In the mathematics of a square matrix, the Wronskian (or Wrońskian) is a determinant introduced by the Polish mathematician Józef Hoene-Wroński (1812). It is used in the study of differential equations, where it can sometimes show linear independence of a set of solutions.
The Wronskian of two differentiable functions f and g is .
More generally, for n real- or complex-valued functions f1, …, fn, which are n – 1 times differentiable on an interval I, the Wronskian is a function on defined by
This is the determinant of the matrix constructed by placing the functions in the first row, the first derivatives of the functions in the second row, and so on through the derivative, thus forming a square matrix.
When the functions fi are solutions of a linear differential equation, the Wronskian can be found explicitly using Abel's identity, even if the functions fi are not known explicitly. (See below.)
If the functions fi are linearly dependent, then so are the columns of the Wronskian (since differentiation is a linear operation), and the Wronskian vanishes. Thus, one may show that a set of differentiable functions is linearly independent on an interval by showing that their Wronskian does not vanish identically. It may, however, vanish at isolated points.
A common misconception is that W = 0 everywhere implies linear dependence, but Peano (1889) pointed out that the functions x2 and |x| · x have continuous derivatives and their Wronskian vanishes everywhere, yet they are not linearly dependent in any neighborhood of 0.[a] There are several extra conditions which combine with vanishing of the Wronskian in an interval to imply linear dependence.
Over fields of positive characteristic p the Wronskian may vanish even for linearly independent polynomials; for example, the Wronskian of xp and 1 is identically 0.
In general, for an th order linear differential equation, if solutions are known, the last one can be determined by using the Wronskian.
Consider the second order differential equation in Lagrange's notation:
Then differentiating and using the fact that obey the above differential equation shows that
Therefore, the Wronskian obeys a simple first order differential equation and can be exactly solved:
Now suppose that we know one of the solutions, say . Then, by the definition of the Wronskian, obeys a first order differential equation:
The method is easily generalized to higher order equations.
For n functions of several variables, a generalized Wronskian is a determinant of an n by n matrix with entries Di(fj) (with 0 ≤ i < n), where each Di is some constant coefficient linear partial differential operator of order i. If the functions are linearly dependent then all generalized Wronskians vanish. As in the single variable case the converse is not true in general: if all generalized Wronskians vanish, this does not imply that the functions are linearly dependent. However, the converse is true in many special cases. For example, if the functions are polynomials and all generalized Wronskians vanish, then the functions are linearly dependent. Roth used this result about generalized Wronskians in his proof of Roth's theorem. For more general conditions under which the converse is valid see Wolsson (1989b).
The Wronskian was introduced by Józef Hoene-Wroński (1812) and given its current name by Thomas Muir (1882, Chapter XVIII).