A portion of the vector field (sin y, sin x)
In vector calculus, a vector field is an assignment of a vector to each point in a subset of space.^{[1]} A vector field in the plane, for instance, can be visualized as a collection of arrows with a given magnitude and direction each attached to a point in the plane. Vector fields are often used to model, for example, the speed and direction of a moving fluid throughout space, or the strength and direction of some force, such as the magnetic or gravitational force, as it changes from point to point.
The elements of differential and integral calculus extend to vector fields in a natural way. When a vector field represents force, the line integral of a vector field represents the work done by a force moving along a path, and under this interpretation conservation of energy is exhibited as a special case of the fundamental theorem of calculus. Vector fields can usefully be thought of as representing the velocity of a moving flow in space, and this physical intuition leads to notions such as the divergence (which represents the rate of change of volume of a flow) and curl (which represents the rotation of a flow).
In coordinates, a vector field on a domain in ndimensional Euclidean space can be represented as a vectorvalued function that associates an ntuple of real numbers to each point of the domain. This representation of a vector field depends on the coordinate system, and there is a welldefined transformation law in passing from one coordinate system to the other. Vector fields are often discussed on open subsets of Euclidean space, but also make sense on other subsets such as surfaces, where they associate an arrow tangent to the surface at each point (a tangent vector).
More generally, vector fields are defined on differentiable manifolds, which are spaces that look like Euclidean space on small scales, but may have more complicated structure on larger scales. In this setting, a vector field gives a tangent vector at each point of the manifold (that is, a section of the tangent bundle to the manifold). Vector fields are one kind of tensor field.
Contents

Definition 1

Vector fields on subsets of Euclidean space 1.1

Coordinate transformation law 1.2

Vector fields on manifolds 1.3

Examples 2

Gradient field 2.1

Central field 2.2

Operations on vector fields 3

Line integral 3.1

Divergence 3.2

Curl 3.3

Index of a vector field 3.4

History 4

Flow curves 5

Complete vector fields 5.1

Difference between scalar and vector field 6

Example 1 6.1

Example 2 6.2

frelatedness 7

Generalizations 8

See also 9

References 10

Bibliography 11

External links 12
Definition
Vector fields on subsets of Euclidean space
Two representations of the same vector field: v(x, y) = −r. The arrows depict the field at discrete points, however, the field exists everywhere.
Given a subset S in R^{n}, a vector field is represented by a vectorvalued function V: S → R^{n} in standard Cartesian coordinates (x_{1}, ..., x_{n}). If each component of V is continuous, then V is a continuous vector field, and more generally V is a C^{k} vector field if each component V is k times continuously differentiable.
A vector field can be visualized as assigning a vector to individual points within an ndimensional space.^{[1]}
Given two C^{k}vector fields V, W defined on S and a real valued C^{k}function f defined on S, the two operations scalar multiplication and vector addition

(fV)(p) := f(p)V(p)\,

(V+W)(p) := V(p) + W(p)\,
define the module of C^{k}vector fields over the ring of C^{k}functions.
Coordinate transformation law
In physics, a vector is additionally distinguished by how its coordinates change when one measures the same vector with respect to a different background coordinate system. The transformation properties of vectors distinguish a vector as a geometrically distinct entity from a simple list of scalars, or from a covector.
Thus, suppose that (x_{1},...,x_{n}) is a choice of Cartesian coordinates, in terms of which the components of the vector V are

V_x = (V_{1,x},\dots,V_{n,x})
and suppose that (y_{1},...,y_{n}) are n functions of the x_{i} defining a different coordinate system. Then the components of the vector V in the new coordinates are required to satisfy the transformation law

V_{i,y} = \sum_{j=1}^n \frac{\partial y_i}{\partial x_j} V_{j,x}.


(1)

Such a transformation law is called contravariant. A similar transformation law characterizes vector fields in physics: specifically, a vector field is a specification of n functions in each coordinate system subject to the transformation law (1) relating the different coordinate systems.
Vector fields are thus contrasted with scalar fields, which associate a number or scalar to every point in space, and are also contrasted with simple lists of scalar fields, which do not transform under coordinate changes.
Vector fields on manifolds
Given a differentiable manifold M, a vector field on M is an assignment of a tangent vector to each point in M.^{[2]} More precisely, a vector field F is a mapping from M into the tangent bundle TM so that p\circ F is the identity mapping where p denotes the projection from TM to M. In other words, a vector field is a section of the tangent bundle.
If the manifold M is smooth or analytic—that is, the change of coordinates is smooth (analytic)—then one can make sense of the notion of smooth (analytic) vector fields. The collection of all smooth vector fields on a smooth manifold M is often denoted by Γ(TM) or C^{∞}(M,TM) (especially when thinking of vector fields as sections); the collection of all smooth vector fields is also denoted by \scriptstyle \mathfrak{X} (M) (a fraktur "X").
Examples
The flow field around an airplane is a vector field in
R^{3}, here visualized by bubbles that follow the
streamlines showing a
wingtip vortex.

A vector field for the movement of air on Earth will associate for every point on the surface of the Earth a vector with the wind speed and direction for that point. This can be drawn using arrows to represent the wind; the length (magnitude) of the arrow will be an indication of the wind speed. A "high" on the usual barometric pressure map would then act as a source (arrows pointing away), and a "low" would be a sink (arrows pointing towards), since air tends to move from high pressure areas to low pressure areas.

Velocity field of a moving fluid. In this case, a velocity vector is associated to each point in the fluid.

Streamlines, Streaklines and Pathlines are 3 types of lines that can be made from vector fields. They are :


streaklines — as revealed in wind tunnels using smoke.

streamlines (or fieldlines)— as a line depicting the instantaneous field at a given time.

pathlines — showing the path that a given particle (of zero mass) would follow.

Magnetic fields. The fieldlines can be revealed using small iron filings.

Maxwell's equations allow us to use a given set of initial conditions to deduce, for every point in Euclidean space, a magnitude and direction for the force experienced by a charged test particle at that point; the resulting vector field is the electromagnetic field.

A gravitational field generated by any massive object is also a vector field. For example, the gravitational field vectors for a spherically symmetric body would all point towards the sphere's center with the magnitude of the vectors reducing as radial distance from the body increases.
Gradient field
A vector field that has circulation about a point cannot be written as the gradient of a function.
Vector fields can be constructed out of scalar fields using the gradient operator (denoted by the del: ∇).^{[3]}
A vector field V defined on a set S is called a gradient field or a conservative field if there exists a realvalued function (a scalar field) f on S such that

V = \nabla f = \bigg(\frac{\partial f}{\partial x_1}, \frac{\partial f}{\partial x_2}, \frac{\partial f}{\partial x_3}, \dots ,\frac{\partial f}{\partial x_n}\bigg).
The associated flow is called the gradient flow, and is used in the method of gradient descent.
The path integral along any closed curve γ (γ(0) = γ(1)) in a gradient field is zero:

\oint_\gamma \langle V(x), \mathrm{d}x \rangle = \oint_\gamma \langle \nabla f(x), \mathrm{d}x \rangle = f(\gamma(1))  f(\gamma(0)).
where the angular brackets and comma: ⟨, ⟩ denotes the inner product of two vectors (strictly speaking  the integrand V(x) is a 1form rather than a vector in the elementary sense).^{[4]}
Central field
A C^{∞}vector field over R^{n} \ {0} is called a central field if

V(T(p)) = T(V(p)) \qquad (T \in \mathrm{O}(n, \mathbf{R}))
where O(n, R) is the orthogonal group. We say central fields are invariant under orthogonal transformations around 0.
The point 0 is called the center of the field.
Since orthogonal transformations are actually rotations and reflections, the invariance conditions mean that vectors of a central field are always directed towards, or away from, 0; this is an alternate (and simpler) definition. A central field is always a gradient field, since defining it on one semiaxis and integrating gives an antigradient.
Operations on vector fields
Line integral
A common technique in physics is to integrate a vector field along a curve, i.e. to determine its line integral. Given a particle in a gravitational vector field, where each vector represents the force acting on the particle at a given point in space, the line integral is the work done on the particle when it travels along a certain path.
The line integral is constructed analogously to the Riemann integral and it exists if the curve is rectifiable (has finite length) and the vector field is continuous.
Given a vector field V and a curve γ parametrized by [a, b] (where a and b are real) the line integral is defined as

\int_\gamma \langle V(x), \mathrm{d}x \rangle = \int_a^b \langle V(\gamma(t)), \gamma'(t)\;\mathrm{d}t \rangle.
Divergence
The divergence of a vector field on Euclidean space is a function (or scalar field). In threedimensions, the divergence is defined by

\operatorname{div} \mathbf{F} = \nabla \cdot \mathbf{F} = \frac{\partial F_1}{\partial x} + \frac{\partial F_2}{\partial y}+\frac{\partial F_3}{\partial z},
with the obvious generalization to arbitrary dimensions. The divergence at a point represents the degree to which a small volume around the point is a source or a sink for the vector flow, a result which is made precise by the divergence theorem.
The divergence can also be defined on a Riemannian manifold, that is, a manifold with a Riemannian metric that measures the length of vectors.
Curl
The curl is an operation which takes a vector field and produces another vector field. The curl is defined only in threedimensions, but some properties of the curl can be captured in higher dimensions with the exterior derivative. In threedimensions, it is defined by

\operatorname{curl}\,\mathbf{F} = \nabla \times \mathbf{F} = \left(\frac{\partial F_3}{\partial y} \frac{\partial F_2}{\partial z}\right)\mathbf{e}_1  \left(\frac{\partial F_3}{\partial x} \frac{\partial F_1}{\partial z}\right)\mathbf{e}_2 + \left(\frac{\partial F_2}{\partial x} \frac{\partial F_1}{\partial y}\right)\mathbf{e}_3.
The curl measures the density of the angular momentum of the vector flow at a point, that is, the amount to which the flow circulates around a fixed axis. This intuitive description is made precise by Stokes' theorem.
Index of a vector field
The index of a vector field is a way of describing the behaviour of a vector field around an isolated zero (i.e. nonsingular point) which can distinguish saddles from sources and sinks. Take a small sphere around the zero so that no other zeros are included. A map from this sphere to a unit sphere of dimensions n1 can be constructed by dividing each vector by its length to form a unit length vector which can then be mapped to the unit sphere. The index of the vector field at the point is the degree of this map. The index of the vector field is the sum of the indices of each zero.
The index will be zero around any non singular point, it is +1 around sources and sinks and 1 around saddles. In two dimensions the index is equivalent to the winding number. For an ordinary sphere in three dimension space it can be shown that the index of any vector field on the sphere must be two, this leads to the hairy ball theorem which shows that every such vector field must have a zero. This theorem generalises to the Poincaré–Hopf theorem which relates the index to the Euler characteristic of the space.
History
Vector fields arose originally in classical field theory in 19th century physics, specifically in magnetism. They were formalized by Michael Faraday, in his concept of lines of force, who emphasized that the field itself should be an object of study, which it has become throughout physics in the form of field theory.
In addition to the magnetic field, other phenomena that were modeled as vector fields by Faraday include the electrical field and light field.
Flow curves
Consider the flow of a fluid through a region of space. At any given time, any point of the fluid has a particular velocity associated with it; thus there is a vector field associated to any flow. The converse is also true: it is possible to associate a flow to a vector field having that vector field as its velocity.
Given a vector field V defined on S, one defines curves γ(t) on S such that for each t in an interval I

\gamma'(t) = V(\gamma(t))\,.
By the Picard–Lindelöf theorem, if V is Lipschitz continuous there is a unique C^{1}curve γ_{x} for each point x in S so that

\gamma_x(0) = x\,

\gamma'_x(t) = V(\gamma_x(t)) \qquad ( t \in (\epsilon, +\epsilon) \subset \mathbf{R}).
The curves γ_{x} are called flow curves of the vector field V and partition S into equivalence classes. It is not always possible to extend the interval (−ε, +ε) to the whole real number line. The flow may for example reach the edge of S in a finite time. In two or three dimensions one can visualize the vector field as giving rise to a flow on S. If we drop a particle into this flow at a point p it will move along the curve γ_{p} in the flow depending on the initial point p. If p is a stationary point of V then the particle will remain at p.
Typical applications are streamline in fluid, geodesic flow, and oneparameter subgroups and the exponential map in Lie groups.
Complete vector fields
A vector field is complete if its flow curves exist for all time.^{[5]} In particular, compactly supported vector fields on a manifold are complete. If X is a complete vector field on M, then the oneparameter group of diffeomorphisms generated by the flow along X exists for all time.
Difference between scalar and vector field
The difference between a scalar and vector field is not that a scalar is just one number while a vector is several numbers. The difference is in how their coordinates respond to coordinate transformations. A scalar is a coordinate whereas a vector can be described by coordinates, but it is not the collection of its coordinates.
Example 1
This example is about 2dimensional Euclidean space (R^{2}) where we examine Euclidean (x, y) and polar (r, θ) coordinates (which are undefined at the origin). Thus x = r cos θ and y = r sin θ and also r^{2} = x^{2} + y^{2}, cos θ = x/(x^{2} + y^{2})^{1/2} and sin θ = y/(x^{2} + y^{2})^{1/2}. Suppose we have a scalar field which is given by the constant function 1, and a vector field which attaches a vector in the rdirection with length 1 to each point. More precisely, they are given by the functions

s_{\mathrm{polar}}:(r, \theta) \mapsto 1, \quad v_{\mathrm{polar}}:(r, \theta) \mapsto (1, 0).
Let us convert these fields to Euclidean coordinates. The vector of length 1 in the rdirection has the x coordinate cos θ and the y coordinate sin θ. Thus in Euclidean coordinates the same fields are described by the functions

s_{\mathrm{Euclidean}}:(x, y) \mapsto 1,

v_{\mathrm{Euclidean}}:(x, y) \mapsto (\cos \theta, \sin \theta) = \left(\frac{x}{\sqrt}, \frac{y}{\sqrt{x^2 + y^2}}\right).
We see that while the scalar field remains the same, the vector field now looks different. The same holds even in the 1dimensional case, as illustrated by the next example.
Example 2
Consider the 1dimensional Euclidean space R with its standard Euclidean coordinate x. Suppose we have a scalar field and a vector field which are both given in the x coordinate by the constant function 1,

s_{\mathrm{Euclidean}}:x \mapsto 1, \quad v_{\mathrm{Euclidean}}:x \mapsto 1.
Thus, we have a scalar field which has the value 1 everywhere and a vector field which attaches a vector in the xdirection with magnitude 1 unit of x to each point.
Now consider the coordinate ξ := 2x. If x changes one unit then ξ changes 2 units. Thus this vector field has a magnitude of 2 in units of ξ. Therefore, in the ξ coordinate the scalar field and the vector field are described by the functions

s_{\mathrm{unusual}}:\xi \mapsto 1, \quad v_{\mathrm{unusual}}:\xi \mapsto 2
which are different.
frelatedness
Given a smooth function between manifolds, f: M → N, the derivative is an induced map on tangent bundles, f_{*}: TM → TN. Given vector fields V: M → TM and W: N → TN, we say that W is frelated to V if the equation W ∘ f^{*} = f_{*} ∘ V holds.
If V_{i} is frelated to W_{i}, i = 1, 2, then the Lie bracket [V_{1}, V_{2}] is frelated to [W_{1}, W_{2}].
Generalizations
Replacing vectors by pvectors (pth exterior power of vectors) yields pvector fields; taking the dual space and exterior powers yields differential kforms, and combining these yields general tensor fields.
Algebraically, vector fields can be characterized as derivations of the algebra of smooth functions on the manifold, which leads to defining a vector field on a commutative algebra as a derivation on the algebra, which is developed in the theory of differential calculus over commutative algebras.
See also
References

^ ^{a} ^{b} Galbis, Antonio & Maestre, Manuel (2012). Vector Analysis Versus Vector Calculus. Springer. p. 12.

^ Tu, Loring W. (2010). "Vector fields". An Introduction to Manifolds. Springer. p. 149.

^ Dawber, P.G. (1987). Vectors and Vector Operators. CRC Press. p. 29.

^ T. Frankel (2012), The Geometry of Physics (3rd ed.), Cambridge University Press, p. xxxviii,

^ Sharpe, R. (1997). Differential geometry. SpringerVerlag.
Bibliography

Hubbard, J. H.; Hubbard, B. B. (1999). Vector calculus, linear algebra, and differential forms. A unified approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Warner, Frank (1983) [1971]. Foundations of differentiable manifolds and Lie groups. New YorkBerlin: SpringerVerlag.

Boothby, William (1986). An introduction to differentiable manifolds and Riemannian geometry. Pure and Applied Mathematics, volume 120 (second ed.). Orlando, FL: Academic Press.
External links

Hazewinkel, Michiel, ed. (2001), "Vector field",

Vector field — Mathworld

Vector field — PlanetMath

3D Magnetic field viewer

Vector Field Simulation Java applet illustrating vectors fields

Vector fields and field lines

Vector field simulation An interactive application to show the effects of vector fields

Vector Fields Software 2d & 3d electromagnetic design software that can be used to visualise vector fields and field lines
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