TheInfoList

OR:

In
mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes. These topics are represented in modern mathematics ...
and
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical science is that department of knowledge which rela ...
, Laplace's equation is a second-order
partial differential equation In mathematics, a partial differential equation (PDE) is an equation which imposes relations between the various partial derivatives of a multivariable function. The function is often thought of as an "unknown" to be solved for, similarly to h ...
named after
Pierre-Simon Laplace Pierre-Simon, marquis de Laplace (; ; 23 March 1749 – 5 March 1827) was a French scholar and polymath whose work was important to the development of engineering, mathematics, statistics, physics, astronomy, and philosophy. He summarized ...
, who first studied its properties. This is often written as $\nabla^2\! f = 0$ or $\Delta f = 0,$ where $\Delta = \nabla \cdot \nabla = \nabla^2$ is the Laplace operator,The delta symbol, Δ, is also commonly used to represent a finite change in some quantity, for example, $\Delta x = x_1 - x_2$. Its use to represent the Laplacian should not be confused with this use. $\nabla \cdot$ is the
divergence In vector calculus, divergence is a vector operator that operates on a vector field, producing a scalar field giving the quantity of the vector field's source at each point. More technically, the divergence represents the volume density of th ...
operator (also symbolized "div"), $\nabla$ is the
gradient In vector calculus, the gradient of a scalar-valued differentiable function of several variables is the vector field (or vector-valued function) \nabla f whose value at a point p is the "direction and rate of fastest increase". If the grad ...
operator (also symbolized "grad"), and $f \left(x, y, z\right)$ is a twice-differentiable real-valued function. The Laplace operator therefore maps a scalar function to another scalar function. If the right-hand side is specified as a given function, $h\left(x, y, z\right)$, we have $\Delta f = h.$ This is called Poisson's equation, a generalization of Laplace's equation. Laplace's equation and Poisson's equation are the simplest examples of elliptic partial differential equations. Laplace's equation is also a special case of the
Helmholtz equation In mathematics, the eigenvalue problem for the Laplace operator is known as the Helmholtz equation. It corresponds to the linear partial differential equation \nabla^2 f = -k^2 f, where is the Laplace operator (or "Laplacian"), is the eigenvalu ...
. The general theory of solutions to Laplace's equation is known as potential theory. The twice continuously differentiable solutions of Laplace's equation are the harmonic functions, which are important in multiple branches of physics, notably electrostatics, gravitation, and
fluid dynamics In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids— liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including ''aerodynamics'' (the study of air and other gases in motion) ...
. In the study of heat conduction, the Laplace equation is the
steady-state In systems theory, a system or a process is in a steady state if the variables (called state variables) which define the behavior of the system or the process are unchanging in time. In continuous time, this means that for those properties ''p' ...
heat equation. In general, Laplace's equation describes situations of equilibrium, or those that do not depend explicitly on time.

# Forms in different coordinate systems

In rectangular coordinates,Griffiths, David J.
Introduction to Electrodynamics
'. 4th ed., Pearson, 2013. Inner front cover. .
$\nabla^2 f = \frac + \frac + \frac = 0.$ In cylindrical coordinates, $\nabla^2 f=\frac \frac \left( r \frac \right) + \frac \frac + \frac = 0.$ In
spherical coordinates In mathematics, a spherical coordinate system is a coordinate system for three-dimensional space where the position of a point is specified by three numbers: the ''radial distance'' of that point from a fixed origin, its ''polar angle'' measu ...
, using the $\left(r, \theta, \varphi\right)$ convention, $\nabla^2 f = \frac\frac \left(r^2 \frac\right) + \frac \frac \left(\sin\theta \frac\right) + \frac \frac =0.$ More generally, in arbitrary curvilinear coordinates , $\nabla^2 f =\frac\left(\fracg^\right) + \frac g^\Gamma^n_ =0,$ or $\nabla^2 f = \frac \frac\!\left(\sqrtg^ \frac\right) =0, \qquad (g=\det\)$ where is the Euclidean
metric tensor In the mathematical field of differential geometry, a metric tensor (or simply metric) is an additional structure on a manifold (such as a surface) that allows defining distances and angles, just as the inner product on a Euclidean space allows ...
relative to the new coordinates and denotes its Christoffel symbols.

# Boundary conditions The Dirichlet problem for Laplace's equation consists of finding a solution on some domain such that on the boundary of is equal to some given function. Since the Laplace operator appears in the heat equation, one physical interpretation of this problem is as follows: fix the temperature on the boundary of the domain according to the given specification of the boundary condition. Allow heat to flow until a stationary state is reached in which the temperature at each point on the domain doesn't change anymore. The temperature distribution in the interior will then be given by the solution to the corresponding Dirichlet problem. The
Neumann boundary condition In mathematics, the Neumann (or second-type) boundary condition is a type of boundary condition, named after Carl Neumann. When imposed on an ordinary or a partial differential equation, the condition specifies the values of the derivative appl ...
s for Laplace's equation specify not the function itself on the boundary of but its normal derivative. Physically, this corresponds to the construction of a potential for a vector field whose effect is known at the boundary of alone. For the example of the heat equation it amounts to prescribing the heat flux through the boundary. In particular, at an adiabatic boundary, the normal derivative of is zero. Solutions of Laplace's equation are called harmonic functions; they are all analytic within the domain where the equation is satisfied. If any two functions are solutions to Laplace's equation (or any linear homogeneous differential equation), their sum (or any linear combination) is also a solution. This property, called the principle of superposition, is very useful. For example, solutions to complex problems can be constructed by summing simple solutions.

# In two dimensions

Laplace's equation in two independent variables in rectangular coordinates has the form $\frac + \frac \equiv \psi_ + \psi_ = 0.$

## Analytic functions

The real and imaginary parts of a complex
analytic function In mathematics, an analytic function is a function that is locally given by a convergent power series. There exist both real analytic functions and complex analytic functions. Functions of each type are infinitely differentiable, but complex a ...
both satisfy the Laplace equation. That is, if , and if $f(z) = u(x,y) + iv(x,y),$ then the necessary condition that be analytic is that and be differentiable and that the Cauchy–Riemann equations be satisfied: $u_x = v_y, \quad v_x = -u_y.$ where is the first partial derivative of with respect to . It follows that $u_ = (-v_x)_y = -(v_y)_x = -(u_x)_x.$ Therefore satisfies the Laplace equation. A similar calculation shows that also satisfies the Laplace equation. Conversely, given a harmonic function, it is the real part of an analytic function, (at least locally). If a trial form is $f(z) = \varphi(x,y) + i \psi(x,y),$ then the Cauchy–Riemann equations will be satisfied if we set $\psi_x = -\varphi_y, \quad \psi_y = \varphi_x.$ This relation does not determine , but only its increments: $d \psi = -\varphi_y\, dx + \varphi_x\, dy.$ The Laplace equation for implies that the integrability condition for is satisfied: $\psi_ = \psi_,$ and thus may be defined by a line integral. The integrability condition and Stokes' theorem implies that the value of the line integral connecting two points is independent of the path. The resulting pair of solutions of the Laplace equation are called conjugate harmonic functions. This construction is only valid locally, or provided that the path does not loop around a singularity. For example, if and are polar coordinates and $\varphi = \log r,$ then a corresponding analytic function is $f(z) = \log z = \log r + i\theta.$ However, the angle is single-valued only in a region that does not enclose the origin. The close connection between the Laplace equation and analytic functions implies that any solution of the Laplace equation has derivatives of all orders, and can be expanded in a power series, at least inside a circle that does not enclose a singularity. This is in sharp contrast to solutions of the
wave equation The (two-way) wave equation is a second-order linear partial differential equation for the description of waves or standing wave fields — as they occur in classical physics — such as mechanical waves (e.g. water waves, sound waves and sei ...
, which generally have less regularity. There is an intimate connection between power series and
Fourier series A Fourier series () is a summation of harmonically related sinusoidal functions, also known as components or harmonics. The result of the summation is a periodic function whose functional form is determined by the choices of cycle length (or ''p ...
. If we expand a function in a power series inside a circle of radius , this means that $f(z) = \sum_^\infty c_n z^n,$ with suitably defined coefficients whose real and imaginary parts are given by $c_n = a_n + i b_n.$ Therefore which is a Fourier series for . These trigonometric functions can themselves be expanded, using multiple angle formulae.

## Fluid flow

Let the quantities and be the horizontal and vertical components of the velocity field of a steady incompressible, irrotational flow in two dimensions. The continuity condition for an incompressible flow is that $u_x + v_y=0,$ and the condition that the flow be irrotational is that $\nabla \times \mathbf = v_x - u_y = 0.$ If we define the differential of a function by $d \psi = v \, dx - u \, dy,$ then the continuity condition is the integrability condition for this differential: the resulting function is called the stream function because it is constant along flow lines. The first derivatives of are given by $\psi_x = v, \quad \psi_y=-u,$ and the irrotationality condition implies that satisfies the Laplace equation. The harmonic function that is conjugate to is called the velocity potential. The Cauchy–Riemann equations imply that $\varphi_x=-u, \quad \varphi_y=-v.$ Thus every analytic function corresponds to a steady incompressible, irrotational, inviscid fluid flow in the plane. The real part is the velocity potential, and the imaginary part is the stream function.

## Electrostatics

According to
Maxwell's equations Maxwell's equations, or Maxwell–Heaviside equations, are a set of coupled partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electromagnetism, classical optics, and electric circuits. ...
, an electric field in two space dimensions that is independent of time satisfies $\nabla \times (u,v,0) = (v_x -u_y)\hat = \mathbf,$ and $\nabla \cdot (u,v) = \rho,$ where is the charge density. The first Maxwell equation is the integrability condition for the differential $d \varphi = -u\, dx -v\, dy,$ so the electric potential may be constructed to satisfy $\varphi_x = -u, \quad \varphi_y = -v.$ The second of Maxwell's equations then implies that $\varphi_ + \varphi_ = -\rho,$ which is the Poisson equation. The Laplace equation can be used in three-dimensional problems in electrostatics and fluid flow just as in two dimensions.

# In three dimensions

## Fundamental solution

A fundamental solution of Laplace's equation satisfies $\Delta u = u_ + u_ + u_ = -\delta(x-x',y-y',z-z'),$ where the
Dirac delta function In mathematics, the Dirac delta distribution ( distribution), also known as the unit impulse, is a generalized function or distribution over the real numbers, whose value is zero everywhere except at zero, and whose integral over the entir ...
denotes a unit source concentrated at the point . No function has this property: in fact it is a distribution rather than a function; but it can be thought of as a limit of functions whose integrals over space are unity, and whose support (the region where the function is non-zero) shrinks to a point (see
weak solution In mathematics, a weak solution (also called a generalized solution) to an ordinary or partial differential equation is a function for which the derivatives may not all exist but which is nonetheless deemed to satisfy the equation in some precise ...
). It is common to take a different sign convention for this equation than one typically does when defining fundamental solutions. This choice of sign is often convenient to work with because −Δ is a positive operator. The definition of the fundamental solution thus implies that, if the Laplacian of is integrated over any volume that encloses the source point, then $\iiint_V \nabla \cdot \nabla u \, dV =-1.$ The Laplace equation is unchanged under a rotation of coordinates, and hence we can expect that a fundamental solution may be obtained among solutions that only depend upon the distance from the source point. If we choose the volume to be a ball of radius around the source point, then Gauss' divergence theorem implies that $-1= \iiint_V \nabla \cdot \nabla u \, dV = \iint_S \frac \, dS = \left.4\pi a^2 \frac\_.$ It follows that $\frac = -\frac,$ on a sphere of radius that is centered on the source point, and hence $u = \frac.$ Note that, with the opposite sign convention (used in
physics Physics is the natural science that studies matter, its fundamental constituents, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related entities of energy and force. "Physical science is that department of knowledge which rela ...
), this is the
potential Potential generally refers to a currently unrealized ability. The term is used in a wide variety of fields, from physics to the social sciences to indicate things that are in a state where they are able to change in ways ranging from the simple r ...
generated by a point particle, for an
inverse-square law In science, an inverse-square law is any scientific law stating that a specified physical quantity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source of that physical quantity. The fundamental cause for this can be underst ...
force, arising in the solution of Poisson equation. A similar argument shows that in two dimensions $u = -\frac.$ where denotes the
natural logarithm The natural logarithm of a number is its logarithm to the base of the mathematical constant , which is an irrational and transcendental number approximately equal to . The natural logarithm of is generally written as , , or sometimes, if ...
. Note that, with the opposite sign convention, this is the
potential Potential generally refers to a currently unrealized ability. The term is used in a wide variety of fields, from physics to the social sciences to indicate things that are in a state where they are able to change in ways ranging from the simple r ...
generated by a pointlike
sink A sink is a bowl-shaped plumbing fixture for washing hands, dishwashing, and other purposes. Sinks have a tap (faucet) that supply hot and cold water and may include a spray feature to be used for faster rinsing. They also include a drain t ...
(see point particle), which is the solution of the Euler equations in two-dimensional incompressible flow.

## Green's function

A
Green's function In mathematics, a Green's function is the impulse response of an inhomogeneous linear differential operator defined on a domain with specified initial conditions or boundary conditions. This means that if \operatorname is the linear different ...
is a fundamental solution that also satisfies a suitable condition on the boundary of a volume . For instance, $G(x,y,z;x',y',z')$ may satisfy $\nabla \cdot \nabla G = -\delta(x-x',y-y',z-z') \qquad \text V,$ $G = 0 \quad \text \quad (x,y,z) \qquad \text S.$ Now if is any solution of the Poisson equation in : $\nabla \cdot \nabla u = -f,$ and assumes the boundary values on , then we may apply Green's identity, (a consequence of the divergence theorem) which states that The notations ''un'' and ''Gn'' denote normal derivatives on . In view of the conditions satisfied by and , this result simplifies to $u(x',y',z') = \iiint_V G f \, dV + \iint_S G_n g \, dS. \,$ Thus the Green's function describes the influence at of the data and . For the case of the interior of a sphere of radius , the Green's function may be obtained by means of a reflection : the source point at distance from the center of the sphere is reflected along its radial line to a point ''P that is at a distance $\rho' = \frac. \,$ Note that if is inside the sphere, then ''P′'' will be outside the sphere. The Green's function is then given by $\frac - \frac, \,$ where denotes the distance to the source point and denotes the distance to the reflected point ''P''′. A consequence of this expression for the Green's function is the Poisson integral formula. Let , , and be
spherical coordinates In mathematics, a spherical coordinate system is a coordinate system for three-dimensional space where the position of a point is specified by three numbers: the ''radial distance'' of that point from a fixed origin, its ''polar angle'' measu ...
for the source point . Here denotes the angle with the vertical axis, which is contrary to the usual American mathematical notation, but agrees with standard European and physical practice. Then the solution of the Laplace equation with Dirichlet boundary values inside the sphere is given by $u(P) =\frac a^3\left(1-\frac\right) \int_0^\int_0^ \frac d\theta' \, d\varphi'$ where $\cos \Theta = \cos \theta \cos \theta' + \sin\theta \sin\theta'\cos(\varphi -\varphi')$ is the cosine of the angle between and . A simple consequence of this formula is that if is a harmonic function, then the value of at the center of the sphere is the mean value of its values on the sphere. This mean value property immediately implies that a non-constant harmonic function cannot assume its maximum value at an interior point.

## Laplace's spherical harmonics Laplace's equation in
spherical coordinates In mathematics, a spherical coordinate system is a coordinate system for three-dimensional space where the position of a point is specified by three numbers: the ''radial distance'' of that point from a fixed origin, its ''polar angle'' measu ...
is: $\nabla^2 f = \frac \frac\left(r^2 \frac\right) + \frac \frac\left(\sin\theta \frac\right) + \frac \frac = 0.$ Consider the problem of finding solutions of the form . By separation of variables, two differential equations result by imposing Laplace's equation: $\frac\frac\left(r^2\frac\right) = \lambda,\qquad \frac\frac\frac\left(\sin\theta \frac\right) + \frac\frac\frac = -\lambda.$ The second equation can be simplified under the assumption that has the form . Applying separation of variables again to the second equation gives way to the pair of differential equations $\frac \frac = -m^2$ $\lambda\sin^2\theta + \frac \frac \left(\sin\theta \frac\right) = m^2$ for some number . A priori, is a complex constant, but because must be a
periodic function A periodic function is a function that repeats its values at regular intervals. For example, the trigonometric functions, which repeat at intervals of 2\pi radians, are periodic functions. Periodic functions are used throughout science to des ...
whose period evenly divides , is necessarily an integer and is a linear combination of the complex exponentials . The solution function is regular at the poles of the sphere, where . Imposing this regularity in the solution of the second equation at the boundary points of the domain is a Sturm–Liouville problem that forces the parameter to be of the form for some non-negative integer with ; this is also explained below in terms of the orbital angular momentum. Furthermore, a change of variables transforms this equation into the Legendre equation, whose solution is a multiple of the associated Legendre polynomial . Finally, the equation for has solutions of the form ; requiring the solution to be regular throughout forces .Physical applications often take the solution that vanishes at infinity, making . This does not affect the angular portion of the spherical harmonics. Here the solution was assumed to have the special form . For a given value of , there are independent solutions of this form, one for each integer with . These angular solutions are a product of
trigonometric function In mathematics, the trigonometric functions (also called circular functions, angle functions or goniometric functions) are real functions which relate an angle of a right-angled triangle to ratios of two side lengths. They are widely used in al ...
s, here represented as a complex exponential, and associated Legendre polynomials: $Y_\ell^m (\theta, \varphi ) = N e^ P_\ell^m (\cos )$ which fulfill $r^2\nabla^2 Y_\ell^m (\theta, \varphi ) = -\ell (\ell + 1 ) Y_\ell^m (\theta, \varphi ).$ Here is called a spherical harmonic function of degree and order , is an associated Legendre polynomial, is a normalization constant, and and represent colatitude and longitude, respectively. In particular, the
colatitude In a spherical coordinate system, a colatitude is the complementary angle of a given latitude, i.e. the difference between a right angle and the latitude. Here Southern latitudes are defined to be negative, and as a result the colatitude is a non ...
, or polar angle, ranges from at the North Pole, to at the Equator, to at the South Pole, and the
longitude Longitude (, ) is a geographic coordinate that specifies the east– west position of a point on the surface of the Earth, or another celestial body. It is an angular measurement, usually expressed in degrees and denoted by the Greek lett ...
, or
azimuth An azimuth (; from ar, اَلسُّمُوت, as-sumūt, the directions) is an angular measurement in a spherical coordinate system. More specifically, it is the horizontal angle from a cardinal direction, most commonly north. Mathematicall ...
, may assume all values with . For a fixed integer , every solution of the eigenvalue problem $r^2\nabla^2 Y = -\ell (\ell + 1 ) Y$ is a linear combination of . In fact, for any such solution, is the expression in spherical coordinates of a
homogeneous polynomial In mathematics, a homogeneous polynomial, sometimes called quantic in older texts, is a polynomial whose nonzero terms all have the same degree. For example, x^5 + 2 x^3 y^2 + 9 x y^4 is a homogeneous polynomial of degree 5, in two variables; ...
that is harmonic (see below), and so counting dimensions shows that there are linearly independent such polynomials. The general solution to Laplace's equation in a ball centered at the origin is a linear combination of the spherical harmonic functions multiplied by the appropriate scale factor , $f(r, \theta, \varphi) = \sum_^\infty \sum_^\ell f_\ell^m r^\ell Y_\ell^m (\theta, \varphi ),$ where the are constants and the factors are known as solid harmonics. Such an expansion is valid in the
ball A ball is a round object (usually spherical, but can sometimes be ovoid) with several uses. It is used in ball games, where the play of the game follows the state of the ball as it is hit, kicked or thrown by players. Balls can also be used ...
$r < R = \frac.$ For $r > R$, the solid harmonics with negative powers of $r$ are chosen instead. In that case, one needs to expand the solution of known regions in Laurent series (about $r=\infty$), instead of
Taylor series In mathematics, the Taylor series or Taylor expansion of a function is an infinite sum of terms that are expressed in terms of the function's derivatives at a single point. For most common functions, the function and the sum of its Taylor seri ...
(about $r = 0$), to match the terms and find $f^m_\ell$.

## Electrostatics

Let $\mathbf$ be the electric field, $\rho$ be the electric charge density, and $\varepsilon_0$ be the permittivity of free space. Then Gauss's law for electricity (Maxwell's first equation) in differential form statesGriffiths, David J. ''Introduction to Electrodynamics''. Fourth ed., Pearson, 2013. Chapter 2: Electrostatics. p. 83-4. . $\nabla \cdot \mathbf = \frac.$ Now, the electric field can be expressed as the negative gradient of the electric potential $V$, $\mathbf E=-\nabla V,$ if the field is irrotational, $\nabla \times \mathbf = \mathbf$. The irrotationality of $\mathbf$ is also known as the electrostatic condition. $\nabla\cdot\mathbf E = \nabla\cdot(-\nabla V)=-\nabla^2 V$ $\nabla^2 V = -\nabla\cdot\mathbf E$ Plugging this relation into Gauss's law, we obtain Poisson's equation for electricity, $\nabla^2 V = -\frac.$ In the particular case of a source-free region, $\rho = 0$ and Poisson's equation reduces to Laplace's equation for the electric potential. If the electrostatic potential $V$ is specified on the boundary of a region $\mathcal$, then it is uniquely determined. If $\mathcal$ is surrounded by a conducting material with a specified charge density $\rho$, and if the total charge $Q$ is known, then $V$ is also unique.Griffiths, David J. ''Introduction to Electrodynamics''. Fourth ed., Pearson, 2013. Chapter 3: Potentials. p. 119-121. . A potential that doesn't satisfy Laplace's equation together with the boundary condition is an invalid electrostatic potential.

# Gravitation

Let $\mathbf$ be the gravitational field, $\rho$ the mass density, and $G$ the gravitational constant. Then Gauss's law for gravitation in differential form is $\nabla\cdot\mathbf g=-4\pi G\rho.$ The gravitational field is conservative and can therefore be expressed as the negative gradient of the gravitational potential: $\begin \mathbf g &= -\nabla V, \\ \nabla\cdot\mathbf g &= \nabla\cdot(-\nabla V) = -\nabla^2 V, \\ \implies\nabla^2 V &= -\nabla\cdot\mathbf g. \end$ Using the differential form of Gauss's law of gravitation, we have $\nabla^2 V = 4\pi G\rho,$ which is Poisson's equation for gravitational fields. In empty space, $\rho=0$ and we have $\nabla^2 V = 0,$ which is Laplace's equation for gravitational fields.

# In the Schwarzschild metric

S. Persides solved the Laplace equation in Schwarzschild spacetime on hypersurfaces of constant . Using the canonical variables , , the solution is $\Psi(r,\theta,\varphi) = R(r)Y_l(\theta,\varphi),$ where is a spherical harmonic function, and $R(r) = (-1)^l\fracP_l\left(1-\frac\right)+(-1)^\fracQ_l\left(1-\frac\right).$ Here and are Legendre functions of the first and second kind, respectively, while is the Schwarzschild radius. The parameter is an arbitrary non-negative integer.

* 6-sphere coordinates, a coordinate system under which Laplace's equation becomes ''R''-separable *
Helmholtz equation In mathematics, the eigenvalue problem for the Laplace operator is known as the Helmholtz equation. It corresponds to the linear partial differential equation \nabla^2 f = -k^2 f, where is the Laplace operator (or "Laplacian"), is the eigenvalu ...
, a general case of Laplace's equation. *
Spherical harmonic In mathematics and physical science, spherical harmonics are special functions defined on the surface of a sphere. They are often employed in solving partial differential equations in many scientific fields. Since the spherical harmonics form ...
* Quadrature domains * Potential theory *
Potential flow In fluid dynamics, potential flow (or ideal flow) describes the velocity field as the gradient of a scalar function: the velocity potential. As a result, a potential flow is characterized by an irrotational velocity field, which is a valid appr ...
* Bateman transform * Earnshaw's theorem uses the Laplace equation to show that stable static ferromagnetic suspension is impossible *
Vector Laplacian In mathematics, the Laplace operator or Laplacian is a differential operator given by the divergence of the gradient of a scalar function on Euclidean space. It is usually denoted by the symbols \nabla\cdot\nabla, \nabla^2 (where \nabla is the ...
* Fundamental solution