Atom (measure theory)

In mathematics, more precisely in measure theory, an atom is a measurable set which has positive measure and contains no set of smaller positive measure. A measure which has no atoms is called non-atomic or atomless.


Given a measurable space   and a measure   on that space, a set   in   is called an atom if


and for any measurable subset   with


the set   has measure zero.


  • Consider the set X={1, 2, ..., 9, 10} and let the sigma-algebra   be the power set of X. Define the measure   of a set to be its cardinality, that is, the number of elements in the set. Then, each of the singletons {i}, for i=1,2, ..., 9, 10 is an atom.
  • Consider the Lebesgue measure on the real line. This measure has no atoms.

Non-atomic measuresEdit

A measure which has no atoms is called non-atomic or diffuse. In other words, a measure is non-atomic if for any measurable set   with   there exists a measurable subset B of A such that


A non-atomic measure with at least one positive value has an infinite number of distinct values, as starting with a set A with   one can construct a decreasing sequence of measurable sets


such that


This may not be true for measures having atoms; see the first example above.

It turns out that non-atomic measures actually have a continuum of values. It can be proved that if μ is a non-atomic measure and A is a measurable set with   then for any real number b satisfying


there exists a measurable subset B of A such that


This theorem is due to Wacław Sierpiński.[1][2] It is reminiscent of the intermediate value theorem for continuous functions.

Sketch of proof of Sierpiński's theorem on non-atomic measures. A slightly stronger statement, which however makes the proof easier, is that if   is a non-atomic measure space and  , there exists a function   that is monotone with respect to inclusion, and a right-inverse to  . That is, there exists a one-parameter family of measurable sets S(t) such that for all  


The proof easily follows from Zorn's lemma applied to the set of all monotone partial sections to   :


ordered by inclusion of graphs,   It's then standard to show that every chain in   has an upper bound in  , and that any maximal element of   has domain   proving the claim.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sierpinski, W. (1922). "Sur les fonctions d'ensemble additives et continues" (PDF). Fundamenta Mathematicae (in French). 3: 240–246.
  2. ^ Fryszkowski, Andrzej (2005). Fixed Point Theory for Decomposable Sets (Topological Fixed Point Theory and Its Applications). New York: Springer. p. 39. ISBN 1-4020-2498-3.


  • Bruckner, Andrew M.; Bruckner, Judith B.; Thomson, Brian S. (1997). Real analysis. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. p. 108. ISBN 0-13-458886-X.
  • Butnariu, Dan; Klement, E. P. (1993). Triangular norm-based measures and games with fuzzy coalitions. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic. p. 87. ISBN 0-7923-2369-6.

External linksEdit

  • Atom at The Encyclopedia of Mathematics