Vector potential

# Vector potential

Discussion
 Ask a question about 'Vector potential' Start a new discussion about 'Vector potential' Answer questions from other users Full Discussion Forum

Encyclopedia
In vector calculus, a vector potential 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...

whose curl is a given vector field. This is analogous to a scalar potential
Scalar potential
A scalar potential is a fundamental concept in vector analysis and physics . The scalar potential is an example of a scalar field...

, which is a scalar field whose negative 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....

is a given vector field.

Formally, given a vector field v, a vector potential is a vector field A such that

If a vector field v admits a vector potential A, then from the equality
(divergence
Divergence
In vector calculus, divergence is a vector operator that measures the magnitude of a vector field's source or sink at a given point, in terms of a signed scalar. More technically, the divergence represents the volume density of the outward flux of a vector field from an infinitesimal volume around...

of the curl is zero) one obtains
which implies that v must be a solenoidal vector field.

An interesting question is then if any solenoidal vector field admits a vector potential. The answer is yes, if the vector field satisfies certain conditions.

## Theorem

Let
be a solenoidal vector field which is twice continuously differentiable
Smooth function
In mathematical analysis, a differentiability class is a classification of functions according to the properties of their derivatives. Higher order differentiability classes correspond to the existence of more derivatives. Functions that have derivatives of all orders are called smooth.Most of...

. Assume that v(x) decreases sufficiently fast as ||x||→∞. Define

Then, A is a vector potential for v, that is,

A generalization of this theorem is the Helmholtz decomposition
Helmholtz decomposition
In physics and mathematics, in the area of vector calculus, Helmholtz's theorem, also known as the fundamental theorem of vector calculus, states that any sufficiently smooth, rapidly decaying vector field in three dimensions can be resolved into the sum of an irrotational vector field and a...

which states that any vector field can be decomposed as a sum of a solenoidal vector field and an irrotational vector field
Irrotational vector field
In vector calculus a conservative vector field is a vector field which is the gradient of a function, known in this context as a scalar potential. Conservative vector fields have the property that the line integral from one point to another is independent of the choice of path connecting the two...

.

## Nonuniqueness

The vector potential admitted by a solenoidal field is not unique. If A is a vector potential for v, then so is

where m is any continuously differentiable scalar function. This follows from the fact that the curl of the gradient is zero.

This nonuniqueness leads to a degree of freedom in the formulation of electrodynamics, or gauge freedom, and requires choosing a gauge
Gauge fixing
In the physics of gauge theories, gauge fixing denotes a mathematical procedure for coping with redundant degrees of freedom in field variables. By definition, a gauge theory represents each physically distinct configuration of the system as an equivalence class of detailed local field...

.