nLab symbol of a differential operator




For XX a smooth manifold, EXE \to X a vector bundle and D:Γ(E)Γ(E)D : \Gamma(E) \to \Gamma(E) a linear differential operator on sections of EE, its symbol is the bundle morphism

σ(D):T *X XEE \sigma(D) \;:\; T^* X \otimes_X E \to E

from the tensor product of vector bundles with the cotangent bundle which is given at any point xXx \in X on a cotangent vector of the form (df) xΓ(T *X) x(\mathbf{d}f)_x \in \Gamma(T^* X)_x by

σ(D) x:df x[D,f] x, \sigma(D)_x \;\colon\; \mathbf{d}f_x \mapsto [D,f]_x \,,

where in the commutator on the right we regard multiplication by ff as an endomorphism of Γ(E)\Gamma(E).

The symbol of an elliptic differential operator may naturally be thought of as an element in the topological K-theory of T *XT^\ast X (see Freed 1987, p. 13).

Generally, the symbol of a possibly non-linear differential operator is similarly the map on the cotangent bundle given by “replacing partial derivatives by covectors” in the definition of the differential operator. In this case the principal symbol is the highest degree homogeneous component of the symbol. Many authors say total symbol for symbol in the sense of this entry and symbol for a principal symbol.



(symbol map)

For X= nX = \mathbb{R}^n a Cartesian space and DD the Dirac operator of the flat connection, the symbol of DD reproduces the symbol map between differential forms and Clifford algebra elements.


(bicharacteristic flow)

For EE a real trivial line bundle then the principal symbol is equivalently just a real-valued smooth function on the cotangent bundle. Since any cotangent bundle is canonically a symplectic manifold, in this case the symbol may be regarded as a Hamiltonian funtion. The corresponding Hamiltonian flow is called the bicharacteristic flow of the given differential operator.


See also

Last revised on September 12, 2023 at 09:53:20. See the history of this page for a list of all contributions to it.