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Concept# Extensions of symmetric operators

Summary

In functional analysis, one is interested in extensions of symmetric operators acting on a Hilbert space. Of particular importance is the existence, and sometimes explicit constructions, of self-adjoint extensions. This problem arises, for example, when one needs to specify domains of self-adjointness for formal expressions of observables in quantum mechanics. Other applications of solutions to this problem can be seen in various moment problems.
This article discusses a few related problems of this type. The unifying theme is that each problem has an operator-theoretic characterization which gives a corresponding parametrization of solutions. More specifically, finding self-adjoint extensions, with various requirements, of symmetric operators is equivalent to finding unitary extensions of suitable partial isometries.
Let H be a Hilbert space. A linear operator A acting on H with dense domain Dom(A) is symmetric if
for all x, y in Dom(A).
If Dom(A) = H, the Hellinger-Toeplitz theorem says that A is a bounded operator, in which case A is self-adjoint and the extension problem is trivial. In general, a symmetric operator is self-adjoint if the domain of its adjoint, Dom(A*), lies in Dom(A).
When dealing with unbounded operators, it is often desirable to be able to assume that the operator in question is closed. In the present context, it is a convenient fact that every symmetric operator A is
closable. That is, A has the smallest closed extension, called the closure of A. This can
be shown by invoking the symmetric assumption and Riesz representation theorem. Since A and its closure have the same closed extensions, it can always be assumed that the symmetric operator of interest is closed.
In the sequel, a symmetric operator will be assumed to be densely defined and closed.
Problem Given a densely defined closed symmetric operator A, find its self-adjoint extensions.
This question can be translated to an operator-theoretic one. As a heuristic motivation, notice that the Cayley transform on the complex plane, defined by
maps the real line to the unit circle.

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Extensions of symmetric operators

In functional analysis, one is interested in extensions of symmetric operators acting on a Hilbert space. Of particular importance is the existence, and sometimes explicit constructions, of self-adjoint extensions. This problem arises, for example, when one needs to specify domains of self-adjointness for formal expressions of observables in quantum mechanics. Other applications of solutions to this problem can be seen in various moment problems. This article discusses a few related problems of this type.

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