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One can formally define the gradient of a function

f : R3 R,

by the formal rule

f

f f

+

+k

x

y

z

d

Just like dx is an operator that can be applied to a function, the del operator is a

vector operator given by

=

+ + k

=

,

,

x

y

z

x y z

grad f = f =

Using the operator del we can define two other operations, this time on vector

fields:

Blackboard 1. Let A R3 be an open subset and let F~ : A R3 be a vector

field.

The divergence of F~ is the scalar function,

div F~ : A R,

which is defined by the rule

div F~ (x, y, z) = F~ (x, y, z)

f

f f

=

+

+k

(F1 (x, y, z), F2 (x, y, z), F3 (x, y, z))

x

y

z

F2

F3

F1

+

+

.

=

x

y

z

The curl of F~ is the vector field

curl F~ : A R3 ,

which is defined by the rule

curl F~ (x, x, z) = F~ (x, y, z)

= x y

z

F

F2 F3

1

F3

F2

F3

F1

F2

F1

=

k.

y

z

x

z

x

y

Note that the del operator makes sense for any n, not just n = 3. So we can

define the gradient and the divergence in all dimensions. However curl only makes

sense when n = 3.

Blackboard 2. The vector field F~ : A R3 is called rotation free if the curl

is zero, curl F~ = ~0, and it is called incompressible if the divergence is zero,

div F~ = 0.

Proposition 3. Let f be a scalar field and F~ a vector field.

1

free.

(2) If F~ is C 2 , then div(curl F~ ) = 0. The curl of a vector field is incompressible.

Proof. We compute;

curl(grad f ) = (f )

= x

y

z

f f

f

x y z

2

2

2

f

2f

f

2f

f

2f

=

k

yz

zy

xz

zx

xy yx

= ~0.

This gives (1).

div(curl F~ ) = ( f )

= x y

z

F

F2 F3

1

x y

z

= x y

z

F

F2 F3

1

2 F3

2 F2

2 F3

2 F1

2 F2

2 F1

+

+

xy xz

yx yz

zx zy

= 0.

=

This is (2).

cx

cy

cz

F~ (x, y, z) = 2

+ 2

+ 2

k,

(x + y 2 + z 2 )3/2

(x + y 2 + z 2 )3/2

(x + y 2 + z 2 )3/2

is a gradient vector field, so that the gravitational field is rotation free. In fact if

c

,

f (x, y, z) = 2

(x + y 2 + z 2 )1/2

then F~ = grad f , so that

curl F~ = curl(grad f ) = ~0.

~ is always the curl of something,

Example 5. A magnetic field B

~ = curl A,

~

B

~ is a vector field. So

where A

~ = div(curl A)

~ = 0.

div(B)

Therefore a magnetic field is always incompressible.

There is one other way to combine two del operators:

another scalar field

2 f : A R.

It is defined by the rule

2 f = div(grad f ) =

2f

2f

2f

+

+

.

x2

y 2

z 2

2 f = 0,

is called a harmonic function.

Example 7. The function

f (x, y, z) =

is harmonic.

c

,

(x2 + y 2 + z 2 )1/2

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