# Mean curvature flow

In the field of differential geometry in mathematics, **mean curvature flow** is an example of a geometric flow of hypersurfaces in a Riemannian manifold (for example, smooth surfaces in 3-dimensional Euclidean space). Intuitively, a family of surfaces evolves under mean curvature flow if the normal component of the velocity of which a point on the surface moves is given by the mean curvature of the surface. For example, a round sphere evolves under mean curvature flow by shrinking inward uniformly (since the mean curvature vector of a sphere points inward). Except in special cases, the mean curvature flow develops singularities.

Under the constraint that volume enclosed is constant, this is called surface tension flow.

It is a parabolic partial differential equation, and can be interpreted as "smoothing".

## Physical examples

The most familiar example of mean curvature flow is in the evolution of soap films. A similar 2-dimensional phenomenon is oil drops on the surface of water, which evolve into disks (circular boundary).

Mean curvature flow was originally proposed as a model for the formation of grain boundaries in the annealing of pure metal.

## Properties

The mean curvature flow extremalizes surface area, and minimal surfaces are the critical points for the mean curvature flow; minima solve the isoperimetric problem.

For manifolds embedded in a Kähler–Einstein manifold, if the surface is a Lagrangian submanifold, the mean curvature flow is of Lagrangian type, so the surface evolves within the class of Lagrangian submanifolds.

Huisken's monotonicity formula gives a monotonicity property of the convolution of a time-reversed heat kernel with a surface undergoing the mean curvature flow.

Related flows are:

- Curve-shortening flow, the one-dimensional case of mean curvature flow
- the surface tension flow
- the Lagrangian mean curvature flow
- the inverse mean curvature flow

## Mean curvature flow of a three-dimensional surface

The differential equation for mean-curvature flow of a surface given by is given by

with being a constant relating the curvature and the speed of the surface normal, and the mean curvature being

In the limits and , so that the surface is nearly planar with its normal nearly parallel to the z axis, this reduces to a diffusion equation

While the conventional diffusion equation is a linear parabolic partial differential equation and does not develop singularities (when run forward in time), mean curvature flow may develop singularities because it is a nonlinear parabolic equation. In general additional constraints need to be put on a surface to prevent singularities under mean curvature flows.

Every smooth convex surface collapses to a point under the mean-curvature flow, without other singularities, and converges to the shape of a sphere as it does so. For surfaces of dimension two or more this is a theorem of Gerhard Huisken;[1] for the one-dimensional curve-shortening flow it is the Gage–Hamilton–Grayson theorem. However, there exist embedded surfaces of two or more dimensions other than the sphere that stay self-similar as they contract to a point under the mean-curvature flow, including the Angenent torus.[2]

## References

- Huisken, Gerhard (1990), "Asymptotic behavior for singularities of the mean curvature flow",
*Journal of Differential Geometry*,**31**(1): 285–299, MR 1030675. - Angenent, Sigurd B. (1992), "Shrinking doughnuts" (PDF),
*Nonlinear diffusion equations and their equilibrium states, 3 (Gregynog, 1989)*, Progress in Nonlinear Differential Equations and their Applications,**7**, Boston, MA: Birkhäuser, pp. 21–38, MR 1167827.

- Ecker, Klaus (2004),
*Regularity Theory for Mean Curvature Flow*, Progress in Nonlinear Differential Equations and their Applications,**57**, Boston, MA: Birkhäuser, doi:10.1007/978-0-8176-8210-1, ISBN 0-8176-3243-3, MR 2024995. - Mantegazza, Carlo (2011),
*Lecture Notes on Mean Curvature Flow*, Progress in Mathematics,**290**, Basel: Birkhäuser/Springer, doi:10.1007/978-3-0348-0145-4, ISBN 978-3-0348-0144-7, MR 2815949. - Lu, Conglin; Cao, Yan; Mumford, David (2002), "Surface evolution under curvature flows",
*Journal of Visual Communication and Image Representation*,**13**(1–2): 65–81, doi:10.1006/jvci.2001.0476. See in particular Equations 3a and 3b.