Summary
The stream function is defined for incompressible (divergence-free) flows in two dimensions – as well as in three dimensions with axisymmetry. The flow velocity components can be expressed as the derivatives of the scalar stream function. The stream function can be used to plot streamlines, which represent the trajectories of particles in a steady flow. The two-dimensional Lagrange stream function was introduced by Joseph Louis Lagrange in 1781. The Stokes stream function is for axisymmetrical three-dimensional flow, and is named after George Gabriel Stokes. Considering the particular case of fluid dynamics, the difference between the stream function values at any two points gives the volumetric flow rate (or volumetric flux) through a line connecting the two points. Since streamlines are tangent to the flow velocity vector of the flow, the value of the stream function must be constant along a streamline. The usefulness of the stream function lies in the fact that the flow velocity components in the x- and y- directions at a given point are given by the partial derivatives of the stream function at that point. For two-dimensional potential flow, streamlines are perpendicular to equipotential lines. Taken together with the velocity potential, the stream function may be used to derive a complex potential. In other words, the stream function accounts for the solenoidal part of a two-dimensional Helmholtz decomposition, while the velocity potential accounts for the irrotational part. Lamb and Batchelor define the stream function for an incompressible flow velocity field as follows. Given a point and a point , is the integral of the dot product of the flow velocity vector and the normal to the curve element In other words, the stream function is the volume flux through the curve . The point is simply a reference point that defines where the stream function is identically zero. A shift in results in adding a constant to the stream function at .
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