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Concept# Field (physics)

Summary

In physics, a field is a physical quantity, represented by a scalar, vector, or tensor, that has a value for each point in space and time. For example, on a weather map, the surface temperature is described by assigning a number to each point on the map; the temperature can be considered at a certain point in time or over some interval of time, to study the dynamics of temperature change. A surface wind map, assigning an arrow to each point on a map that describes the wind speed and direction at that point, is an example of a vector field, i.e. a 1-dimensional (rank-1) tensor field. Field theories, mathematical descriptions of how field values change in space and time, are ubiquitous in physics. For instance, the electric field is another rank-1 tensor field, while electrodynamics can be formulated in terms of two interacting vector fields at each point in spacetime, or as a single-rank 2-tensor field.
In the modern framework of the quantum theory of fields, even without referring to a test particle, a field occupies space, contains energy, and its presence precludes a classical "true vacuum". This has led physicists to consider electromagnetic fields to be a physical entity, making the field concept a supporting paradigm of the edifice of modern physics. "The fact that the electromagnetic field can possess momentum and energy makes it very real ... a particle makes a field, and a field acts on another particle, and the field has such familiar properties as energy content and momentum, just as particles can have." In practice, the strength of most fields diminishes with distance, eventually becoming undetectable. For instance the strength of many relevant classical fields, such as the gravitational field in Newton's theory of gravity or the electrostatic field in classical electromagnetism, is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the source (i.e., they follow Gauss's law).
A field can be classified as a scalar field, a vector field, a spinor field or a tensor field according to whether the represented physical quantity is a scalar, a vector, a spinor, or a tensor, respectively.

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Retarded potential

In electrodynamics, the retarded potentials are the electromagnetic potentials for the electromagnetic field generated by time-varying electric current or charge distributions in the past. The fields propagate at the speed of light c, so the delay of the fields connecting cause and effect at earlier and later times is an important factor: the signal takes a finite time to propagate from a point in the charge or current distribution (the point of cause) to another point in space (where the effect is measured), see figure below.

Multipole expansion

A multipole expansion is a mathematical series representing a function that depends on angles—usually the two angles used in the spherical coordinate system (the polar and azimuthal angles) for three-dimensional Euclidean space, . Similarly to Taylor series, multipole expansions are useful because oftentimes only the first few terms are needed to provide a good approximation of the original function. The function being expanded may be real- or complex-valued and is defined either on , or less often on for some other .

Fermionic field

In quantum field theory, a fermionic field is a quantum field whose quanta are fermions; that is, they obey Fermi–Dirac statistics. Fermionic fields obey canonical anticommutation relations rather than the canonical commutation relations of bosonic fields. The most prominent example of a fermionic field is the Dirac field, which describes fermions with spin-1/2: electrons, protons, quarks, etc. The Dirac field can be described as either a 4-component spinor or as a pair of 2-component Weyl spinors.

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