Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Directional and partial derivatives help please

  1. May 21, 2012 #1
    Directional and partial derivatives help please!!

    I have read that the partial derivative of a function z=f(x,y) :∂z/∂x, ∂z/∂y at the point (xo,yo,zo)are just the tangent lines at (xo,yo,zo) along the planes y=yo and x=xo. Directional derivatives were explained to be derivatives at a particular direction defined by the unit vector a=cos∅xλ sin∅yλand it is given by Daf(x,y)=
    ∂z/∂xcos∅ + ∂z/∂ysin∅. Partial derivatives were also said to be special cases of directional derivatives when ∅=0° or 90°.

    What confuses me is that if ∅=180° or 270°,the directional derivative equals the negative of the partial derivative. The angle was just increasedby 180 so the tangent line remains at the same plane and i think should it not change its value, it is still the same tangent line as before.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. May 21, 2012 #2
    Re: Directional and partial derivatives help please!!

    You have answered your own question, so I'm not sure if anything I say will be helpful.

    Think of the equation for the tangent line given by the partial derivatives. It's a line parameterized by a single variable, lets say [itex]t[/itex]. Now when [itex]t[/itex] increases we need to pick which direction we want to traverse the tangent line. When we rotate by the angels you mentioned, all we are doing is choosing to traverse the tangent line in the opposite direction.

    Part of the reason for this is that our math shouldn't be bogged down into which coordinate system we use. Instead of the [itex]x[/itex] and [itex]y[/itex] axes, we may want to use two different vectors to serve as our axes.
     
  4. May 21, 2012 #3
    Re: Directional and partial derivatives help please!!

    The directional derivative tells the rate of change of z as the point in your domain moves at unit speed in the given direction. If you flip your direction of motion (in the domain), then z switches from increasing to decreasing (or vice-versa), which is why the sign of the directional derivative flips. So yes, it is the same tangent line, but you are going "down" along it instead of "up" along it.
     
  5. May 22, 2012 #4
    Re: Directional and partial derivatives help please!!

    thanks a lot :)
     
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook