In physics, the electric displacement field, denoted as , is a vector field that appears in Maxwell's equations. It accounts for the effects of free charge within materials. "D" stands for "displacement," as in the related concept of displacement current in dielectrics. In free space, the electric displacement field is equivalent to flux density, a concept that lends understanding to Gauss's law.
In a dielectric material the presence of an electric field E causes the bound charges in the material (atomic nuclei and their electrons) to slightly separate, inducing a local electric dipole moment. The electric displacement field D is defined as
where is the vacuum permittivity (also called permittivity of free space), and P is the (macroscopic) density of the permanent and induced electric dipole moments in the material, called the polarization density. Separating the total volume charge density into free and bound charges:
the density can be rewritten as a function of the polarization P:
P is a vector field whose divergence yields the density of bound charges in the material. The electric field satisfies the equation:
The displacement field therefore satisfies Gauss's law in a dielectric:
D is not determined exclusively by the free charge. Consider the relationship:
Which, by the fact that E has a curl of zero in electrostatic situations, evaluates to:
Which can be immediately seen in the case of some object with a "frozen in" polarization like a bar electret, the electric analogue to a bar magnet. There is no free charge in such a material, but the inherent polarization gives rise to an electric field. If the wayward student were to assume the D field were entirely determined by the free charge, he or she would immediately conclude the electric field were zero in such a material, but this is patently not true. The electric field can be properly determined by using the above relation along with other boundary conditions on the polarization density yielding the bound charges, which will, in turn, yield the electric field.
where the constant of proportionality is called the electric susceptibility of the material. Thus
In linear, homogeneous, isotropic media is a constant. However, in linear anisotropic media it is a matrix, and in nonhomogeneous media it is a function of position inside the medium. It may also depend upon the electric field (nonlinear materials) and have a time dependent response. Explicit time dependence can arise if the materials are physically moving or changing in time (e.g. reflections off a moving interface give rise to Doppler shifts). A different form of time dependence can arise in a time-invariant medium, in that there can be a time delay between the imposition of the electric field and the resulting polarization of the material. In this case, P is a convolution of the impulse response susceptibility χ and the electric field E. Such a convolution takes on a simpler form in the frequency domain—by Fourier transforming the relationship and applying the convolution theorem, one obtains the following relation for a linear time-invariant medium:
where is frequency of the applied field (e.g. in radian/s). The constraint of causality leads to the Kramers–Kronig relations, which place limitations upon the form of the frequency dependence. The phenomenon of a frequency-dependent permittivity is an example of material dispersion. In fact, all physical materials have some material dispersion because they cannot respond instantaneously to applied fields, but for many problems (those concerned with a narrow enough bandwidth) the frequency-dependence of ; can be neglected.At a boundary, , where is the free charge density.