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Vector field theory

Scalar fields. Vector fields

Throughout this section, D R3 will be a domain.


Definition 1.1 A scalar field in D is a real-valued function defined in D, that is
: D R.
The value of at an arbitrary point M (x, y, z) D is denoted by
(M )

or (x, y, z) .

Definition 1.2 A vector field in D is a vector-valued function ~v defined in D, that is


~v associates to each point M (x, y, z) D, a vector denoted by
~v (M )

or ~v (x, y, z) .

Remark 1.1 Notice that for every vector field ~v in D, there are three scalar fields P ,
Q, R in D such that
~v (x, y, z) = P (x, y, z)~i + Q (x, y, z) ~j + R (x, y, z) ~k,
Example 1.1

(x, y, z) D.

(i) The position vector field is


~r = x~i + y~j + z~k,

(x, y, z) R3 .

(ii) The modulus (or the length) of ~r is the following scalar field:
p
r = |~r| = x2 + y 2 + z 2 , (x, y, z) R3 .
Definition 1.3 Let be a scalar field in D. The level surface of at the level c R
is the following set:
{M (x, y, z) D : (x, y, z) = c} .
The level surface of through the point M0 (x0 , y0 , z0 ) D is the following set:
{M (x, y, z) D : (x, y, z) = (x0 , y0 , z0 )} .
Example 1.2 When is the temperature or pressure field, the level surfaces of are
called isotherms or isobars, respectively.
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Definition 1.4 Let ~v be a vector field in D. A field line of ~v is a curve D such


that for all M , the vector ~v (M ) is tangent to at the point M .
Remark 1.2 Let
~v (x, y, z) = P (x, y, z)~i + Q (x, y, z) ~j + R (x, y, z) ~k,

(x, y, z) D.

Since d~r = dx~i + dy ~j + dz ~k, the condition for ~v to be tangent to at each point
M (x, y, z) can be written as
~v k d~r ~v d~r = ~0

dy
dz
dx
=
=
.
P (x, y, z)
Q (x, y, z)
R (x, y, z)

(1)

Formula (1) is a differential system under symmetric form and is called the differential
system of the field lines of ~v . Denote by
1 (x, y, z) = c1 ,
2 (x, y, z) = c2 ,

c1 R,
c2 R,

two functionally independent first integrals of the symmetric system (1). Then, the set
of the field lines of ~v is the following family of curves in space which depends on two
parameters c1 , c2 R:

1 (x, y, z) = c1 ,
c1 ,c2 :
2 (x, y, z) = c2 .
Example 1.3 Find the field lines of the following vector field:
~v = (y z)~i + (z x) ~j + (x y) ~k.
Answer. The field lines of ~v are the following:

x + y + z = c1 ,
c1 ,c2 :
x2 + y 2 + z 2 = c 2 ,

c1 , c2 R.

They are circles situated on spherical surfaces centered at O (0, 0, 0).


Definition 1.5 Let ~v be a vector field in D. A field surface of ~v is a surface generated
by the field lines of ~v .
Remark 1.3 Let ~v = P~i + Q~j + R~k. Let
1 (x, y, z) = c1 ,
2 (x, y, z) = c2 ,

c1 R,
c2 R,

be two functionally independent first integrals of system (1). Then, the equation of a
field surface of ~v is
(1 (x, y, z) , 2 (x, y, z)) = 0,
where : R2 R is an arbitrary function.

Differential operators

Throughout this section, D R3 will be a domain.


Definition 2.1 Let be a scalar field of class C 1 in D. Let ~s = s1~i + s2~j + s3~k be a
unit vector, i.e. a vector having modulus 1:
q
|~s| = s21 + s22 + s23 = 1.
The directional derivative of along the unit vector ~s is

d
=
s1 +
s2 +
s3 .
d~s
x
y
z
Definition 2.2 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D. Let ~s = s1~i + s2~j + s3~k be a
unit vector. The directional derivative of ~v along the unit vector ~s is
d~v
~v
~v
~v
=
s1 +
s2 +
s3 .
d~s
x
y
z
Remark 2.1 If ~v = P~i + Q~j + R~k, then
~v
P ~ Q ~ R ~
=
k,
i+
j+
x
x
x
x
P ~ Q ~ R ~
~v
=
k,
i+
j+
y
y
y
y
P ~ Q ~ R ~
~v
=
k.
i+
j+
z
z
z
z
Consequently,

d~v
dP ~ dQ ~ dR ~
=
k.
i+
j+
d~s
d~s
d~s
d~s

Definition 2.3 Let be a scalar field of class C 1 in D. The gradient of is the vector
field in D
~ ~ ~
grad =
k.
i+
j+
x
y
z
Proposition 2.1 (Properties of the gradient) Let , be two scalar fields of class C 1
in D, let c R be a constant and let F : R R be a function of class C 1 . We have:
(i) grad ( + ) = grad + grad ;
(ii) grad (c) = c grad ;
(iii) grad () = grad + grad ;
 
grad grad

;
=
(iv) grad

2
(v) grad (F ()) = F () grad .
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Example 2.1 Let ~r = x~i+y~j +z~k be the position vector field and let ~a = a1~i+a2~j +a3~k
be a constant vector. Remember that
p
r = |~r| = x2 + y 2 + z 2 ,
~a ~r = a1 x + a2 y + a3 z.
Then, we have


~r
1
x~i + y~j + z~k ,
=p
r
x2 + y 2 + z 2
grad (~a ~r) = ~a.
grad r =

Definition 2.4 Let ~v = P~i + Q~j + R~k be a vector field of class C 1 in D. The divergence
of ~v is the scalar field in D
div ~v =
The curl of ~v




curl ~v =

Q R
P
+
+
.
x
y
z

is the vector field in D



~k
~i
~j






P
Q P ~
R ~
R Q ~

k.
i+
j+

=
y
z
z
x
x
y
x y z
P
Q R

Proposition 2.2 (Properties of the divergence and curl) Let ~u, ~v be two vector fields
of class C 1 in D, let be a scalar field of class C 1 in D and let c R be a constant.
We have:
(i)

div (~u + ~v ) = div ~u + div ~v ,


curl (~u + ~v ) = curl ~u + curl ~v ;

(ii)

div (c~v ) = c div ~v ,


curl (c~v ) = c curl ~v ;

(iii)

div (~v ) = grad ~v + div ~v ,


curl (~v ) = curl ~v ~v grad ;

(iv)

div (~u ~v ) = ~v curl ~u ~u curl ~v ,


d~u d~v

.
curl (~u ~v ) = ~u div ~v ~v div ~u +
d~v d~u

Example 2.2 Let ~r = x~i+y~j +z~k be the position vector field and let ~a = a1~i+a2~j +a3~k
be a constant vector. Remember that


~i ~j ~k


~a ~r = a1 a2 a3 = (a2 z a3 y)~i + (a3 x a1 z) ~j + (a1 y a2 x) ~k.
x y z
Then, we have

div ~r = 3, curl ~r = ~0,


div (~a ~r) = 0, curl (~a ~r) = 2~a.
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Definition 2.5 We call the nabla or del or Hamilton operator the vector differential
operator
~
~
~
k.
i+
j+
=
x
y
z
Proposition 2.3 (Properties of ) Let be a scalar field of class C 1 in D, let ~v be a
vector field of class C 1 in D and let ~s be a unit vector. We have:
(i) grad = ;
(ii) div ~v = ~v ;
(iii) curl ~v = ~v ;
(iv)

d
= (~s ) ;
d~s

(v)

d~v
= (~s ) ~v .
d~s

Definition 2.6 We call the Laplace operator or the Laplacian the differential operator
=

2
2
2
+
+
.
x2 y 2 z 2

Remark 2.2 If is a scalar field of class C 2 in D and ~v = P~i + Q~j + R~k is a vector
field of class C 2 in D, then
2 2 2
+ 2 + 2,
x2
y
z
2
2
~v ~v 2~v
+
+
,
~v =
x2 y 2 z 2
2P ~ 2Q ~ 2R ~ 2P ~ 2Q ~ 2R ~ 2P ~ 2Q ~ 2R ~
=
i+
j+
k+
i+
j+
k+
i+
j+
k
x2
x2
x2
y 2
y 2
y 2
z 2
z 2
z 2
= P ~i + Q ~j + R ~k.

Proposition 2.4 Let be a scalar field of class C 2 in D and let ~v be a vector field of
class C 2 in D. We have:
(i) div (curl ~v ) = 0;
(ii) curl (grad ) = ~0;
(iii) div (grad ) = ;
(iv) curl (curl ~v ) = grad (div ~v ) ~v .

Integral formulas

Throughout this section, D R3 will be a domain.


Definition 3.1 Let ~v be a continuous vector field in D and let D be a smooth
surface in space. The flow (or the flux ) of ~v through the surface is the number
ZZ
=
~v ~n d,

where ~n is a unit normal (vector) field to the surface .


Remark 3.1 If ~v = P~i + Q~j + R~k and ~n = n1~i + n2~j + n3~k, then the flow can be
expressed as follows:
ZZ
ZZ
(P n1 + Qn2 + Rn3 ) d =
P dydz + Qdzdx + Rdxdy.
=

Thus, the flow is a surface integral of the first or second kind.


Remark 3.2 In mechanics, the flow could represent (for example) the amount of
fluid flowing through the surface per unit time.
Definition 3.2 Let ~v be a continuous vector field in D and let D be a smooth
curve in space. The circulation of ~v along the curve is the number
Z
C = ~v d~r.

Remark 3.3 If ~v = P~i+Q~j +R~k, then, taking into account that d~r = dx~i+dy ~j +dz ~k,
we infer that
Z
C = P dx + Qdy + Rdz.

Thus, the circulation is a line integral of the second kind.


Remark 3.4 In mechanics, the circulation C could represent (for example) the mechanical work done by a force field on a particle moving along the curve .
Theorem 3.1 (Divergence theorem) Let D R3 be a bounded smooth domain, let
be the closed surface which is the boundary of D, let ~n be the outer unit normal (vector)
field to the surface and let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 on D . Then,
ZZ
ZZZ
~v ~n d =
div ~v d.
D

Remark 3.5 If ~v = P~i + Q~j + R~k, then the right-hand side of the above formula can
be written as

ZZZ
ZZZ 
P
Q R
div ~v d =
+
+
dxdydz,
x
y
z
D
D
which is a volume integral.
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Theorem 3.2 (Divergence theorem for the gradient) Let D R3 be a bounded smooth
domain, let be the closed surface which is the boundary of D, let ~n be the outer unit
normal (vector) field to the surface and let be a scalar field of class C 1 on D .
Then,
ZZ
ZZZ
~n d =
grad d.
D

Theorem 3.3 (Divergence theorem for the curl) Let D R3 be a bounded smooth
domain, let be the closed surface which is the boundary of D, let ~n be the outer unit
normal (vector) field to the surface and let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 on D .
Then,
ZZ
ZZZ
~n ~v d =
curl ~v d.
D

Theorem 3.4 (Stokes formula) Let R3 be a bounded smooth open surface, let be
the closed curve which is the boundary of , let ~n be a unit normal (vector) field to the
surface and let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in a domain D R3 which contains the
surface . Then
Z
ZZ
~v d~r =
curl ~v ~n d.

Special vector fields

Throughout this section, D R3 will be a domain.

4.1

Irrotational vector fields

Definition 4.1 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D. We say that ~v is irrotational


in D if
curl ~v = ~0 in D.
Definition 4.2 Let ~v be a vector field in D. We say that ~v is conservative in D if there
is a scalar field of class C 1 in D such that
grad = ~v

in D.

In this case, is called a scalar potential of ~v .


Remark 4.1 A scalar potential of a conservative vector field ~v is unique up to an
additive constant, that is
grad = ~v grad ( + c) = ~v

c = const R,

and
grad = grad = ~v c = const R s.t. = in D.
Theorem 4.1 Let D R3 be a simply connected domain and let ~v be a vector field of
class C 1 in D.
(i) If ~v is irrotational in
R D, then the circulation of ~v along any closed smooth curve
D is zero (i.e. ~v d~r = 0).
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(ii) If ~v is Rirrotational in D, then the circulation of ~v along any smooth path AB D
~v d~r) depends only on A and B, and does not depend on the path
(i.e.

AB

between A and B.

(iii) The vector field ~v is irrotational in D if and only if ~v is conservative in D. In this


case, a scalar potential of ~v is
Z
~v d~r, M D,
(M ) =

AM
where A D is a fixed point.

4.2

Solenoidal vector fields

Definition 4.3 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D. We say that ~v is solenoidal in


D if
div ~v = 0 in D.
Definition 4.4 Let ~v be a vector field in D. We say that ~v is a curl field in D if there
is a vector field w
~ of class C 1 in D such that
curl w
~ = ~v

in D.

In this case, w
~ is called a vector potential of ~v .
Remark 4.2 Since
curl (grad ) = ~0 ,
we have
curl w
~ = ~v curl (w
~ + grad ) = ~v

Theorem 4.2 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D.


(i) If ~v is solenoidal
RR in D, then the flow of ~v through any closed smooth surface D
is zero (i.e. ~v ~n d = 0).

(ii) If ~v isRRsolenoidal in D, then the flow of ~v through any open smooth surface D
(i.e. ~v ~n d) depends only on the boundary of , and does not depend on
the surface .
(iii) The vector field ~v is solenoidal in D if and only if ~v is a curl field in D.

4.3

Vector fields represented by two scalar fields

Definition 4.5 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D. We say that ~v is represented


by two scalar fields in D if there are two scalar fields of class C 1 in D, and F of class
C 2 in D such that
~v = grad F in D.
Theorem 4.3 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D.
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(i) If ~v is represented by two scalar fields in D, then


~v curl ~v = 0

in D,

i.e. ~v curl ~v .
(ii) If
~v curl ~v = 0 in D,
curl ~v 6= ~0 in D,
then ~v is represented by two scalar fields in D.

4.4

Laplacian (or harmonic) vector fields

Definition 4.6 Let ~v be a vector field of class C 1 in D. We say that ~v is Laplacian or


harmonic in D if ~v is both irrotational and solenoidal in D, i.e.
curl ~v = ~0 in D,
div ~v = 0 in D.
Example 4.1 The Newtonian vector field
~v = k

~r
r3

(k = const > 0) ,

is Laplacian in R3 \ {(0, 0, 0)}.


Definition 4.7 Let : D R be a function (or a scalar field) of class C 2 in D. We
say that is harmonic in D if satisfies the Laplace equation in D, that is
= 0 in D.
Remark 4.3 Remember that
def

2 2 2
+ 2 + 2.
x2
y
z

Theorem 4.4 Let D R3 be a simply connected domain and let ~v be a vector field of
class C 1 in D. The following statements are equivalent:
(i) The vector field ~v is Laplacian in D.
(ii) There is a harmonic function in D such that
~v = grad

in D.