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Math Insight

Divergence and curl notation


, the formulas for the div ergence and curl are

(confused?)

3 F

2 F

+
1F

.)

2 F

3 F

1 F

3F

R : F

2 F

= F vid

1F

For

( = F lru c

These formulas are easy to memorize using a tool called the del operator, denoted by the nabla sy mbol
. Think of as a fake v ector composed of all the partial deriv ativ es that we use just to help us
remember the formulas:

.)

,
z

( =

Although it may not seem to make sense to just hav e the partial deriv ativ es without them acting on a
function, we won't worry about that. This is just notation.
v ector with

) 3 F , 2 F , 1 F( = F

) 3F , 2F , 1F ( )

,
z

( = F
x

Now, let's take the dot product of the

=
x

If we think of each multiplication in the dot product as instead being the deriv ativ e of the corresponding
, then we hav e the formula for the div ergence. So, if y ou can remember the del operator
and how to
take a dot product, y ou can easily remember the formula for the div ergence

3F

2F

+
z
F

1F

+
y

= F = F vid
x

This notation is also helpful because y ou will alway s know that


that the dot product is a scalar product).

is a scalar (since, of course, y ou know

The curl, on the other hand, is a v ector. We know one product that giv es a v ector: the cross product. And,
y es, it turns out that
is equal to
. To see this, let's take the cross product of the
v ector with
.

F lru c

,2

( )

( =

F , 2F ,

F( )

) 1F

2F

(k + ) 1 F

1 F

k)
y

x
3F

( + j)
x

z
F

2F

1F

x
1

3F

(i =
y

2F

( + i)
z

3F

( =
y

is the same

as taking the partial deriv ativ e with respect to


remember the curl formula by

2F

(j )

3F

( = F
x

k
3

This is ex actly the formula we gav e abov e. So if y ou can use the rule that multiplication by

(and similar for the other deriv ativ es), then y ou can

.F = F lru c

See also
The components of the curl
The idea of the div ergence of a v ector field
The idea of the curl of a v ector field

Cite this as
Ny kamp DQ, Div ergence and curl notation. From Math Insight. http://mathinsight.org
/div ergence_curl_notation
Key words: curl, div ergence

Div ergence and curl notation by Duane Q. Ny kamp is licensed under a Creativ e Commons AttributionNoncommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License. For permissions bey ond the scope of this license, please contact
us.