Scalar field

Scalar field

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In mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 and physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, a scalar field associates a scalar
Scalar
Scalar may refer to:*Scalar , a quantity used to multiply vectors in the context of vector spaces*Scalar , a quantity which is independent of specific classes of coordinate systems...

 value to every point in a space. The scalar may either be a mathematical number
Scalar (mathematics)
In linear algebra, real numbers are called scalars and relate to vectors in a vector space through the operation of scalar multiplication, in which a vector can be multiplied by a number to produce another vector....

, or a physical quantity
Scalar (physics)
In physics, a scalar is a simple physical quantity that is not changed by coordinate system rotations or translations , or by Lorentz transformations or space-time translations . This is in contrast to a vector...

. Scalar fields are required to be coordinate-independent, meaning that any two observers using the same units will agree on the value of the scalar field at the same point in space (or spacetime). Examples used in physics include the temperature
Temperature
Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

 distribution throughout space, the pressure
Pressure
Pressure is the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the local atmospheric or ambient pressure.- Definition :...

 distribution in a fluid, and spin-zero quantum fields, such as the Higgs field
Higgs boson
The Higgs boson is a hypothetical massive elementary particle that is predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. Its existence is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in the Standard Model...

. These fields are the subject of scalar field theory
Scalar field theory
In theoretical physics, scalar field theory can refer to a classical or quantum theory of scalar fields. A field which is invariant under any Lorentz transformation is called a "scalar", in contrast to a vector or tensor field...

.

Definition


Mathematically, a scalar field on a region U is a real
Real-valued function
In mathematics, a real-valued function is a function that associates to every element of the domain a real number in the image....

 or complex-valued function or distribution
Distribution (mathematics)
In mathematical analysis, distributions are objects that generalize functions. Distributions make it possible to differentiate functions whose derivatives do not exist in the classical sense. In particular, any locally integrable function has a distributional derivative...

 on U. The region U may be a set in some Euclidean space
Euclidean space
In mathematics, Euclidean space is the Euclidean plane and three-dimensional space of Euclidean geometry, as well as the generalizations of these notions to higher dimensions...

, Minkowski space
Minkowski space
In physics and mathematics, Minkowski space or Minkowski spacetime is the mathematical setting in which Einstein's theory of special relativity is most conveniently formulated...

, or more generally a subset of a manifold
Manifold
In mathematics , a manifold is a topological space that on a small enough scale resembles the Euclidean space of a specific dimension, called the dimension of the manifold....

, and it is typical in mathematics to impose further conditions on the field, such that it be continuous
Continuous function
In mathematics, a continuous function is a function for which, intuitively, "small" changes in the input result in "small" changes in the output. Otherwise, a function is said to be "discontinuous". A continuous function with a continuous inverse function is called "bicontinuous".Continuity of...

 or often continuously differentiable to some order. A scalar field is a tensor field
Tensor field
In mathematics, physics and engineering, a tensor field assigns a tensor to each point of a mathematical space . Tensor fields are used in differential geometry, algebraic geometry, general relativity, in the analysis of stress and strain in materials, and in numerous applications in the physical...

 of order zero, and the term "scalar field" may be used to distinguish a function of this kind with a more general tensor field, density, or differential form
Differential form
In the mathematical fields of differential geometry and tensor calculus, differential forms are an approach to multivariable calculus that is independent of coordinates. Differential forms provide a better definition for integrands in calculus...

.

Physically, a scalar field is additionally distinguished by having units of measurement
Units of measurement
A unit of measurement is a definite magnitude of a physical quantity, defined and adopted by convention and/or by law, that is used as a standard for measurement of the same physical quantity. Any other value of the physical quantity can be expressed as a simple multiple of the unit of...

 associated with it. In this context, a scalar field should also be independent of the coordinate system used to describe the physical system—that is, any two observer
Observer
Observer may refer to person who is observing. More specialised meanings follow.-Computer science and information theory:*In information theory, any system which receives information from an object....

s using the same units must agree on the numerical value of a scalar field at any given point of physical space. Scalar fields are contrasted with other physical quantities such as vector field
Vector field
In vector calculus, a vector field is an assignmentof a vector to each point in a subset of Euclidean space. A vector field in the plane for instance can be visualized as an arrow, with a given magnitude and direction, attached to each point in the plane...

s, which associate a vector to every point of a region, as well as tensor field
Tensor field
In mathematics, physics and engineering, a tensor field assigns a tensor to each point of a mathematical space . Tensor fields are used in differential geometry, algebraic geometry, general relativity, in the analysis of stress and strain in materials, and in numerous applications in the physical...

s and spinor fields
Spinor
In mathematics and physics, in particular in the theory of the orthogonal groups , spinors are elements of a complex vector space introduced to expand the notion of spatial vector. Unlike tensors, the space of spinors cannot be built up in a unique and natural way from spatial vectors...

. More subtly, scalar fields are often contrasted with pseudoscalar
Pseudoscalar
In physics, a pseudoscalar is a quantity that behaves like a scalar, except that it changes sign under a parity inversion such as improper rotations while a true scalar does not.The prototypical example of a pseudoscalar is the scalar triple product...

 fields.

Uses in physics


In physics, scalar fields often describe the potential energy
Potential energy
In physics, potential energy is the energy stored in a body or in a system due to its position in a force field or due to its configuration. The SI unit of measure for energy and work is the Joule...

 associated with a particular force
Force
In physics, a force is any influence that causes an object to undergo a change in speed, a change in direction, or a change in shape. In other words, a force is that which can cause an object with mass to change its velocity , i.e., to accelerate, or which can cause a flexible object to deform...

. The force is a vector field
Vector field
In vector calculus, a vector field is an assignmentof a vector to each point in a subset of Euclidean space. A vector field in the plane for instance can be visualized as an arrow, with a given magnitude and direction, attached to each point in the plane...

, which can be obtained as the gradient
Gradient
In vector calculus, the gradient of a scalar field is a vector field that points in the direction of the greatest rate of increase of the scalar field, and whose magnitude is the greatest rate of change....

 of the potential energy scalar field. Examples include:
  • Potential fields, such as the Newtonian gravitational potential, or the electric potential
    Electric potential
    In classical electromagnetism, the electric potential at a point within a defined space is equal to the electric potential energy at that location divided by the charge there...

     in electrostatics
    Electrostatics
    Electrostatics is the branch of physics that deals with the phenomena and properties of stationary or slow-moving electric charges....

    , are scalar fields which describe the more familiar forces.
  • A temperature
    Temperature
    Temperature is a physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold. Objects of low temperature are cold, while various degrees of higher temperatures are referred to as warm or hot...

    , humidity
    Humidity
    Humidity is a term for the amount of water vapor in the air, and can refer to any one of several measurements of humidity. Formally, humid air is not "moist air" but a mixture of water vapor and other constituents of air, and humidity is defined in terms of the water content of this mixture,...

     or pressure
    Pressure
    Pressure is the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object. Gauge pressure is the pressure relative to the local atmospheric or ambient pressure.- Definition :...

     field, such as those used in meteorology
    Meteorology
    Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere. Studies in the field stretch back millennia, though significant progress in meteorology did not occur until the 18th century. The 19th century saw breakthroughs occur after observing networks developed across several countries...

    .

Examples in quantum theory and relativity

  • In quantum field theory
    Quantum field theory
    Quantum field theory provides a theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of systems classically parametrized by an infinite number of dynamical degrees of freedom, that is, fields and many-body systems. It is the natural and quantitative language of particle physics and...

    , a scalar field
    Bosonic field
    In quantum field theory, a bosonic field is a quantum field whose quanta are bosons; that is, they obey Bose-Einstein statistics. Bosonic fields obey canonical commutation relations, as distinct from the canonical anticommutation relations obeyed by fermionic fields.Examples include scalar fields,...

     is associated with spin-0 particles. The scalar field may be real or complex valued. Complex scalar fields represent charged particles. These include the charged Higgs field of the Standard Model
    Standard Model
    The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

    , as well as the charged pion
    Pion
    In particle physics, a pion is any of three subatomic particles: , , and . Pions are the lightest mesons and they play an important role in explaining the low-energy properties of the strong nuclear force....

     mediating the strong nuclear interaction.
  • In the Standard Model
    Standard Model
    The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

     of elementary particles, a scalar Higgs field is used to give the lepton
    Lepton
    A lepton is an elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. The best known of all leptons is the electron which governs nearly all of chemistry as it is found in atoms and is directly tied to all chemical properties. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons , and neutral...

    s and massive vector bosons their mass, via a combination of the Yukawa interaction
    Yukawa interaction
    In particle physics, Yukawa's interaction, named after Hideki Yukawa, is an interaction between a scalar field \phi and a Dirac field \Psi of the typeV \approx g\bar\Psi \phi \Psi or g \bar \Psi \gamma^5 \phi \Psi ....

     and the spontaneous symmetry breaking
    Spontaneous symmetry breaking
    Spontaneous symmetry breaking is the process by which a system described in a theoretically symmetrical way ends up in an apparently asymmetric state....

    . This mechanism is known as the Higgs mechanism
    Higgs mechanism
    In particle physics, the Higgs mechanism is the process in which gauge bosons in a gauge theory can acquire non-vanishing masses through absorption of Nambu-Goldstone bosons arising in spontaneous symmetry breaking....

    . The Higgs boson
    Higgs boson
    The Higgs boson is a hypothetical massive elementary particle that is predicted to exist by the Standard Model of particle physics. Its existence is postulated as a means of resolving inconsistencies in the Standard Model...

     is still the subject of searches at particle accelerators.

  • In scalar theories of gravitation
    Scalar theories of gravitation
    Scalar theories of gravitation are field theories of gravitation in which the gravitational field is described using a scalar field, which is required to satisfy some field equation....

     scalar fields are used to describe the gravitational field.
  • scalar-tensor theories
    Scalar-tensor theory
    In theoretical physics, a scalar-tensor theory is a theory that includes both a scalar field and a tensor field to represent a certain interaction...

     represent the gravitational interaction through both a tensor and a scalar. Such attempts are for example the Jordan
    Pascual Jordan
    -Further reading:...

     theory as a generalization of the Kaluza-Klein theory and the Brans-Dicke theory
    Brans-Dicke theory
    In theoretical physics, the Brans–Dicke theory of gravitation is a theoretical framework to explain gravitation. It is a well-known competitor of Einstein's more popular theory of general relativity...

    .
  • Scalar fields like the Higgs field can be found within scalar-tensor theories, using as scalar field the Higgs field of the Standard Model
    Standard Model
    The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

    ,. This field interacts gravitatively and Yukawa
    Yukawa interaction
    In particle physics, Yukawa's interaction, named after Hideki Yukawa, is an interaction between a scalar field \phi and a Dirac field \Psi of the typeV \approx g\bar\Psi \phi \Psi or g \bar \Psi \gamma^5 \phi \Psi ....

    -like (short-ranged) with the particles that get mass through it.
  • Scalar fields are found within superstring theories as dilaton
    Dilaton
    In particle physics, a dilaton is a hypothetical particle. It also appears in Kaluza-Klein theory's compactifications of extra dimensions when the volume of the compactified dimensions vary....

     fields, breaking the conformal symmetry of the string, though balancing the quantum anomalies of this tensor.
  • Scalar fields are supposed to cause the accelerated expansion of the universe (inflation ), helping to solve the horizon problem
    Horizon problem
    The horizon problem is a problem with the standard cosmological model of the Big Bang which was identified in the 1970s. It points out that different regions of the universe have not "contacted" each other because of the great distances between them, but nevertheless they have the same temperature...

     and giving an hypothetical reason for the non-vanishing cosmological constant
    Cosmological constant
    In physical cosmology, the cosmological constant was proposed by Albert Einstein as a modification of his original theory of general relativity to achieve a stationary universe...

     of cosmology. Massless (i.e. long-ranged) scalar fields in this context are known as inflaton
    Inflaton
    The inflaton is the generic name of the hypothetical and hitherto unidentified scalar field that may be responsible for the hypothetical inflation in the very early universe...

    s. Massive (i.e. short-ranged) scalar fields are proposed, too, using for example Higgs-like fields (e.g.).

Other kinds of fields

  • Vector field
    Vector field
    In vector calculus, a vector field is an assignmentof a vector to each point in a subset of Euclidean space. A vector field in the plane for instance can be visualized as an arrow, with a given magnitude and direction, attached to each point in the plane...

    s, which associate a vector to every point in space. Some examples of vector field
    Vector field
    In vector calculus, a vector field is an assignmentof a vector to each point in a subset of Euclidean space. A vector field in the plane for instance can be visualized as an arrow, with a given magnitude and direction, attached to each point in the plane...

    s include the electromagnetic field
    Electromagnetic field
    An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction...

     and the Newtonian gravitational field.
  • Tensor field
    Tensor field
    In mathematics, physics and engineering, a tensor field assigns a tensor to each point of a mathematical space . Tensor fields are used in differential geometry, algebraic geometry, general relativity, in the analysis of stress and strain in materials, and in numerous applications in the physical...

    s, which associate a tensor
    Tensor
    Tensors are geometric objects that describe linear relations between vectors, scalars, and other tensors. Elementary examples include the dot product, the cross product, and linear maps. Vectors and scalars themselves are also tensors. A tensor can be represented as a multi-dimensional array of...

     to every point in space. For example, in general relativity
    General relativity
    General relativity or the general theory of relativity is the geometric theory of gravitation published by Albert Einstein in 1916. It is the current description of gravitation in modern physics...

     gravitation is associated with a tensor field (in particular, with the Riemann curvature tensor
    Riemann curvature tensor
    In the mathematical field of differential geometry, the Riemann curvature tensor, or Riemann–Christoffel tensor after Bernhard Riemann and Elwin Bruno Christoffel, is the most standard way to express curvature of Riemannian manifolds...

    ). In Kaluza-Klein theory, spacetime is extended to five dimensions and its Riemann curvature tensor can be separated out into ordinary four-dimensional
    Dimension
    In physics and mathematics, the dimension of a space or object is informally defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify any point within it. Thus a line has a dimension of one because only one coordinate is needed to specify a point on it...

     gravitation plus an extra set, which is equivalent to Maxwell's equations
    Maxwell's equations
    Maxwell's equations are a set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. These fields in turn underlie modern electrical and communications technologies.Maxwell's equations...

     for the electromagnetic field
    Electromagnetic field
    An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction...

    , plus an extra scalar field known as the "dilaton
    Dilaton
    In particle physics, a dilaton is a hypothetical particle. It also appears in Kaluza-Klein theory's compactifications of extra dimensions when the volume of the compactified dimensions vary....

    ". The dilaton scalar is also found among the massless bosonic fields in string theory
    String theory
    String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

    .