Hamilton's Turns for the Lorentz Group
Hamilton in the course of his studies on quaternions came up with an elegant geometric picture for the group SU(2). In this picture the group elements are represented by “turns”, which are equivalence classes of directed great circle arcs on the unit sphere $S^2$, in such a manner that the rule for composition of group elements takes the form of the familiar parallelogram law for the Euclidean translation group. It is only recently that this construction has been generalized to the simplest noncompact group $SU(1,1) = Sp(2, R) = SL(2,R)$, the double cover of SO(2,1). The present work develops a theory of turns for $SL(2,C)$, the double and universal cover of SO(3,1) and $SO(3,C)$, rendering a geometric representation in the spirit of Hamilton available for all low dimensional semisimple Lie groups of interest in physics. The geometric construction is illustrated through application to polar decomposition, and to the composition of Lorentz boosts and the resulting Wigner or Thomas rotation.