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Semiclassical gravity is the approximation to the theory of quantum gravity in which one treats matter fields as being quantum and the gravitational field as being classical.

In semiclassical gravity, matter is represented by quantum matter fields that propagate according to the theory of quantum fields in curved spacetime. The spacetime in which the fields propagate is classical but dynamical. The curvature of the spacetime is given by the semiclassical Einstein equations, which relate the curvature of the spacetime, given by the Einstein tensor \( G_{\mu \nu } \), to the expectation value of the energy–momentum tensor operator,\( T_{\mu \nu } \), of the matter fields:

\( G_{\mu\nu} = \frac{ 8 \pi G }{ c^4 } \left\langle \hat T_{\mu\nu} \right\rangle_\psi \)

where G is the gravitational constant and \( \psi \) indicates the quantum state of the matter fields.

Stress–energy tensor

There is some ambiguity in regulating the stress–energy tensor, and this depends upon the curvature. This ambiguity can be absorbed into the cosmological constant, the gravitational constant, and the quadratic couplings[1]

\( \int d^dx \,\sqrt{-g} R^2 \) and \( \int d^dx\, \sqrt{-g} R^{\mu\nu}R_{\mu\nu}. \)

There's also the other quadratic term

\( \int d^dx\, \sqrt{-g} R^{\mu\nu\rho\sigma}R_{\mu\nu\rho\sigma}, \)

but (in 4-dimensions) this term is a linear combination of the other two terms and a surface term. See Gauss–Bonnet gravity for more details.

Since the theory of quantum gravity is not yet known, it is difficult to say what is the regime of validity of semiclassical gravity. However, one can formally show that semiclassical gravity could be deduced from quantum gravity by considering N copies of the quantum matter fields, and taking the limit of N going to infinity while keeping the product GN constant. At diagrammatic level, semiclassical gravity corresponds to summing all Feynman diagrams which do not have loops of gravitons (but have an arbitrary number of matter loops). Semiclassical gravity can also be deduced from an axiomatic approach.
Experimental status

There are cases where semiclassical gravity breaks down. For instance,[2] if M is a huge mass, then the superposition

\( \frac{1}{\sqrt{2}} \left( \left| M \text{ at } A \right\rangle + \left| M \text{ at } B \right\rangle \right) \)

where A and B are widely separated, then the expectation value of the stress–energy tensor is M/2 at A and M/2 at B, but we would never observe the metric sourced by such a distribution. Instead, we decohere into a state with the metric sourced at A and another sourced at B with a 50% chance each.

The most important applications of semiclassical gravity are to understand the Hawking radiation of black holes and the generation of random gaussian-distributed perturbations in the theory of cosmic inflation, which is thought to occur at the very beginnings of the big bang.

See Wald (1994) Chapter 4, section 6 "The Stress-Energy Tensor".

See Page and Geilker; Eppley and Hannah; Albers, Kiefer, and Reginatto.


Birrell, N. D. and Davies, P. C. W., Quantum fields in curved space, (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1982).
Don N. Page, and C. D. Geilker, "Indirect Evidence for Quantum Gravity." Physical Review Letters 47 (1981) 979–982. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.47.979
K. Eppley and E. Hannah, "The necessity of quantizing the gravitational field." Found. Phys. 7 (1977) 51–68. doi:10.1007/BF00715241
Mark Albers, Claus Kiefer, Marcel Reginatto, "Measurement Analysis and Quantum Gravity." Physical Review D 78 6 (2008) 064051, doi:10.1103/PhysRevD.78.064051 arXiv:0802.1978.
Robert M. Wald, Quantum Field Theory in Curved Spacetime and Black Hole Thermodynamics. University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Semiclassical gravity on arxiv.org

See also

Quantum field theory in curved spacetime


Theories of gravitation
Newtonian gravity (NG)

Newton's law of universal gravitation Gauss's law for gravity Poisson's equation for gravity History of gravitational theory

General relativity (GR)

Introduction History Mathematics Exact solutions Resources Tests Post-Newtonian formalism Linearized gravity ADM formalism Gibbons–Hawking–York boundary term

Alternatives to
general relativity

Classical theories of gravitation Quantum gravity Theory of everything


Einstein–Cartan Bimetric theories Gauge theory gravity Teleparallelism Composite gravity f(R) gravity Infinite derivative gravity Massive gravity Modified Newtonian dynamics, MOND
AQUAL Tensor–vector–scalar Nonsymmetric gravitation Scalar–tensor theories
Brans–Dicke Scalar–tensor–vector Conformal gravity Scalar theories
Nordström Whitehead Geometrodynamics Induced gravity Chameleon Pressuron Degenerate Higher-Order Scalar-Tensor theories



Kaluza–Klein theory
Dilaton Supergravity

Unified-field-theoric and

Noncommutative geometry Semiclassical gravity Superfluid vacuum theory
Logarithmic BEC vacuum String theory
M-theory F-theory Heterotic string theory Type I string theory Type 0 string theory Bosonic string theory Type II string theory Little string theory Twistor theory
Twistor string theory

Generalisations /
extensions of GR

Liouville gravity Lovelock theory (2+1)-dimensional topological gravity Gauss–Bonnet gravity Jackiw–Teitelboim gravity

theories and
toy models

Aristotelian physics CGHS model RST model Mechanical explanations
Fatio–Le Sage Entropic gravity Gravitational interaction of antimatter Physics in the medieval Islamic world Theory of impetus

Related topics



Quantum gravity
Central concepts

AdS/CFT correspondence Ryu-Takayanagi Conjecture Causal patch Gravitational anomaly Graviton Holographic principle IR/UV mixing Planck scale Quantum foam Trans-Planckian problem Weinberg–Witten theorem Faddeev-Popov ghost

Toy models

2+1D topological gravity CGHS model Jackiw–Teitelboim gravity Liouville gravity RST model Topological quantum field theory

Quantum field theory in curved spacetime

Bunch–Davies vacuum Hawking radiation Semiclassical gravity Unruh effect

Black holes

Black hole complementarity Black hole information paradox Black-hole thermodynamics Bousso's holographic bound ER=EPR Firewall (physics) Gravitational singularity

String theory

Bosonic string theory M-theory Supergravity Superstring theory

Canonical quantum gravity

Loop quantum gravity Wheeler–DeWitt equation

Euclidean quantum gravity

Hartle–Hawking state


Causal dynamical triangulation Causal sets Noncommutative geometry Spin foam Group field theory Superfluid vacuum theory Twistor theory Dual graviton


Quantum cosmology
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