Stern-Gerlach experiment with higher spins

Creative Commons License


EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF PHYSICS, vol.37, no.3, 2016 (Peer-Reviewed Journal) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 37 Issue: 3
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Doi Number: 10.1088/0143-0807/37/3/035401
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded, Scopus
  • Keywords: Stern-Gerlach experiment, rotation matrices, higher spins


We analyze idealized sequential Stern-Gerlach (SG) experiments with higher spin particles. This analysis serves at least two purposes: the widely discussed spin-1/2 case leads to some misunderstandings since the probabilities are always evenly distributed for the sequential orthogonal magnets, which does not generalize to higher spins. A detailed discussion of the higher spin case, as is done here, is highly useful. Secondly, the Wigner rotation matrices for generic spins become conceptually more transparent with this physical example. We also give compact formulas for the probabilities in terms of the angle between the sequential SG apparatus for generic spins. We work out the spin-1/2, spin-1 cases explicitly. Since there are some confusing issues regarding the actual experiment, we also compile a 'facts and fiction' section on the SG experiments.