In mathematics and physics, Laplace's equation is a secondorder partial differential equation named after PierreSimon Laplace who first studied its properties. This is often written as
\nabla^{2}f=0 or \Deltaf=0,
where
\Delta=\nabla ⋅ \nabla=\nabla^{2}
\nabla ⋅
\nabla
f(x,y,z)
If the righthand side is specified as a given function,
h(x,y,z)
\Deltaf=h.
This is called Poisson's equation, a generalization of Laplace's equation. Laplace's equation and Poisson's equation are the simplest examples of elliptic partial differential equations. Laplace's equation is also a special case of the Helmholtz equation.
The general theory of solutions to Laplace's equation is known as potential theory. The solutions of Laplace's equation are the harmonic functions,^{[2]} which are important in multiple branches of physics, notably electrostatics, gravitation, and fluid dynamics. In the study of heat conduction, the Laplace equation is the steadystate heat equation.^{[3]} In general, Laplace's equation describes situations of equilibrium, or those that do not depend explicitly on time.
In rectangular coordinates,^{[4]}
\nabla^{2}f=
\partial^{2}f  
\partialx^{2} 
+
\partial^{2}f  
\partialy^{2} 
+
\partial^{2}f  
\partialz^{2} 
=0.
In cylindrical coordinates,^{[4]}
\nabla^{2}f=
1  
r 
\partial  
\partialr 
\left(r
\partialf  
\partialr 
\right)+
1  
r^{2} 
\partial^{2}f  
\partial\phi^{2} 
+
\partial^{2}f  
\partialz^{2} 
=0.
In spherical coordinates, using the
(r,\theta,\varphi)
\nabla^{2}f=
1  
r^{2} 
\partial  
\partialr 
\left(r^{2}
\partialf  
\partialr 
\right)+
1  
r^{2}\sin\theta 
\partial  
\partial\theta 
\left(\sin\theta
\partialf  
\partial\theta 
\right)+
1  
r^{2}\sin^{2\theta} 
\partial^{2}f  
\partial\varphi^{2} 
=0.
More generally, in curvilinear coordinates,
\nabla^{2}f=
\partial  \left(  
\partial\xi^{j} 
\partialf  
\partial\xi^{k} 
g^{kj}\right)+
\partialf  
\partial\xi^{j} 
g^{jm}
n  
\Gamma  
mn 
=0,
\nabla^{2}f=
1  
\sqrt{g 
See also: Boundary value problem. The Dirichlet problem for Laplace's equation consists of finding a solution φ on some domain D such that φ on the boundary of D is equal to some given function. Since the Laplace operator appears in the heat equation, one physical interpretation of this problem is as follows: fix the temperature on the boundary of the domain according to the given specification of the boundary condition. Allow heat to flow until a stationary state is reached in which the temperature at each point on the domain doesn't change anymore. The temperature distribution in the interior will then be given by the solution to the corresponding Dirichlet problem.
The Neumann boundary conditions for Laplace's equation specify not the function φ itself on the boundary of D, but its normal derivative. Physically, this corresponds to the construction of a potential for a vector field whose effect is known at the boundary of D alone. For the example of the heat equation it amounts to prescribing the heat flux through the boundary. In particular, at an adiabatic boundary, the normal derivative of φ is zero.
Solutions of Laplace's equation are called harmonic functions; they are all analytic within the domain where the equation is satisfied. If any two functions are solutions to Laplace's equation (or any linear homogeneous differential equation), their sum (or any linear combination) is also a solution. This property, called the principle of superposition, is very useful. For example, solutions to complex problems can be constructed by summing simple solutions.
Laplace's equation in two independent variables in rectangular coordinates has the form
\partial^{2\psi}  
\partialx^{2} 
+
\partial^{2\psi}  
\partialy^{2} 
\equiv\psi_{xx}+\psi_{yy}=0.
The real and imaginary parts of a complex analytic function both satisfy the Laplace equation. That is, if, and if
f(z)=u(x,y)+iv(x,y),
u_{x}=v_{y,} v_{x}=u_{y.}
u_{yy}=(v_{x)}_{y}=(v_{y)}_{x}=(u_{x)}_{x.}
f(z)=\varphi(x,y)+i\psi(x,y),
\psi_{x}=\varphi_{y,} \psi_{y}=\varphi_{x.}
d\psi=\varphi_{y}dx+\varphi_{x}dy.
\psi_{xy}=\psi_{yx},
\varphi=logr,
then a corresponding analytic function is
f(z)=logz=logr+i\theta.
However, the angle θ is singlevalued only in a region that does not enclose the origin.
The close connection between the Laplace equation and analytic functions implies that any solution of the Laplace equation has derivatives of all orders, and can be expanded in a power series, at least inside a circle that does not enclose a singularity. This is in sharp contrast to solutions of the wave equation, which generally have less regularity.
There is an intimate connection between power series and Fourier series. If we expand a function f in a power series inside a circle of radius R, this means that
f(z)=
infty  
\sum  
n=0 
c_{n}z^{n,}
c_{n}=a_{n}+ib_{n.}
f(z)=
infty  
\sum  
n=0 
\left[a_{n}r^{n}\cosn\thetab_{n}r^{n}\sinn\theta\right]+i
infty  
\sum  
n=1 
\left[a_{n}r^{n}\sinn\theta+b_{n}r^{n}\cosn\theta\right],
See main article: Laplace equation for irrotational flow. Let the quantities u and v be the horizontal and vertical components of the velocity field of a steady incompressible, irrotational flow in two dimensions. The continuity condition for an incompressible flow is that
u_{x}+v_{y=0,}
\nabla x V=v_{x}u_{y}=0.
d\psi=vdxudy,
\psi_{x}=v, \psi_{y=u,}
\varphi_{x=u,} \varphi_{y=v.}
According to Maxwell's equations, an electric field in two space dimensions that is independent of time satisfies
\nabla x (u,v,0)=(v_{x}u_{y)\hat{k}
\nabla ⋅ (u,v)=\rho,
d\varphi=udxvdy,
\varphi_{x}=u, \varphi_{y}=v.
\varphi_{xx}+\varphi_{yy}=\rho,
A fundamental solution of Laplace's equation satisfies
\Deltau=u_{xx}+u_{yy}+u_{zz}=\delta(xx',yy',zz'),
where the Dirac delta function δ denotes a unit source concentrated at the point . No function has this property: in fact it is a distribution rather than a function; but it can be thought of as a limit of functions whose integrals over space are unity, and whose support (the region where the function is nonzero) shrinks to a point (see weak solution). It is common to take a different sign convention for this equation than one typically does when defining fundamental solutions. This choice of sign is often convenient to work with because −Δ is a positive operator. The definition of the fundamental solution thus implies that, if the Laplacian of u is integrated over any volume that encloses the source point, then
\iiint_{V}\nabla ⋅ \nablaudV=1.
The Laplace equation is unchanged under a rotation of coordinates, and hence we can expect that a fundamental solution may be obtained among solutions that only depend upon the distance r from the source point. If we choose the volume to be a ball of radius a around the source point, then Gauss' divergence theorem implies that
1=\iiint_{V}\nabla ⋅ \nablaudV=\iint_{S}
du  
dr 
dS=\left.4\pia^{2}
du  
dr 
\right_{r=a}.
It follows that
du  
dr 
=
1  
4\pir^{2} 
,
on a sphere of radius r that is centered on the source point, and hence
u=
1  
4\pir 
.
Note that, with the opposite sign convention (used in physics), this is the potential generated by a point particle, for an inversesquare law force, arising in the solution of Poisson equation. A similar argument shows that in two dimensions
u=
log(r)  
2\pi 
.
where log(r) denotes the natural logarithm. Note that, with the opposite sign convention, this is the potential generated by a pointlike sink (see point particle), which is the solution of the Euler equations in twodimensional incompressible flow.
A Green's function is a fundamental solution that also satisfies a suitable condition on the boundary S of a volume V. For instance,
G(x,y,z;x',y',z')
may satisfy
\nabla ⋅ \nablaG=\delta(xx',yy',zz') \hbox{in}V,
G=0 \hbox{if} (x,y,z) \hbox{on}S.
Now if u is any solution of the Poisson equation in V:
\nabla ⋅ \nablau=f,
and u assumes the boundary values g on S, then we may apply Green's identity, (a consequence of the divergence theorem) which states that
\iiint_{V}\left[G\nabla ⋅ \nablauu\nabla ⋅ \nablaG\right]dV=\iiint_{V}\nabla ⋅ \left[G\nablauu\nablaG\right]dV=\iint_{S}\left[Gu_{n}uG_{n}\right]dS.
The notations u_{n} and G_{n} denote normal derivatives on S. In view of the conditions satisfied by u and G, this result simplifies to
u(x',y',z')=\iiint_{V}GfdV+\iint_{S}G_{n}gdS.
Thus the Green's function describes the influence at of the data f and g. For the case of the interior of a sphere of radius a, the Green's function may be obtained by means of a reflection : the source point P at distance ρ from the center of the sphere is reflected along its radial line to a point P that is at a distance
\rho'=
a^{2}  
\rho 
.
Note that if P is inside the sphere, then P will be outside the sphere. The Green's function is then given by
1  
4\piR 

a  
4\pi\rhoR' 
,
where R denotes the distance to the source point P and R′ denotes the distance to the reflected point P′. A consequence of this expression for the Green's function is the Poisson integral formula. Let ρ, θ, and φ be spherical coordinates for the source point P. Here θ denotes the angle with the vertical axis, which is contrary to the usual American mathematical notation, but agrees with standard European and physical practice. Then the solution of the Laplace equation with Dirichlet boundary values g inside the sphere is given by
u(P)=
1  
4\pi 
 
a 
\right)
2\pi  
\int  
0 
\pi  
\int  
0 
g(\theta',\varphi')\sin\theta'  

d\theta'd\varphi'
where
\cos\Theta=\cos\theta\cos\theta'+\sin\theta\sin\theta'\cos(\varphi\varphi')
is the cosine of the angle between and . A simple consequence of this formula is that if u is a harmonic function, then the value of u at the center of the sphere is the mean value of its values on the sphere. This mean value property immediately implies that a nonconstant harmonic function cannot assume its maximum value at an interior point.
Laplace's equation in spherical coordinates is:^{[5]}
\nabla^{2}f=
1  
r^{2} 
\partial  
\partialr 
\left(r^{2}
\partialf  
\partialr 
\right)+
1  
r^{2}\sin\theta 
\partial  
\partial\theta 
\left(\sin\theta
\partialf  
\partial\theta 
\right)+
1  
r^{2}\sin^{2\theta} 
\partial^{2}f  
\partial\varphi^{2} 
=0.
Consider the problem of finding solutions of the form . By separation of variables, two differential equations result by imposing Laplace's equation:
1  
R 
d  
dr 
 
\left(r 
\right)=λ,
1  
Y 
1  
\sin\theta 
\partial  
\partial\theta 
\left(\sin\theta
\partialY  
\partial\theta 
\right)+
1  
Y 
1  
\sin^{2\theta} 
\partial^{2Y}  
\partial\varphi^{2} 
=λ.
The second equation can be simplified under the assumption that has the form . Applying separation of variables again to the second equation gives way to the pair of differential equations
1  
\Phi 
d^{2}\Phi  
d\varphi^{2} 
=m^{2}
λ\sin^{2\theta}+
\sin\theta  
\Theta 
d  
d\theta 
\left(\sin\theta
d\Theta  
d\theta 
\right)=m^{2}
for some number . A priori, is a complex constant, but because must be a periodic function whose period evenly divides, is necessarily an integer and is a linear combination of the complex exponentials . The solution function is regular at the poles of the sphere, where . Imposing this regularity in the solution of the second equation at the boundary points of the domain is a Sturm–Liouville problem that forces the parameter to be of the form for some nonnegative integer with ; this is also explained below in terms of the orbital angular momentum. Furthermore, a change of variables transforms this equation into the Legendre equation, whose solution is a multiple of the associated Legendre polynomial . Finally, the equation for has solutions of the form ; requiring the solution to be regular throughout forces .^{[6]}
Here the solution was assumed to have the special form . For a given value of, there are independent solutions of this form, one for each integer with . These angular solutions are a product of trigonometric functions, here represented as a complex exponential, and associated Legendre polynomials:
m  
Y  
\ell 
(\theta,\varphi)=Ne^{i}
m  
P  
\ell 
(\cos{\theta})
which fulfill
r^{2\nabla}^{2}
m  
Y  
\ell 
(\theta,\varphi)=\ell(\ell+1)
m  
Y  
\ell 
(\theta,\varphi).
Here is called a spherical harmonic function of degree and order, is an associated Legendre polynomial, is a normalization constant, and and represent colatitude and longitude, respectively. In particular, the colatitude, or polar angle, ranges from at the North Pole, to at the Equator, to at the South Pole, and the longitude, or azimuth, may assume all values with . For a fixed integer, every solution of the eigenvalue problem
r^{2\nabla}^{2}Y=\ell(\ell+1)Y
is a linear combination of . In fact, for any such solution, is the expression in spherical coordinates of a homogeneous polynomial that is harmonic (see below), and so counting dimensions shows that there are linearly independent such polynomials.
The general solution to Laplace's equation in a ball centered at the origin is a linear combination of the spherical harmonic functions multiplied by the appropriate scale factor,
f(r,\theta,\varphi)=
infty  
\sum  
\ell=0 
\ell  
\sum  
m=\ell 
m  
f  
\ell 
r^{\ell}
m  
Y  
\ell 
(\theta,\varphi),
where the are constants and the factors are known as solid harmonics. Such an expansion is valid in the ball
r<R=
1  

.
For
r>R
r
r=infty
r=0
m  
f  
\ell 
Let
E
\rho
\varepsilon_{0}
\nabla ⋅ E=
\rho  
\varepsilon_{0} 
.
Now, the electric field can be expressed as the negative gradient of the electric potential
V
E=\nablaV,
if the field is irrotational,
\nabla x E=0
E
\nabla ⋅ E=\nabla ⋅ (\nablaV)=\nabla^{2}V
\nabla^{2V=\nabla ⋅ E}
Plugging this relation into Gauss's law, we obtain Poisson's equation for electricity,^{[7]}
\nabla^{2V}=
\rho  
\varepsilon_{0} 
.
In the particular case of a sourcefree region,
\rho=0
If the electrostatic potential
V
l{R}
l{R}
\rho
Q
V
A potential that doesn't satisfy Laplace's equation together with the boundary condition is an invalid electrostatic potential.
Let
g
\rho
G
\nabla ⋅ g=4\piG\rho.
The gravitational field is conservative and can therefore be expressed as the negative gradient of the gravitational potential:
g=\nablaV,
\nabla ⋅ g=\nabla ⋅ (\nablaV)=\nabla^{2V,}
\implies\nabla^{2V=\nabla ⋅ g.}
Using the differential form of Gauss's law of gravitation, we have
\nabla^{2V=4\pi}G\rho,
which is Poisson's equation for gravitational fields.
In empty space,
\rho=0
\nabla^{2V=0,}
which is Laplace's equation for gravitational fields.
S. Persides^{[9]} solved the Laplace equation in Schwarzschild spacetime on hypersurfaces of constant t. Using the canonical variables r, θ, φ the solution is
\Psi(r,\theta,\varphi)=R(r)Y_{l(\theta,\varphi), }
where is a spherical harmonic function, and
 
R(r)=(1) 
P  

\right)+(1)^{l+1}
2(2l+1)!  

Q  

\right).
Here P_{l} and Q_{l} are Legendre functions of the first and second kind, respectively, while r_{s} is the Schwarzschild radius. The parameter l is an arbitrary nonnegative integer.
\Deltax=x_{1}x_{2}