** and the momentum operator :

These superoperators obey the following commutation relations:

Thus, is in some sense conjugate to , and
bears a similar relationship to . Of course
commutes with for any operator **C**.

Thu Jun 8 17:53:37 CDT 1995