This lecture is devoted to Noether’s theorems and the study of the interplay between symmetries and conservation laws, from ordinary mechanics to general relativity. In order to start on a common ground and interest a broad audience, we will begin with a review of Noether’s (first) theorem in ordinary non-relativistic mechanics. This will enable us to settle some subtleties, agree on conventions, and especially explore some curious and lesser-known symmetry features of familiar models (such as particles and celestial mechanics). We will then move on to field theory, and discuss the construction of conserved currents and energy-momentum tensors. This will include a discussion of conserved quantities in general relativity. Finally, we will turn to the core of the topic, which is Noether’s (second) theorem for gauge symmetries. After recalling the basic properties of gauge theories in Lagrangian and Hamiltonian form, we will derive the consequences of gauge symmetry for the construction of conserved charges. For this, we will introduce the so-called covariant phase space formalism, which enables to construct symmetry charges and algebras, and derive (non) conservation laws. This will be illustrated in Maxwell’s theory and in general relativity. In particular, we will focus in depth on the example of three-dimensional gravity as an exactly soluble model in which all aspects of symmetries can be understood. We will end with an outlook towards the notion of asymptotic symmetries and their use in classical and quantum gravity.
Ideally, the audience should be familiar with:
Hamiltonian mechanics
differential forms
basic features of general relativity