1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Are complex variables used in physics

  1. Mar 12, 2008 #1
    I'm thinking of taking an introduction to complex variables course as an elective for my applied math major(or minor). Are their any applications of complex variables in physics?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2008 #2


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    There are various applications of complex variables in physics, ranging from electromagnetism to quantum mechanics. Whether you need a full mathematics course in Complex Analysis for physics is another matter entirely.
  4. Mar 12, 2008 #3
    They are use all the time. Very common in many physics fields.
  5. Mar 12, 2008 #4
    there is also something called a contour integral that is used in a number of physics applications that you would learn in complex analysis.
  6. Mar 14, 2008 #5
    Well i see them used all the time. I took a complex variables course already and it hasnt helped me too much, but i expect that it eventually will. It reall helped me in my math methods class.
  7. Mar 14, 2008 #6


    User Avatar

    besides physics, we use them in electrical engineering and signal processing to describe and manipulate AC signals. i think that the class short circut took will become useful if he/she does anything reasonably sophisticated with complex variables. everybody needs to know about Euler's formula, contour integration, and Residue Theory.
  8. Mar 14, 2008 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    the equilibrium temperature distribution in a disc, and the electrostatic potential in a charge free region are examples of functions in physics which are solutions to laplace's differential equation. such functions are called harmonic functions.

    a complex analytic function is precisely a complex valued function whose real and imaginary parts are conjugate harmonic functions. thus physics and complex analysis are intimately related.

    stephen hawking is famous for physical theories allowing time to assume complex values. the idea is that any analytic function at all, e.g. polynomial, trig function, implicitly defined algebraic function,.... all are illuminated by allowing them to assume complex values both in domain and range.
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2008
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook