Mathematics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people studying math at any level and professionals in related fields. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Let's suppose that we have a three dimensional function $f(\vec{x})$ which is the integral of some another function $g(\vec{x},\vec{y})$, i.e

$f(\vec{x})=\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}g(\vec{x},\vec{y})d^3 \vec{y}$

What is the gradient of the $f(\vec{x})$? Can the operator pass inside the integral?

$\nabla f(\vec{x})=\nabla\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}g(\vec{x},\vec{y})d^3 \vec{y}=\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}\left[\nabla g(\vec{x},\vec{y})\right]d^3 \vec{y}$

The quantity $\nabla g(\vec{x},\vec{y})$ is a vector and it doesn't make sense to me integrating a vector.

In the case of the Laplacian operator $\nabla^2$ can it pass inside the integral?

Edit: The question was inspired from a physics problem where we have a potential $V(\textbf{x})=-\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}\frac{G}{|\textbf{x}-\textbf{y}|}\rho(\textbf{y})d^3\textbf{y}$ and we take a gradient to find the accelaration: $g(\textbf{x})=-\nabla V(\textbf{x})=\nabla\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}\frac{G}{|\textbf{x}-\textbf{y}|}\rho(\textbf{y})d^3\textbf{y}$.

share|cite|improve this question
I made some corrections to the question, check it again please. The links you gave are not what I'm asking. – achichi Sep 15 '11 at 16:52
Yes. Sorry for not suggesting that earlier. I reedited the question. – achichi Sep 15 '11 at 17:10
Okay, in which case you may be interested in this answer (pay also attention to the comments). For the specific case you are considering, the rules given in that link is violated: the corresponding $g(\vec{x},\vec{y})$ is not differentiable in $\vec{x}$ for all $\vec{y}$. In this case the proper way to make sense of the operation is treating it as convolution between a distribution and a smooth f'n. – Willie Wong Sep 15 '11 at 18:49
Thnx, but the gradient is different from the partial derivative of a function because it's a "vector operator". Also $d^3\vec{r}$ is not a vector, it's a infinitesimal volume $dxdydz$. – achichi Sep 16 '11 at 8:20

The operator $\nabla$ can be passed inside the integral if some suitable conditions on $g$ are fulfilled. There are appropriate theorems on differentiating integrals with respect to parameter. It can be done with potential $V\;$ if the function $\rho$ (say) is bounded in $\mathbb R^3$ and has bounded support, since in this case the integral $\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}\nabla{\!\!}_{x}\frac{G}{|\textbf{x}-\textbf{y}|}\rho(\textbf{y})d^3\textbf{y}$ will be converging absolutely and uniformly.

The Laplace operator cannot be put inside the integral because it would mean that $\Delta V(x)\equiv0$ and for smooth enough $\rho$ actually $\Delta V(x)=\rho(x)$. The theorem aplied above doesn't work because the integral $\int_{\mathbb{R}^3}\left|\Delta \frac{G}{|\textbf{x}-\textbf{y}|}\rho(\textbf{y})\right| d^3\textbf{y}$ may diverge. The expression $\left|\Delta \frac{1}{|\textbf{x}-\textbf{y}|}\right|$ has non-integrable singularity at $y=x$.

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.