Capacity of a set
In mathematics, the capacity of a set in Euclidean space is a measure of that set's "size". Unlike, say, Lebesgue measure, which measures a set's volume or physical extent, capacity is a mathematical analogue of a set's ability to hold electrical charge. More precisely, it is the capacitance of the set: the total charge a set can hold while maintaining a given potential energy. The potential energy is computed with respect to an idealized ground at infinity for the harmonic or Newtonian capacity, and with respect to a surface for the condenser capacity.
Let Σ be a closed, smooth, (n − 1)-dimensional hypersurface in n-dimensional Euclidean space ℝn, n ≥ 3; K will denote the n-dimensional compact (i.e., closed and bounded) set of which Σ is the boundary. Let S be another (n − 1)-dimensional hypersurface that encloses Σ: in reference to its origins in electromagnetism, the pair (Σ, S) is known as a condenser. The condenser capacity of Σ relative to S, denoted C(Σ, S) or cap(Σ, S), is given by the surface integral
- u is the unique harmonic function defined on the region D between Σ and S with the boundary conditions u(x) = 1 on Σ and u(x) = 0 on S;
- S′ is any intermediate surface between Σ and S;
- ν is the outward unit normal field to S′ and
- is the normal derivative of u across S′; and
- σn = 2πn⁄2 ⁄ Γ(n ⁄ 2) is the surface area of the unit sphere in ℝn.
C(Σ, S) can be equivalently defined by the volume integral
over all continuously-differentiable functions v on D with v(x) = 1 on Σ and v(x) = 0 on S.
Heuristically, the harmonic capacity of K, the region bounded by Σ, can be found by taking the condenser capacity of Σ with respect to infinity. More precisely, let u be the harmonic function in the complement of K satisfying u = 1 on Σ and u(x) → 0 as x → ∞. Thus u is the Newtonian potential of the simple layer Σ. Then the harmonic capacity (also known as the Newtonian capacity) of K, denoted C(K) or cap(K), is then defined by
If S is a rectifiable hypersurface completely enclosing K, then the harmonic capacity can be equivalently rewritten as the integral over S of the outward normal derivative of u:
The harmonic capacity can also be understood as a limit of the condenser capacity. To wit, let Sr denote the sphere of radius r about the origin in ℝn. Since K is bounded, for sufficiently large r, Sr will enclose K and (Σ, Sr) will form a condenser pair. The harmonic capacity is then the limit as r tends to infinity:
The harmonic capacity is a mathematically abstract version of the electrostatic capacity of the conductor K and is always non-negative and finite: 0 ≤ C(K) < +∞.
The characterization of the capacity of a set as the minimum of an energy functional achieving particular boundary values, given above, can be extended to other energy functionals in the calculus of variations.
Divergence form elliptic operators
Solutions to a uniformly elliptic partial differential equation with divergence form
are minimizers of the associated energy functional
subject to appropriate boundary conditions.
The capacity of a set E with respect to a domain D containing E is defined as the infimum of the energy over all continuously-differentiable functions v on D with v(x) = 1 on E; and v(x) = 0 on the boundary of D.
The minimum energy is achieved by a function known as the capacitary potential of E with respect to D, and it solves the obstacle problem on D with the obstacle function provided by the indicator function of E. The capacitary potential is alternately characterized as the unique solution of the equation with the appropriate boundary conditions.
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- Choquet, Gustave (1986), "La naissance de la théorie des capacités: réflexion sur une expérience personnelle", Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences. Série générale, La Vie des sciences (in French), 3 (4): 385–397, MR 0867115, Zbl 0607.01017, available from Gallica. A historical account of the development of capacity theory by its founder and one of the main contributors; an English translation of the title reads: "The birth of capacity theory: reflections on a personal experience".
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- Ransford, Thomas (1995), Potential theory in the complex plane, London Mathematical Society Student Texts, 28, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-46654-7, Zbl 0828.31001
- Solomentsev, E. D. (2001), "Capacity of a set", in Hazewinkel, Michiel, Encyclopedia of Mathematics, Springer, ISBN 978-1-55608-010-4