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A ZERO Curl and a ZERO divergence

  1. Jun 1, 2012 #1
    A ZERO Divergence Vector Field

    There is theorem that is widely used in physics--e.g., electricity and magnetism for which I have no proof, yet we use this theorem at the drop of a hat. The theorem is this:

    Given sufficient continuity and differentiability, every vector function A such that div(V) = 0 yields a vector function U such V = curl(U).

    Is there a simple proof of this?
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 1, 2012 #2
    I think a proof of this might go along the lines of constructing (a formula for) the vector potential, where the construction holds only for divergence-less vector fields.

    Also, there are likely issues of the region over which you are integrating. Your statement above may only be guaranteed locally, a subtle point that is often glossed over in physics courses.

    I'll try to describe this issue in the case of a curlless vector field being the gradient of some scalar potential.

    The vector field (-y/r,x/r), I think that has zero curl, so locally it has a scalar potential, but globally it is not possible. The theorems don't apply because there is a singularity in the vector field at the origin.

    You can visualize the potential function as a winding staircase, so the gradient points up the stairs, locally you can describe the height of the stairs, but if you make more than a full loop around the pole, your height will not be well defined over the plane.
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2012
  4. Jun 1, 2012 #3
    This is not true. We need certain conditions on the domain in order to get this result. A nice condition that we can demand is that the domain of the vector field is open and star-shaped. For example, an open ball would satisfy this, or entire [itex]\mathbb{R}^3[/itex] would satisfy this as well.

    In the case of an open and star-shaped domain, the result is true and is given by the so-called Poincaré lemma. Even more general, the Poincaré lemma holds for contractible domains.

    A proof of this can be found in "Calculus on manifolds" by Spivak. The result is theorem 4-11 p94. However, it is stated in the language of differential forms. Exercise 4-19 in the same chapter relate differential forms to the more common notions of div, grad and curl.
  5. Jun 8, 2012 #4
    I made a typo above, I think my example should have been

  6. Jun 8, 2012 #5
    Re: A ZERO Divergence Vector Field

    I think you are referrring to a particular case of a general result called Poincaré Lemma, which states under which condition a function called "potential" can exist, in a wide range of situations. It is indeed an extremely powerful result.
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