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Reference: Griffiths, David J. (2007) Introduction to Electrodynamics, 3rd Edition; Prentice Hall Problem 3.23.

. We can use the separation of variables technique to solve Laplaces equation in cylindrical coordinates, in the special case where the potential does not depend on the axial coordinate . In general, Laplaces equation in cylindrical coordinates is

We let

and then multiply through by

and divide through by

Since each term depends only on a separate independent variable, each term must be a constant. Well consider first the special case where this constant is zero. In this case, we get from the first term:

This has the solution

as can be verified by direct substitution. From the second term

However, we need to remember that is an angle, and is restricted to doesnt behave properly, in that its not periodic. So we need to take as the only solution in this case.

, so the , giving


If we now consider the more general case, then the angular equation is, taking the constant as as in previous applications of separation of variables:

which has the general solution

The radial equation now becomes

This has the general solution

Substituting into the ODE, we get

separation of variables From the uniqueness of power series, the coefficient of each power of must be zero, from which we get

Thus either or of , the solution is

. This means that must be an integer, and for a given choice

The general solution is the linear combination of all the particular solutions, so we get (redefining the constants):

For example, in the case of an infinite wire,

is independent of so we get

As weve seen earlier (Example 2 in this post), to nail this down any more requires that we specify a reference point (or surface) where , and for this case it doesnt really matter as long as we avoid and .