Tensor calculus

In mathematics, tensor calculus, tensor analysis, or Ricci calculus is an extension of vector calculus to tensor fields (tensors that may vary over a manifold, e.g. in spacetime).

Developed by Gregorio Ricci-Curbastro and his student Tullio Levi-Civita,[1] it was used by Albert Einstein to develop his general theory of relativity. Unlike the infinitesimal calculus, tensor calculus allows presentation of physics equations in a form that is independent of the choice of coordinates on the manifold.

Tensor calculus has many applications in physics, engineering and computer science including elasticity, continuum mechanics, electromagnetism (see mathematical descriptions of the electromagnetic field), general relativity (see mathematics of general relativity), quantum field theory, and machine learning.

Working with a main proponent of the exterior calculus Elie Cartan, the influential geometer Shiing-Shen Chern summarizes the role of tensor calculus:[2]

In our subject of differential geometry, where you talk about manifolds, one difficulty is that the geometry is described by coordinates, but the coordinates do not have meaning. They are allowed to undergo transformation. And in order to handle this kind of situation, an important tool is the so-called tensor analysis, or Ricci calculus, which was new to mathematicians. In mathematics you have a function, you write down the function, you calculate, or you add, or you multiply, or you can differentiate. You have something very concrete. In geometry the geometric situation is described by numbers, but you can change your numbers arbitrarily. So to handle this, you need the Ricci calculus.


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