Squaring a Pauli matrix results in the identity matrix.

These bits of documentation (weakly, to a Mathematica-newbie like me) imply that some algebraic identities that link the Pauli matrices together are built into Mathematica:

I enter in Mathematica:


FullSimplify[PauliMatrix[1] . PauliMatrix[1] . PauliMatrix[2]]

Is there a way of getting the second expression simplified to just PauliMatrix[2] because PauliMatrix[1] . PauliMatrix[1] is the identity matrix?

Mathematica simply prints out the resulting matrices for comparison rather than sticking to the algebra.

I see that someone else is trying to manipulate the Pauli matrices algebraically (for a similar purpose): http://homepage.cem.itesm.mx/lgomez/quantum/v7pauli.pdf (page 2. Setup Pauli Algebra)

... so I imagine that Mathematica doesn't have the behaviour built in?

  • $\begingroup$ Mathematica is automatically evaluating PauliMatrix to give you the actual matrix, then doing the calculation. You probably need to be working with objects that you prescribe the rules for. $\endgroup$
    – SPPearce
    Jun 18, 2015 at 10:30

2 Answers 2


Try the following:

SetAttributes[simplifyPM, HoldFirst]

simplifyPM[expression_] := Module[
  intermediate = HoldForm[expression] //. PauliMatrix[a_].PauliMatrix[a_] :> IdentityMatrix[Dimensions[PauliMatrix[a]]];
  intermediate /. IdentityMatrix[_].m_?MatrixQ :> m

You can then use it as follows:

results = simplifyPM[PauliMatrix[1].PauliMatrix[1].PauliMatrix[2]]
(* Out: PauliMatrix[2] *)

The results are in a held form. If you want to obtain their actual value, you can release the hold:


(* Out: {{0, -I}, {I, 0}} *)

The function also works on multiple substitutions:


(* Out: 
{{1, 0}, {0, 1}}

Since Pauli matrices are always 2x2 matrices, you could also simplify the code above by using IdentityMatrix[2] in place of IdentityMatrix[Dimensions[PauliMatrix[a]]] in the definitions, but I thought I would leave the current expression in as a more general approach that may come in handy for cases in which the size of the matrix is not known a priori.

  • $\begingroup$ Marked as the answer; this does exactly as I asked and is very straightforward to understand. Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – David B
    Jun 29, 2015 at 12:33
  • $\begingroup$ @daveboden What would you like that expression to be reduced to? $\endgroup$
    – MarcoB
    Jul 9, 2015 at 23:50
  • $\begingroup$ Using associativity and factoring out of a scalar, this should reduce to just PauliMatrix[2]: simplifyPM[-(-PauliMatrix[2].PauliMatrix[3]).PauliMatrix[3]] and Additionally, this example doesn't clear the identity away because it's on the right hand side. Is there a good way of marking the Identity replacement rule as commutative? simplifyPM[PauliMatrix[2].(PauliMatrix[3].PauliMatrix[3])] $\endgroup$
    – David B
    Jul 10, 2015 at 9:59

I had actually answered this in a different thread that was eventually closed. Since that answer fits perfectly for this question, I'll use it here:

I will use $\sigma$ as an abbreviation for PauliMatrix.

The goal is to get back a result in terms of the symbolic matrices $\sigma$. Fortunately, this can always be done because the Pauli matrices when combined with the unit matrix form a basis of the vector space of two-dimensional matrices. This means that for a given matrix a, the equation Solve[{x1, x2, x3, x4}.PauliMatrix[{0, 1, 2, 3}] == a] has one and only one solution {x1, x2, x3, x4}. These coefficients can be used to form a linear expression using the symbolic matrices $\sigma$ in the end.

So here is a function pauliReduce which takes an expression involving the symbolic σ[i] (where i = 0, 1, 2, 3), and returns a simplified result in terms of the same symbols, and potentially the unit matrix which I called $\hat{1}$ to distinguish it from the number 1. The unit matrix is also given by σ[0].

pauliReduce[a_] := 
 Module[{x, symbolicPauliIndices, expression}, 
  x = Array[\[FormalX], 4];
  symbolicPauliIndices = 
   DeleteDuplicates[Cases[a, σ[i_Symbol] :> i, Infinity]];
  expression = {OverHat[1], σ[1], σ[2], σ[
      3]}.(x /. 
        x.PauliMatrix[{0, 1, 2, 3}] == a /. σ[i_] :> 
          Sum[KroneckerDelta[i, k] PauliMatrix[k], {k, 0, 3}], x]]);
   Assumptions -> 
    Map[# ∈ Integers && 1 <= # <= 3 &, 

Here are some relations that can now be proved:


$\mathbb{i}$ σ$[3]$

pauliReduce[σ[1].σ[2] - σ[2].σ[1]]

2 $\mathbb{i}$ σ$[3]$



pauliReduce[σ[1].σ[2] + σ[2].σ[1]]


pauliReduce[MatrixExp[α σ[1]]]

Cosh[α] $\hat{1}$ + Sinh[α] σ$[1]$

pauliReduce[σ[i].σ[j] + σ[j].σ[i]]



$\mathbb{i} \hat{1}$



  • $\begingroup$ I've marked the simpler response as the "answer", but your contribution is clearly very complete, general and powerful. I'm going to learn plenty from it; really appreciate your reply. $\endgroup$
    – David B
    Jun 29, 2015 at 12:34
  • $\begingroup$ @daveboden Thanks, it's always good to see different approaches. $\endgroup$
    – Jens
    Jun 29, 2015 at 15:45

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