Summary
Physicists often define a Lindbladian superoperator as one whose action on an operator can be written as
(1)
for some operator with positive antiHermitian part, , and some set of operators . But how does one efficiently check if a given superoperator is Lindbladian? In this post I give an “elementary” proof of a less wellknown characterization of Lindbladians:
for all . Here “” denotes a partial transpose, is the “superprojector” that removes an operator’s trace, is the identity superoperator, and is the dimension of the space upon which the operators act.
Thus, we can efficiently check if an arbitrary superoperator is Lindbladian by diagonalizing and seeing if all the eigenvalues are positive.
Contents
A quick note on terminology
The terms superoperator, completely positive (CP), trace preserving (TP), and Lindbladian are defined below in Appendix A in case you aren’t already familiar with them.
Confusingly, the standard practice is to say a superoperator is “positive” when it is positivity preserving: . This condition is logically independent from the property of a superoperator being “positive” in the traditional sense of being a positive operator, i.e., for all operators (matrices) , where
is the HilbertSchmidt inner product on the space of matrices. We will refer frequently to this latter condition, so for clarity we call it oppositivity, and denote it with the traditional notation .
Intro
It is reasonably well known by physicists that Lindbladian superoperators, Eq. (1), generate CP time evolution of density matrices, i.e., is completely positive when and satisfies Eq. (1). This evolution is furthermore tracepreserving when is Hermitian.^{a }
Indeed, for any one parameter family of CP maps obeying the semigroup property that is differentiable about , the family is necessarily generated by some Lindbladian superoperator: . The Hamiltonian and Lindblad operators defining the Lindbladian superoperator in Eq. (1) can be extracted from the eigendecomposition of for small . Although this procedure is highly enlightening, it does not yield an easily “checkable” criterion for when a given superoperators can be put in the Lindbladian form. How could we easily see whether satisfies Eq. (1) without searching exhaustively through all choices of and ?
It has long been known, but is not always widely appreciated by physicists^{b }, that CP maps are exactly those superoperators^{c } that are oppositive under the partial transpose operation^{d }: , where is called the Choi matrix.^{e } (We use the index convention .) This is just one of several elegant relationships between the most important properties of a superoperator, considered as a map on density matrices, and its corresponding Choi matrix :
Map property  Choi property  

Map preserves Hermiticity: ) 
⇔  Choi is Hermitian: 
Map is CP: 
⇔  Choi is oppositive: 
Map is tracepreserving: 
⇔  Unit “outer” trace of Choi: 
Map is unital: 
⇔  Unit “inner” trace of Choi: 
Here, we define the “outer” and “inner” partial traces^{f } as, respectively,
The equivalences in the above table can all be checked explicitly with index manipulation.
We can use the first two equivalences in the table to show the following.
Main result
We define to be the superprojector that removes an operator’s trace, , so that .
Totally true fact: These two statements are equivalent:
 is completely positive for any .
 is an oppositive superoperator.
Proof: First, we’ll show that (1) implies (2).
If is CP, then . For this to hold for arbitrarily small , it must also be true when dropping the terms for all sufficiently small , i.e., for all positive below some threshold. Then we use our first lemma, which is proved in Appendix B.
Lemma 1: The superoperator is an oppositive superoperator for all sufficiently small if and only if is an oppositive superoperator.
Applying Lemma 1, we conclude that (1) implies (2).
Now we’ll show that (2) implies (1). If is oppositive, then by Lemma 1 we know for sufficiently small . Now we make use of our second lemma, also proved in Appendix B.
Lemma 2: If the partial trace of a superoperator is positive, then the partial traces of all positive powers of that superoperator are also positive, i.e., for all positive integers .
If for sufficiently small , then by Lemma 2 we know, for the same values of , that the object
is an oppositive superoperator (for any positive integer ). If we define
then one can then check that and . Since is a mixture (convex combination) of oppositive superoperators , it itself is an oppositive superoperator for all , and hence its limit
is also an oppositive superoperator. This makes completely positive for sufficiently small , but since complete positivity is preserved under composition we conclude that is CP for all . ☐
(2)
to be an equivalent definition to say that is a Lindbladian superoperator. It can be supplemented with the tracepreserving condition (implying for all ) to define the subset of Lindbladians generating CPTP evolution. Lindblad called this subset “completely dissipative”, and it is equivalent to Eq. (2) with Hermitian .
Comments
Although Eq. (2) is not as useful as Eq. (1) for understanding the action of a Lindbladian, it is much easier to use Eq. (2) to check whether a given superoperator is Lindbladian.
With a bit of manipulation, we can rewrite Eq. (2) in a more quantuminformationy (and less linearalgebraic) way:
where is some maximally entangled state and projects onto the orthogonal subspace.^{g } (This condition is independent of the choice of basis and hence the choice of maximally entangled state.)
If you’ve interested in learning more, Tarasov’s “Quantum Mechanics of NonHamiltonian and Dissipative Systems” is the most thorough yet readable monograph I’ve found.
Appendix A: Definitions
For our purposes, superoperators are just linear operators on the vector space of linear operators.^{h } If we represent finitedimensional linear operators as matrices, then superoperators are matrices. A superoperator can be indexed as and its action on an operator is given by the matrix elements
Here, are the matrix elements of and the parentheses on just emphasize that we treat this as a joint index (taking values) of . (It does not denote antisymmeterization.)
Lindbladians are the subset of superoperators that can be put in the form
for some Hermitian operator (the Hamiltonian) and some set of operator (the Lindblad operators), where of course . You can express this more elegantly as
where “” is just a tensor product with a bit of syntactic sugar: Given any two operators and , the superoperator is defined to have action .
As explained near the beginning, we distinguish two notions of superoperator “positivity”:
 is positivity preserving when .

is oppositive when for all .
When the first condition holds, people usually just say that is a “positive map”, but this can be confusing because it is logically independent of being a “positive operator” when thought of, naturally enough, as an operator acting on the space of matrices (the second condition).
A superoperator is said to be completely positive (CP) when is positive for all positive integers , where is the indentity superoperator on a separate space of matrices. The tensor product on superoperators is naturally defined as , extended by linearity. (Note that we do not necessarily require CP maps to preserve operator trace.) Complete positivity is a strengthening of positivity preservation (not oppositivity).
Appendix B: Lemmas
Lemma 1: The superoperator is an oppositive superoperator for all sufficiently small if and only if is an oppositive superoperator.
Proof. For a fixed vector and Hermitian operator , consider the family of Hermitian operators for all . If another vector has nonzero overlap with , then
is positive for sufficiently small . Therefore, if there is a such that for arbitrarily small , we know that vector is orthogonal to . Such a vector exists if and only if is not a positive operator, where .☐
Lemma 2: If the partial trace of a superoperator is positive, then the partial traces of all positive powers of that superoperator are also positive, i.e., for all positive integers .
Proof. If is positive then it has the eigendecomposition or, with indices, . The eigenvalues are positive and the eigenoperators are orthonormal under the HilbertSchmidt norm. The previous expression also gives us the matrix elements for the original superoperator, allowing us to use simple index manipulation to show that
This expression is manifestly positive since it’s a mixture (convex combination) of superprojectors, so we conclude for positive integers .☐
Remark. This is equivalent to the statement that complete positivity is preserved by composition.
Footnotes
(↵ returns to text)
 Nonhermitian can be useful to account for the system decaying into a mode outside the space of density matrices under consideration. In this case, the trace should be nonincreasing, so we require that , i.e., the antiHermitian part of is a positive operator.↵
 An everpresent barrier in navigating the mathematical literature on quantum information is disentangling (1) the basic finitedimentional linear algebra ideas from (2) the mathematical machinery for handling infinite dimensions (e.g., the distinction between W*algebras and the more general C*algebras, ultraweak continuity, etc.). This is really too bad, because finitedimensional ideas are almost always the physical ones. I propose the following maxim of quantum mechanical pedagogy: All ideas should be presented first in the finitedimensional context.↵
 Note, the oppositivity of a superoperator and the oppositivity of the Choi matrix are logically independent. This is true even though the oppositivity of the Choi matrix implies (but is not implied by) the superoperator preserving positivity of the operators it acts on: .↵
 This is a property that is invariant under local unitary operations applied to the input or output density matrices, but not under general unitaries. In that sense, it “knows” about the super index structure , but does not care the bases in which you do the sum over and .↵
 Indeed, the eigenoperators of an oppositive Choi matrix (which are orthonormal with respect to the HilbertSchmidt inner product on operators) are just the Krauss operators of the corresponding CP map.↵
 These adjectives refer to whether we are summing over the indices associated with the input matrix or output matrix of the corresponding superoperator.↵
 This version is presented in Sec. 7.1.2 of Michael Wolf’s “Quantum Channels & Operations” [PDF]. The proof given in this blog post differs in that it is “elementary”, making use only of basic linear algebra facts.↵
 We assume the range and domain of our superoperators are the same space since we will be considering semigroups generated by them.↵
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