# Pfaffian

In mathematics, the determinant of a skew-symmetric matrix can always be written as the square of a polynomial in the matrix entries. This polynomial is called the Pfaffian of the matrix. The Pfaffian is nonvanishing only for 2n × 2n skew-symmetric matrices, in which case it is a polynomial of degree n.

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## Examples

[itex]\mbox{Pf}\begin{bmatrix} 0 & a \\ -a & 0 \end{bmatrix}=a.[itex]
[itex]\mbox{Pf}\begin{bmatrix} 0 & a & b & c \\ -a & 0 & d & e \\ -b & -d & 0& f \\-c & -e & -f & 0 \end{bmatrix}=af-be+dc.[itex]
[itex]\mbox{Pf}\begin{bmatrix}

\begin{matrix}0 & \lambda_1\\ -\lambda_1 & 0\end{matrix} & 0 & \cdots & 0 \\ 0 & \begin{matrix}0 & \lambda_2\\ -\lambda_2 & 0\end{matrix} & & 0 \\ \vdots & & \ddots & \vdots \\ 0 & 0 & \cdots & \begin{matrix}0 & \lambda_n\\ -\lambda_n & 0\end{matrix} \end{bmatrix} = \lambda_1\lambda_2\cdots\lambda_n.[itex]

## Formal definition

Let Π be the set of all partitions of {1, 2, …, 2n} into pairs without regard to order. There are (2n − 1)!! such partitions. An element α ∈ Π, can be written as

[itex]\alpha=\{(i_1,j_1),(i_2,j_2),\cdots,(i_n,j_n)\}[itex]

with ik < jk. Let

[itex]\pi=\begin{bmatrix} 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & \cdots & 2n \\ i_1 & j_1 & i_2 & j_2 & \cdots & j_{n} \end{bmatrix}[itex]

be a corresponding permutation and let us define sgn(α) to be the signature of π. This depends only on the partition α and not on the particular choice of π.

Let A = {aij} be a 2n×2n antisymmetric matrix. Given a partition α as above define

[itex] A_\alpha =\operatorname{sgn}(\alpha)a_{i_1,j_1}a_{i_2,j_2}\cdots a_{i_n,j_n}.[itex]

We can then define the Pfaffian of A to be

[itex]\operatorname{Pf}(A)=\sum_{\alpha\in\Pi} A_\alpha.[itex]

The Pfaffian of a n×n skew-symmetric matrix for n odd is defined to be zero.

### Alternative definition

One can associate to any antisymmetric 2n×2n matrix A ={aij} a bivector

[itex]\omega=\sum_{i

where {e1, e2, …, e2n} is the standard basis of R2n. The Pfaffian is then defined by the equation

[itex]\frac{1}{n!}\omega^n = \mbox{Pf}(A)\;e_1\wedge e_2\wedge\cdots\wedge e_{2n},[itex]

here ωn denotes the wedge product of n copies of ω with itself.

## Identities

For a 2n × 2n skew-symmetric matrix A and an arbitrary 2n × 2n matrix B,

• [itex]\mbox{Pf}(A)^2 = \det(A)[itex]
• [itex]\mbox{Pf}(BAB^T)= \det(B)\mbox{Pf}(A)[itex]
• [itex]\mbox{Pf}(\lambda A) = \lambda^n \mbox{Pf}(A)[itex]
• [itex]\mbox{Pf}(A^T) = (-1)^n\mbox{Pf}(A)[itex]
• For a block-diagonal matrix
[itex]A_1\oplus A_2=\begin{bmatrix} A_1 & 0 \\ 0 & A_2 \end{bmatrix}[itex]
we have Pf(A1A2) = Pf(A1)Pf(A2).
• For an arbitrary n × n matrix M:
[itex]\mbox{Pf}\begin{bmatrix} 0 & M \\ -M^T & 0 \end{bmatrix} =

(-1)^{n(n-1)/2}\det M.[itex]

## Applications

The Pfaffian is an invariant polynomial of a skew-symmetric matrix (Note that it is not invariant under a general change of basis but rather under a proper orthogonal transformation). As such, it is important in the theory of characteristic classes. In particular, it can be used to define the Euler class of a Riemannian manifold which is used in the generalized Gauss-Bonnet theorem.

## History

The term Pfaffian was introduced by Arthur Cayley, who used the term in 1852: "The permutants of this class (from their connection with the researches of Pfaff on differential equations) I shall term Pfaffians." The term honors German mathematician Johann Friedrich Pfaff.

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