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Unformatted text preview: 5 Vector and scalar fields 5.1 scalar fields A scalar field is a fancy name for a function of space, i.e. it associates a real number with every position in some space, e.g. in 3D = ( x, y, z ). Weve already encountered examples without calling them scalar fields, e.g. the temper ature T ( x, y ) in a metal plate, or the electrostatic potential = ( x, y, z ). The gravitational potential is another, and its frequently convenient to think about potential landscapes, imagining that a set of hills is a kind of paradigm for a varying potential, since the height in this case scales with the potential mgh ( x, y ) itself. Formally, scalar is a word used to distinguish the field from a vector field. We can do this because a scalar field is invariant under the rotation of the coordinate system: ( x , y , z ) = ( x, y, z ) . (1) In other words, I may label the point on top of one of the hills by a different set of coordinates, but this doesnt change the height I assign to it. This is in contrast to a vector field, where the values of the components do change in the new coordinate system, as we have discussed. 5.1.1 gradients of scalar fields If youre standing on the hill somewhere, say not on the top, theres one direction in xy space which gives you the direction of the fastest way down. This vector isspace which gives you the direction of the fastest way down....
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This note was uploaded on 04/17/2008 for the course PHZ 3113 taught by Professor Hirshfeld during the Fall '07 term at University of Florida.
 Fall '07
 HIRSHFELD

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