Homogeneity (physics)

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In physics, a homogeneous material or system has the same properties at every point; it is uniform without irregularities. [1] [2] A uniform electric field (which has the same strength and the same direction at each point) would be compatible with homogeneity (all points experience the same physics). A material constructed with different constituents can be described as effectively homogeneous in the electromagnetic materials domain, when interacting with a directed radiation field (light, microwave frequencies, etc.). [3] [4]

Electric field Vector field representing the Coulomb force per unit charge that would be exerted on a test charge at each point due to other electric charges

An electric field surrounds an electric charge, and exerts force on other charges in the field, attracting or repelling them. Electric field is sometimes abbreviated as E-field. The electric field is defined mathematically as a vector field that associates to each point in space the force per unit of charge exerted on an infinitesimal positive test charge at rest at that point. The SI unit for electric field strength is volt per meter (V/m). Newtons per coulomb (N/C) is also used as a unit of electric field strength. Electric fields are created by electric charges, or by time-varying magnetic fields. Electric fields are important in many areas of physics, and are exploited practically in electrical technology. On an atomic scale, the electric field is responsible for the attractive force between the atomic nucleus and electrons that holds atoms together, and the forces between atoms that cause chemical bonding. Electric fields and magnetic fields are both manifestations of the electromagnetic force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

Electromagnetic field Electric and magnetic fields produced by moving charged objects

An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of non-comoving charged objects at any distance of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction. It is one of the four fundamental forces of nature.


Mathematically, homogeneity has the connotation of invariance, as all components of the equation have the same degree of value whether or not each of these components are scaled to different values, for example, by multiplication or addition. Cumulative distribution fits this description. "The state of having identical cumulative distribution function or values". [3] [4]

In mathematics and theoretical physics, an invariant is a property of a system which remains unchanged under some transformation.

In mathematics, an equation is a statement that asserts the equality of two expressions. The word equation and its cognates in other languages may have subtly different meanings; for example, in French an équation is defined as containing one or more variables, while in English any equality is an equation.


The definition of homogeneous strongly depends on the context used. For example, a composite material is made up of different individual materials, known as "constituents" of the material, but may be defined as a homogeneous material when assigned a function. For example, asphalt paves our roads, but is a composite material consisting of asphalt binder and mineral aggregate, and then laid down in layers and compacted. However, homogeneity of materials does not necessarily mean isotropy. In the previous example, a composite material may not be isotropic.

Composite material material made from a combination of two or more dislike substances

A composite material is a material made from two or more constituent materials with significantly different physical or chemical properties that, when combined, produce a material with characteristics different from the individual components. The individual components remain separate and distinct within the finished structure, differentiating composites from mixtures and solid solutions.

Asphalt sticky, black and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum; bitumen variety

Asphalt, also known as bitumen, is a sticky, black, and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. It may be found in natural deposits or may be a refined product, and is classed as a pitch. Before the 20th century, the term asphaltum was also used. The word is derived from the Ancient Greek ἄσφαλτος ásphaltos.

In condensed matter physics and continuum mechanics, an isotropic solid refers to a solid material for which physical properties are independent of the orientation of the system. While the finite sizes of atoms and bonding considerations ensure that true isotropy of atomic position will not exist in the solid state, it is possible for measurements of a given property to yield isotropic results, either due to the symmetries present within a crystal system, or due to the effects of orientational averaging over a sample. Isotropic solids tend to be of interest when developing models for physical behavior of materials, as they tend to allow for dramatic simplifications of theory; for example, conductivity in metals of the cubic crystal system can be described with single scalar value, rather than a tensor. Additionally, cubic crystals are isotropic with respect to thermal expansion and will expand equally in all directions when heated.

In another context, a material is not homogeneous in so far as it is composed of atoms and molecules. However, at the normal level of our everyday world, a pane of glass, or a sheet of metal is described as glass, or stainless steel. In other words, these are each described as a homogeneous material.

Atom smallest unit of a chemical element

An atom is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that constitutes a chemical element. Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is composed of neutral or ionized atoms. Atoms are extremely small; typical sizes are around 100 picometers. They are so small that accurately predicting their behavior using classical physics – as if they were billiard balls, for example – is not possible. This is due to quantum effects. Current atomic models now use quantum principles to better explain and predict this behavior.

Molecule Electrically neutral entity consisting of more than one atom (n > 1); rigorously, a molecule, in which n > 1 must correspond to a depression on the potential energy surface that is deep enough to confine at least one vibrational state

A molecule is an electrically neutral group of two or more atoms held together by chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their lack of electrical charge. However, in quantum physics, organic chemistry, and biochemistry, the term molecule is often used less strictly, also being applied to polyatomic ions.

A few other instances of context are: Dimensional homogeneity (see below) is the quality of an equation having quantities of same units on both sides; Homogeneity (in space) implies conservation of momentum; and homogeneity in time implies conservation of energy.

Homogeneous alloy

In the context of composite metals is an alloy. A blend of a metal with one or more metallic or nonmetallic materials is an alloy. The components of an alloy do not combine chemically but, rather, are very finely mixed. An alloy might be homogeneous or might contain small particles of components that can be viewed with a microscope. Brass is an example of an alloy, being a homogeneous mixture of copper and zinc. Another example is steel, which is an alloy of iron with carbon and possibly other metals. The purpose of alloying is to produce desired properties in a metal that naturally lacks them. Brass, for example, is harder than copper and has a more gold-like color. Steel is harder than iron and can even be made rust proof (stainless steel). [5]

Homogeneous cosmology

Homogeneity, in another context plays a role in cosmology. From the perspective of 19th-century cosmology (and before), the universe was infinite, unchanging, homogeneous, and therefore filled with stars. However, German astronomer Heinrich Olbers asserted that if this were true, then the entire night sky would be filled with light and bright as day; this is known as Olbers' paradox. Olbers presented a technical paper in 1826 that attempted to answer this conundrum. The faulty premise, unknown in Olbers' time, was that the universe is not infinite, static, and homogeneous. The Big Bang cosmology replaced this model (expanding, finite, and inhomogeneous universe). However, modern astronomers supply reasonable explanations to answer this question. One of at least several explanations is that distant stars and galaxies are red shifted, which weakens their apparent light and makes the night sky dark. [6] However, the weakening is not sufficient to actually explain Olbers' paradox. Many cosmologists think that the fact that the Universe is finite in time, that is that the Universe has not been around forever, is the solution to the paradox.[ citation needed ] The fact that the night sky is dark is thus an indication for the Big Bang.

Translation invariance

By translation invariance, one means independence of (absolute) position, especially when referring to a law of physics, or to the evolution of a physical system.

Fundamental laws of physics should not (explicitly) depend on position in space. That would make them quite useless. In some sense, this is also linked to the requirement that experiments should be reproducible. This principle is true for all laws of mechanics (Newton's laws, etc.), electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, etc.

In practice, this principle is usually violated, since one studies only a small subsystem of the universe, which of course "feels" the influence of the rest of the universe. This situation gives rise to "external fields" (electric, magnetic, gravitational, etc.) which make the description of the evolution of the system depend upon its position (potential wells, etc.). This only stems from the fact that the objects creating these external fields are not considered as (a "dynamical") part of the system.

Translational invariance as described above is equivalent to shift invariance in system analysis, although here it is most commonly used in linear systems, whereas in physics the distinction is not usually made.

The notion of isotropy, for properties independent of direction, is not a consequence of homogeneity. For example, a uniform electric field (i.e., which has the same strength and the same direction at each point) would be compatible with homogeneity (at each point physics will be the same), but not with isotropy, since the field singles out one "preferred" direction.


In the Lagrangian formalism, homogeneity in space implies conservation of momentum, and homogeneity in time implies conservation of energy. This is shown, using variational calculus, in standard textbooks like the classical reference text of Landau & Lifshitz. [7] This is a particular application of Noether's theorem.

Dimensional homogeneity

As said in the introduction, dimensional homogeneity is the quality of an equation having quantities of same units on both sides. A valid equation in physics must be homogeneous, since equality cannot apply between quantities of different nature. This can be used to spot errors in formula or calculations. For example, if one is calculating a speed, units must always combine to [length]/[time]; if one is calculating an energy, units must always combine to [mass]•[length]²/[time]², etc. For example, the following formulae could be valid expressions for some energy:

if m is a mass, v and c are velocities, p is a momentum, h is Planck's constant, λ a length. On the other hand, if the units of the right hand side do not combine to [mass]•[length]2/[time]2, it cannot be a valid expression for some energy.

Being homogeneous does not necessarily mean the equation will be true, since it does not take into account numerical factors. For example, E = m•v2 could be or could not be the correct formula for the energy of a particle of mass m traveling at speed v, and one cannot know if h•c/λ should be divided or multiplied by 2π.

Nevertheless, this is a very powerful tool in finding characteristic units of a given problem, see dimensional analysis.

Theoretical physicists tend to express everything in natural units given by constants of nature, for example by taking c = ħ = k = 1; once this is done, one partly loses the possibility of the above checking.

See also

Related Research Articles

In physics, a conservation law states that a particular measurable property of an isolated physical system does not change as the system evolves over time. Exact conservation laws include conservation of energy, conservation of linear momentum, conservation of angular momentum, and conservation of electric charge. There are also many approximate conservation laws, which apply to such quantities as mass, parity, lepton number, baryon number, strangeness, hypercharge, etc. These quantities are conserved in certain classes of physics processes, but not in all.

Isotropy is uniformity in all orientations; it is derived from the Greek isos and tropos. Precise definitions depend on the subject area. Exceptions, or inequalities, are frequently indicated by the prefix an, hence anisotropy. Anisotropy is also used to describe situations where properties vary systematically, dependent on direction. Isotropic radiation has the same intensity regardless of the direction of measurement, and an isotropic field exerts the same action regardless of how the test particle is oriented.

Universe Universe events since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago

The Universe is all of space and time and their contents, including planets, stars, galaxies, and all other forms of matter and energy. While the spatial size of the entire Universe is unknown, it is possible to measure the size of the observable universe, which is currently estimated to be 93 billion light-years in diameter. In various multiverse hypotheses, a universe is one of many causally disconnected constituent parts of a larger multiverse, which itself comprises all of space and time and its contents.

Cosmological constant constant representing stress-energy density of the vacuum in Einsteins equation

In cosmology, the cosmological constant is the energy density of space, or vacuum energy, that arises in Albert Einstein's field equations of general relativity. It is closely associated to the concepts of dark energy and quintessence.

The thermal conductivity of a material is a measure of its ability to conduct heat. It is commonly denoted by , , or .

Principle of relativity physics principle stating that the laws of physics must be the same in all reference frames

In physics, the principle of relativity is the requirement that the equations describing the laws of physics have the same form in all admissible frames of reference.

Cosmological principle notion that the spatial distribution of matter in the universe is homogeneous and isotropic at large scales

In modern physical cosmology, the cosmological principle is the notion that the spatial distribution of matter in the universe is homogeneous and isotropic when viewed on a large enough scale, since the forces are expected to act uniformly throughout the universe, and should, therefore, produce no observable irregularities in the large-scale structuring over the course of evolution of the matter field that was initially laid down by the Big Bang.

Homogeneity is a sameness of constituent structure.

Scientific law statement based on repeated experimental observations that describes some aspects of the universe

Scientific laws or laws of science are statements that describe or predict a range of natural phenomena. A scientific law is a statement based on repeated experiments or observations that describe some aspect of the natural world. The term law has diverse usage in many cases across all fields of natural science. Laws are developed from data and can be further developed through mathematics; in all cases they are directly or indirectly based on empirical evidence. It is generally understood that they implicitly reflect, though they do not explicitly assert, causal relationships fundamental to reality, and are discovered rather than invented.

Galilean invariance or Galilean relativity states that the laws of motion are the same in all inertial frames. Galileo Galilei first described this principle in 1632 in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems using the example of a ship travelling at constant velocity, without rocking, on a smooth sea; any observer below the deck would not be able to tell whether the ship was moving or stationary.

In theoretical physics, the renormalization group (RG) refers to a mathematical apparatus that allows systematic investigation of the changes of a physical system as viewed at different scales. In particle physics, it reflects the changes in the underlying force laws as the energy scale at which physical processes occur varies, energy/momentum and resolution distance scales being effectively conjugate under the uncertainty principle.

De Sitter universe

A de Sitter universe is a cosmological solution to the Einstein field equations of general relativity, named after Willem de Sitter. It models the universe as spatially flat and neglects ordinary matter, so the dynamics of the universe are dominated by the cosmological constant, thought to correspond to dark energy in our universe or the inflaton field in the early universe. According to the models of inflation and current observations of the accelerating universe, the concordance models of physical cosmology are converging on a consistent model where our universe was best described as a de Sitter universe at about a time seconds after the fiducial Big Bang singularity, and far into the future.

Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker metric metric

The Friedmann–Lemaître–Robertson–Walker (FLRW) metric is an exact solution of Einstein's field equations of general relativity; it describes a homogeneous, isotropic, expanding universe that is path-connected, but not necessarily simply connected. The general form of the metric follows from the geometric properties of homogeneity and isotropy; Einstein's field equations are only needed to derive the scale factor of the universe as a function of time. Depending on geographical or historical preferences, the set of the four scientists – Alexander Friedmann, Georges Lemaître, Howard P. Robertson and Arthur Geoffrey Walker – are customarily grouped as Friedmann or Friedmann–Robertson–Walker (FRW) or Robertson–Walker (RW) or Friedmann–Lemaître (FL). This model is sometimes called the Standard Model of modern cosmology, although such a description is also associated with the further developed Lambda-CDM model. The FLRW model was developed independently by the named authors in the 1920s and 1930s.

A continuity equation in physics is an equation that describes the transport of some quantity. It is particularly simple and powerful when applied to a conserved quantity, but it can be generalized to apply to any extensive quantity. Since mass, energy, momentum, electric charge and other natural quantities are conserved under their respective appropriate conditions, a variety of physical phenomena may be described using continuity equations.

In physics, mathematics and statistics, scale invariance is a feature of objects or laws that do not change if scales of length, energy, or other variables, are multiplied by a common factor, thus represent a universality.

Structure formation The formation of galaxies, galaxy clusters and larger structures from small early density fluctuations

In physical cosmology, structure formation is the formation of galaxies, galaxy clusters and larger structures from small early density fluctuations. The universe, as is now known from observations of the cosmic microwave background radiation, began in a hot, dense, nearly uniform state approximately 13.8 billion years ago. However, looking in the sky today, we see structures on all scales, from stars and planets to galaxies and, on still larger scales, galaxy clusters and sheet-like structures of galaxies separated by enormous voids containing few galaxies. Structure formation attempts to model how these structures formed by gravitational instability of small early density ripples.

Symmetry (physics) a physical systems feature that remains unchanged (invariant) under some transformation(s)

In physics, a symmetry of a physical system is a physical or mathematical feature of the system that is preserved or remains unchanged under some transformation.

Inhomogeneous cosmology refers to physical cosmologies which, unlike the currently widely accepted standard cosmological model, assume that inhomogeneities in the distribution of matter across the universe affect local gravitational forces enough to skew our view of the universe. When the universe began, matter was distributed homogeneously, but over billions of years, galaxies, clusters of galaxies, and superclusters have coalesced, and must, according to Einstein's theory of general relativity, warp the space-time around them. While the standard model acknowledges this fact, it assumes that such inhomogeneities are not sufficient to affect large-scale averages of gravity in our observations. When two separate type Ia supernovae were independently observed in 1998 to be further away than our calculations showed they should be, it was concluded that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, and dark energy, a repulsive energy inherent in space, was proposed to explain the acceleration. While still unexplained in nature and origin, dark energy is widely accepted as comprising almost 70% of the universe's energy density.

A thermodynamic operation is an externally imposed manipulation that affects a thermodynamic system. The change can be either in the connection or wall between a thermodynamic system and its surroundings, or in the value of some variable in the surroundings that is in contact with a wall of the system that allows transfer of the extensive quantity belonging that variable. It is assumed in thermodynamics that the operation is conducted in ignorance of any pertinent microscopic information.

The Wannier equation describes a quantum mechanical eigenvalue problem in solids where an electron in a conduction band and an electronic vacancy within a valence band attract each other via the Coulomb interaction. For one electron and one hole, this problem is analogous to the Schrödinger equation of the hydrogen atom; and the bound-state solutions are called excitons. When an exciton's radius extends over several unit cells, it is referred to as a Wannier exciton in contrast to Frenkel excitons whose size is comparable with the unit cell. An excited solid typically contains many electrons and holes; this modifies the Wannier equation considerably. The resulting generalized Wannier equation can be determined from the homogeneous part of the semiconductor Bloch equations or the semiconductor luminescence equations.


  1. Rennie, Eugen Goldstein, Science Online (2003). Homogeneous (physics). The Facts On File Dictionary of Atomic and Nuclear Physics. Describing a material or system that has the same properties in any direction; i.e. uniform without irregularities. (accessed November 16, 2009).
  2. Tanton, James. "homogeneous." Encyclopedia of Mathematics. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2005. Science Online. Facts On File, Inc. "A polynomial in several variables p(x,y,z,…) is called homogeneous [...] more generally, a function of several variables f(x,y,z,…) is homogeneous [...] Identifying homogeneous functions can be helpful in solving differential equations [and] any formula that represents the mean of a set of numbers is required to be homogeneous. In physics, the term homogeneous describes a substance or an object whose properties do not vary with position. For example, an object of uniform density is sometimes described as homogeneous." James. homogeneous (math). (accessed: 2009-11-16)
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  4. 1 2 Homogeneous. Merriam-webster.com
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