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In
mathematics Mathematics (from Greek: ) includes the study of such topics as quantity (number theory), structure (algebra), space (geometry), and change (analysis). It has no generally accepted definition. Mathematicians seek and use patterns to formulate ...
and
physics Physics (from grc, φυσική (ἐπιστήμη), physikḗ (epistḗmē), knowledge of nature, from ''phýsis'' 'nature'), , is the natural science that studies matter, its motion and behavior through space and time, and the related ent ...
, a scalar field or scalar-valued
function Function or functionality may refer to: Computing * Function key, a type of key on computer keyboards * Function model, a structured representation of processes in a system * Function object or functor or functionoid, a concept of object-oriented ...
associates a scalar value to every
point Point or points may refer to: Places * Point, Lewis, a peninsula in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland * Point, Texas, a city in Rains County, Texas, United States * Point, the NE tip and a ferry terminal of Lismore, Inner Hebrides, Scotland * Points, ...
in a
space Space is the boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events have relative position and direction. Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it, with time, to be par ...
– possibly
physical space Space is the boundless three-dimensional extent in which objects and events have relative position and direction. Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicists usually consider it, with time, to be par ...
. The scalar may either be a (
dimensionless In dimensional analysis, a dimensionless quantity is a quantity to which no physical dimension is assigned, also known as a bare, pure, or scalar quantity or a quantity of dimension one, with a corresponding unit of measurement in the SI of the uni ...
) mathematical number or a
physical quantity A physical quantity is any phenomenon that can be measured with an instrument or be calculated for. A physical quantity can be expressed as the combination of a numerical value and a unit. For example, the physical quantity mass can be quantified as ...
. In a physical context, scalar fields are required to be independent of the choice of reference frame, meaning that any two observers using the same units will agree on the value of the scalar field at the same absolute point in space (or
spacetime In physics, spacetime is any mathematical model which fuses the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time into a single four-dimensional manifold. The fabric of space-time is a conceptual model combining the three dimensions of space ...
) regardless of their respective points of origin. Examples used in physics include the
temperature Temperature is a physical quantity that expresses hot and cold. It is the manifestation of thermal energy, present in all matter, which is the source of the occurrence of heat, a flow of energy, when a body is in contact with another that is ...
distribution throughout space, the
pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed. Gauge pressure (also spelled ''gage'' pressure)The preferred spelling varies by country and ev ...
distribution in a fluid, and spin-zero quantum fields, such as the
Higgs field The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. In the Standard Model, the Higgs particle is a massive sc ...
. These fields are the subject of
scalar field theoryIn theoretical physics, scalar field theory can refer to a relativistically invariant classical or quantum theory of scalar fields. A scalar field is invariant under any Lorentz transformation. The only fundamental scalar quantum field that has been ...
.


Definition

Mathematically, scalar fields on a
region In geography, regions are areas that are broadly divided by physical characteristics (physical geography), human impact characteristics (human geography), and the interaction of humanity and the environment (environmental geography). Geographic reg ...
''U'' is a
real Real may refer to: * Reality, the state of things as they exist, rather than as they may appear or may be thought to be Currencies * Brazilian real (R$) * Central American Republic real * Mexican real * Portuguese real * Spanish real * Spanish col ...
or
complex-valued function of the function . Hue represents the argument, brightness the magnitude. Complex analysis, traditionally known as the theory of functions of a complex variable, is the branch of mathematical analysis that investigates functions of complex n ...
or
distributionDistribution may refer to: Mathematics *Distribution (mathematics), generalized functions used to formulate solutions of partial differential equations *Probability distribution, the probability of a particular value or value range of a variabl ...
on ''U''. The region ''U'' may be a set in some
Euclidean space Euclidean space is the fundamental space of classical geometry. Originally it was the three-dimensional space of Euclidean geometry, but in modern mathematics there are Euclidean spaces of any nonnegative integer dimension, including the three-di ...
,
Minkowski space In mathematical physics, Minkowski space (or Minkowski spacetime) () is a combination of three-dimensional Euclidean space and time into a four-dimensional manifold where the spacetime interval between any two events is independent of the inertial ...
, or more generally a subset of a
manifold The real projective plane is a two-dimensional manifold that cannot be realized in three dimensions without self-intersection, shown here as Boy's surface. In mathematics, a manifold is a topological space that locally resembles Euclidean space ...
, and it is typical in mathematics to impose further conditions on the field, such that it be
continuous Continuity or continuous may refer to: Mathematics * Continuity (mathematics), the opposing concept to discreteness; common examples include ** Continuous probability distribution or random variable in probability and statistics ** Continuous gam ...
or often
continuously differentiable In calculus (a branch of mathematics), a differentiable function of one real variable is a function whose derivative exists at each point in its domain. In other words, the graph of a differentiable function has a non-vertical tangent line at each ...
to some order. A scalar field is a
tensor field In mathematics and physics, a tensor field assigns a tensor to each point of a mathematical space (typically a Euclidean space or manifold). Tensor fields are used in differential geometry, algebraic geometry, general relativity, in the analysis o ...
of order zero, and the term "scalar field" may be used to distinguish a function of this kind with a more general tensor field,
density The density (more precisely, the volumetric mass density; also known as specific mass), of a substance is its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ''ρ'' (the lower case Greek letter rho), although the Latin letter '' ...
, or
differential form In the mathematical fields of differential geometry and tensor calculus, differential forms are an approach to multivariable calculus that is independent of coordinates. Differential forms provide a unified approach to define integrands over curve ...
. Physically, a scalar field is additionally distinguished by having
units of measurement A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude of a quantity, defined and adopted by convention or by law, that is used as a standard for measurement of the same kind of quantity. Any other quantity of that kind can be expressed as a multipl ...
associated with it. In this context, a scalar field should also be independent of the coordinate system used to describe the physical system—that is, any two
observer An observer is one who engages in observation or in watching an experiment. Observer may also refer to: Computer science and information theory * In information theory, any system which receives information from an object * State observer in cont ...
s using the same units must agree on the numerical value of a scalar field at any given point of physical space. Scalar fields are contrasted with other physical quantities such as
vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in the plane can be visualised as a collection of arrows with a given magnitude and direction, each attach ...

vector field
s, which associate a
vector Vector may refer to: Biology *Vector (epidemiology), an agent that carries and transmits an infectious pathogen into another living organism; a disease vector *Vector (molecular biology), a DNA molecule used as a vehicle to artificially carr ...
to every point of a region, as well as
tensor field In mathematics and physics, a tensor field assigns a tensor to each point of a mathematical space (typically a Euclidean space or manifold). Tensor fields are used in differential geometry, algebraic geometry, general relativity, in the analysis o ...
s and spinor fields. More subtly, scalar fields are often contrasted with
pseudoscalar In linear algebra, a pseudoscalar is a quantity that behaves like a scalar, except that it changes sign under a parity inversion while a true scalar does not. Any scalar product between a pseudovector and an ordinary vector is a pseudoscalar. The ...
fields.


Uses in physics

In physics, scalar fields often describe the
potential energy In physics, potential energy is the energy held by an object because of its position relative to other objects, stresses within itself, its electric charge, or other factors. Common types of potential energy include the gravitational potential ...
associated with a particular
force In physics, a force is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object. A force can cause an object with mass to change its velocity (which includes to begin moving from a state of rest), i.e., to accelerate. Force ca ...
. The force is a
vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in the plane can be visualised as a collection of arrows with a given magnitude and direction, each attach ...

vector field
, which can be obtained as a factor of 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 vector whose components are the partial derivatives of f a ...

gradient
of the potential energy scalar field. Examples include: *Potential fields, such as the Newtonian
gravitational potential In classical mechanics, the gravitational potential at a location is equal to the work (energy transferred) per unit mass that would be needed to move an object to that location from a fixed reference location. It is analogous to the electric pote ...
, or the
electric potential The electric potential (also called the ''electric field potential'', potential drop, the electrostatic potential) is the amount of work energy needed to move a unit of electric charge (for example, a Coulomb) from a reference point to the specif ...
in
electrostatics Electrostatics is a branch of physics that studies electric charges at rest. Since classical physics, it has been known that some materials, such as amber, attract lightweight particles after rubbing. The Greek word for amber, , or ', was thus t ...
, are scalar fields which describe the more familiar forces. * A
temperature Temperature is a physical quantity that expresses hot and cold. It is the manifestation of thermal energy, present in all matter, which is the source of the occurrence of heat, a flow of energy, when a body is in contact with another that is ...
,
humidity Humidity is the concentration of water vapor present in the air. Water vapor, the gaseous state of water, is generally invisible to the human eye. Humidity indicates the likelihood for precipitation, dew, or fog to be present. Humidity depends o ...

humidity
, or
pressure Pressure (symbol: ''p'' or ''P'') is the force applied perpendicular to the surface of an object per unit area over which that force is distributed. Gauge pressure (also spelled ''gage'' pressure)The preferred spelling varies by country and ev ...
field, such as those used in
meteorology Meteorology is a branch of the atmospheric sciences which includes atmospheric chemistry and atmospheric physics, with a major focus on weather forecasting. The study of meteorology dates back millennia, though significant progress in meteorolo ...
.


Examples in quantum theory and relativity

* In
quantum field theory In theoretical physics, quantum field theory (QFT) is a theoretical framework that combines classical field theory, special relativity and quantum mechanics. QFT is used in particle physics to construct physical models of subatomic particles and i ...
, a
scalar field In mathematics and physics, a scalar field or scalar-valued function associates a scalar value to every point in a space – possibly physical space. The scalar may either be a (dimensionless) mathematical number or a physical quantity. In a ph ...
is associated with spin-0 particles. The scalar field may be real or complex valued. Complex scalar fields represent charged particles. These include the
Higgs field The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. In the Standard Model, the Higgs particle is a massive sc ...
of the
Standard Model The Standard Model of particle physics is the theory describing three of the four known fundamental forces (the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, and not including gravity) in the universe, as well as classifying all known elemen ...

Standard Model
, as well as the charged
pions In particle physics, a pion (or a pi meson, denoted with the Greek letter pi: ) is any of three subatomic particles: , , and . Each pion consists of a quark and an antiquark and is therefore a meson. Pions are the lightest mesons and, more genera ...
mediating the strong nuclear interaction. * In the
Standard Model The Standard Model of particle physics is the theory describing three of the four known fundamental forces (the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, and not including gravity) in the universe, as well as classifying all known elemen ...

Standard Model
of elementary particles, a scalar
Higgs field The Higgs boson is an elementary particle in the Standard Model of particle physics produced by the quantum excitation of the Higgs field, one of the fields in particle physics theory. In the Standard Model, the Higgs particle is a massive sc ...
is used to give the leptons and W and Z bosons, massive vector bosons their mass, via a combination of the Yukawa interaction and the spontaneous symmetry breaking. This mechanism is known as the Higgs mechanism. A candidate for the Higgs boson was first detected at CERN in 2012. * In scalar theories of gravitation scalar fields are used to describe the gravitational field. * Scalar-tensor theory, scalar-tensor theories represent the gravitational interaction through both a tensor and a scalar. Such attempts are for example the Pascual Jordan, Jordan theory as a generalization of the Kaluza–Klein theory and the Brans–Dicke theory. :* Scalar fields like the Higgs field can be found within scalar-tensor theories, using as scalar field the Higgs field of the
Standard Model The Standard Model of particle physics is the theory describing three of the four known fundamental forces (the electromagnetic, weak, and strong interactions, and not including gravity) in the universe, as well as classifying all known elemen ...

Standard Model
. This field interacts gravitationally and Yukawa interaction, Yukawa-like (short-ranged) with the particles that get mass through it. * Scalar fields are found within superstring theories as dilaton fields, breaking the conformal symmetry of the string, though balancing the quantum anomalies of this tensor. * Scalar fields are hypothesized to have caused the high accelerated expansion of the early universe (Inflation (cosmology), inflation), helping to solve the horizon problem and giving a hypothetical reason for the non-vanishing cosmological constant of cosmology. Massless (i.e. long-ranged) scalar fields in this context are known as inflatons. Massive (i.e. short-ranged) scalar fields are proposed, too, using for example Higgs-like fields.


Other kinds of fields

*Vector fields, which associate a vector (geometry), vector to every point in space. Some examples of
vector field In vector calculus and physics, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space. For instance, a vector field in the plane can be visualised as a collection of arrows with a given magnitude and direction, each attach ...

vector field
s include the electromagnetic field and air flow (wind) in meteorology. *Tensor fields, which associate a tensor to every point in space. For example, in general relativity gravitation is associated with the tensor field called Einstein tensor. In Kaluza–Klein theory, spacetime is extended to five dimensions and its Riemann curvature tensor can be separated out into ordinary dimension, four-dimensional gravitation plus an extra set, which is equivalent to Maxwell's equations for the electromagnetic field, plus an extra scalar field known as the "dilaton". (The dilaton scalar is also found among the massless bosonic fields in string theory.)


See also

* Scalar field theory * Vector boson * Vector-valued function


References

{{DEFAULTSORT:Scalar Field Multivariable calculus Articles containing video clips Scalar physical quantities