Definition:Differential Operator

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A differential operator is a symbol indicating that differentiation needs to be performed.

It can be written as $D$ or $\dfrac \d {\d x}$, and so on.

Divergence Operator

Let $\mathbf V$ be a vector field acting over a region of space $R$.

The divergence of $\mathbf V$ at a point $P$ is the total flux away from $P$ per unit volume.

It is a scalar field.

Gradient Operator

Let $R$ be a region of space.

Let $F$ be a scalar field acting over $R$.

The gradient of $F$ at a point $A$ in $R$ is defined as:

$\grad F = \dfrac {\partial F} {\partial n} \mathbf {\hat n}$


$\mathbf {\hat n}$ denotes the unit normal to the equal surface $S$ of $F$ at $A$
$n$ is the magnitude of the normal vector to $S$ at $A$.

Curl Operator

Let $\mathbf V$ be a vector field acting over a region of space $R$.

Let a small vector area $\mathbf a$ of any shape be placed at an arbitrary point $P$ in $R$.

Let the contour integral $L$ be computed around the boundary edge of $A$.

Then there will be an angle of direction of $\mathbf a$ to the direction of $\mathbf V$ for which $L$ is a maximum.

The curl of $\mathbf V$ at $P$ is defined as the vector:

whose magnitude is the amount of this maximum $L$ per unit area
whose direction is the direction of $\mathbf a$ at this maximum.

Also defined as

Some sources, particularly those dealing with specific physical phenomena such as electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, use the term differential operators to mean:

the divergence operator $\operatorname {div}$
the gradient operator $\grad$
the curl operator $\curl$.

Also see

  • Results about differential operators can be found here.