Unitary operator

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In functional analysis, a branch of mathematics, a unitary operator (not to be confused with a unity operator) is defined as follows:

Definition 1. A bounded linear operator U : H → H on a Hilbert space Template:Mvar is called a unitary operator if it satisfies U*U = UU* = I, where U* is the adjoint of Template:Mvar, and I : H → H is the identity operator.

The weaker condition U*U = I defines an isometry. The other condition, UU* = I, defines a coisometry. Thus a unitary operator is a bounded linear operator which is both an isometry and a coisometry.[1]

An equivalent definition is the following:

Definition 2. A bounded linear operator U : H → H on a Hilbert space Template:Mvar is called a unitary operator if:

The following, seemingly weaker, definition is also equivalent:

Definition 3. A bounded linear operator U : H → H on a Hilbert space Template:Mvar is called a unitary operator if:

To see that Definitions 1 & 3 are equivalent, notice that Template:Mvar preserving the inner product implies Template:Mvar is an isometry (thus, a bounded linear operator). The fact that Template:Mvar has dense range ensures it has a bounded inverse U−1. It is clear that U−1 = U*.

Thus, unitary operators are just automorphisms of Hilbert spaces, i.e., they preserve the structure (in this case, the linear space structure, the inner product, and hence the topology) of the space on which they act. The group of all unitary operators from a given Hilbert space Template:Mvar to itself is sometimes referred to as the Hilbert group of Template:Mvar, denoted Hilb(H).

A unitary element is a generalization of a unitary operator. In a unital *-algebra, an element Template:Mvar of the algebra is called a unitary element if U*U = UU* = I, where Template:Mvar is the identity element.[2]:55


  • Rotations in R2 are the simplest nontrivial example of unitary operators. Rotations do not change the length of a vector or the angle between two vectors. This example can be expanded to R3.
  • On the vector space C of complex numbers, multiplication by a number of absolute value 1, that is, a number of the form e for θR, is a unitary operator. Template:Mvar is referred to as a phase, and this multiplication is referred to as multiplication by a phase. Notice that the value of Template:Mvar modulo 2π does not affect the result of the multiplication, and so the independent unitary operators on C are parametrized by a circle. The corresponding group, which, as a set, is the circle, is called U(1).
  • More generally, unitary matrices are precisely the unitary operators on finite-dimensional Hilbert spaces, so the notion of a unitary operator is a generalization of the notion of a unitary matrix. Orthogonal matrices are the special case of unitary matrices in which all entries are real. They are the unitary operators on Rn.


The linearity requirement in the definition of a unitary operator can be dropped without changing the meaning because it can be derived from linearity and positive-definiteness of the scalar product:

Analogously you obtain


See also


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