Numerical and Analytical Solutions 2: Constant Acceleration

November 3, 2016

Previously, I showed how to solve a simple problem of motion at a constant velocity analytically and numerically. Because of the nature of the problem both solutions gave the same result. Now we’ll try a constant acceleration problem which should highlight some of the key differences between the two approaches, particularly the tradeoffs you must make when using numerical approaches.

The Problem

  • A ball starts at the origin and moves horizontally with an acceleration of 0.2 m/s2. Print out a table of the ball’s position (in x) with time (every second) for the first 20 seconds.

Analytical Solution
We know that acceleration (a) is the change in velocity with time (t):

a = \frac{dv}{dt}

so if we integrate acceleration we can find the velocity. Then, as we saw before, velocity (v) is the change in position with time:

v = \frac{dx}{dt}

which can be integrated to find the position (x) as a function of time.

So, to summarize, to find position as a function of time given only an acceleration, we need to integrate twice: first to get velocity then to get x.

For this problem where the acceleration is a constant 0.2 m/s2 we start with acceleration:

\frac{dv}{dt} = 0.2

which integrates to give the general solution,

v = 0.2 t + c

To find the constant of integration we refer to the original question which does not say anything about velocity, so we assume that the initial velocity was 0: i.e.:

at t = 0 we have v = 0;

which we can substitute into the velocity equation to find that, for this problem, c is zero:

v = 0.2 t + c
0 = 0.2 (0) + c
0 = c

making the specific velocity equation:
v = 0.2 t

we replace v with dx/dt and integrate:

\frac{dx}{dt} = 0.2 t
x = \frac{0.2 t^2}{2} + c
x = 0.1 t^2 + c

This constant of integration can be found since we know that the ball starts at the origin so

at t = 0 we have x = 0, so;

x = 0.1 t^2 + c
0 = 0.1 (0)^2 + c
0 = c

Therefore our final equation for x is:

x = 0.1 t^2

Summarizing the Analytical

To summarize the analytical solution:

a = 0.2
v = 0.2 t
x = 0.1 t^2

These are all a function of time so it might be more proper to write them as:

a(t) = 0.2
v(t) = 0.2 t
x(t) = 0.1 t^2

Velocity and acceleration represent rates of change which so we could also write these equations as:

a(t) = \frac{dv}{dt} = 0.2
v(t) = \frac{dx}{dt} = 0.2 t
x(t) = x = 0.1 t^2

or we could even write acceleration as the second differential of the position:

a(t) = \frac{d^2x}{dt^2} = 0.2
v(t) = \frac{dx}{dt} = 0.2 t
x(t) = x = 0.1 t^2

or, if we preferred, we could even write it in prime notation for the differentials:

a(t) = x
v(t) = x
x(t) = x(t) =0.1 t^2

The Numerical Solution

As we saw before we can determine the position of a moving object if we know its old position (xold) and how much that position has changed (dx).

x_{new} = x_{old} + dx

where the change in position is determined from the fact that velocity (v) is the change in position with time (dx/dt):

v = \frac{dx}{dt}

which rearranges to:

dx = v dt

So to find the new position of an object across a timestep we need two equations:

dx = v dt
x_{new} = x_{old} + dx

In this problem we don’t yet have the velocity because it changes with time, but we could use the exact same logic to find velocity since acceleration (a) is the change in velocity with time (dv/dt):

a = \frac{dv}{dt}

which rearranges to:

dv = a dt

and knowing the change in velocity (dv) we can find the velocity using:

v_{new} = v_{old} + dv

Therefore, we have four equations to find the position of an accelerating object (note that in the third equation I’ve replaced v with vnew which is calculated in the second equation):

dv = a dt
v_{new} = v_{old} + dv
dx = v_{new} dt
x_{new} = x_{old} + dx

These we can plug into a python program just so:

motion-01-both.py

from visual import *

# Initialize
x = 0.0
v = 0.0
a = 0.2
dt = 1.0

# Time loop
for t in arange(dt, 20+dt, dt):

     # Analytical solution
     x_a = 0.1 * t**2

     # Numerical solution
     dv = a * dt
     v = v + dv
     dx = v * dt
     x = x + dx

     # Output
     print t, x_a, x

which give output of:

>>> 
1.0 0.1 0.2
2.0 0.4 0.6
3.0 0.9 1.2
4.0 1.6 2.0
5.0 2.5 3.0
6.0 3.6 4.2
7.0 4.9 5.6
8.0 6.4 7.2
9.0 8.1 9.0
10.0 10.0 11.0
11.0 12.1 13.2
12.0 14.4 15.6
13.0 16.9 18.2
14.0 19.6 21.0
15.0 22.5 24.0
16.0 25.6 27.2
17.0 28.9 30.6
18.0 32.4 34.2
19.0 36.1 38.0
20.0 40.0 42.0

Here, unlike the case with constant velocity, the two methods give slightly different results. The analytical solution is the correct one, so we’ll use it for reference. The numerical solution is off because it does not fully account for the continuous nature of the acceleration: we update the velocity ever timestep (every 1 second), so the velocity changes in chunks.

To get a better result we can reduce the timestep. Using dt = 0.1 gives final results of:

18.8 35.344 35.532
18.9 35.721 35.91
19.0 36.1 36.29
19.1 36.481 36.672
19.2 36.864 37.056
19.3 37.249 37.442
19.4 37.636 37.83
19.5 38.025 38.22
19.6 38.416 38.612
19.7 38.809 39.006
19.8 39.204 39.402
19.9 39.601 39.8
20.0 40.0 40.2

which is much closer, but requires a bit more runtime on the computer. And this is the key tradeoff with numerical solutions: greater accuracy requires smaller timesteps which results in longer runtimes on the computer.

Post Script

To generate a graph of the data use the code:

from visual import *
from visual.graph import *

# Initialize
x = 0.0
v = 0.0
a = 0.2
dt = 1.0

analyticCurve = gcurve(color=color.red)
numericCurve = gcurve(color=color.yellow)
# Time loop
for t in arange(dt, 20+dt, dt):

     # Analytical solution
     x_a = 0.1 * t**2

     # Numerical solution
     dv = a * dt
     v = v + dv
     dx = v * dt
     x = x + dx

     # Output
     print t, x_a, x
     analyticCurve.plot(pos=(t, x_a))
     numericCurve.plot(pos=(t,x))

which gives:

Comparison of numerical and analytical solutions using a timestep (dt) of 1.0 seconds.

Comparison of numerical and analytical solutions using a timestep (dt) of 1.0 seconds.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2016. Numerical and Analytical Solutions 2: Constant Acceleration, Retrieved February 23rd, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Numerical versus Analytical Solutions

November 3, 2016

We’ve started working on the physics of motion in my programming class, and really it boils down to solving differential equations using numerical methods. Since the class has a calculus co-requisite I thought a good way to approach teaching this would be to first have the solve the basic equations for motion (velocity and acceleration) analytically–using calculus–before we took the numerical approach.

Constant velocity

  • Question 1. A ball starts at the origin and moves horizontally at a speed of 0.5 m/s. Print out a table of the ball’s position (in x) with time (t) (every second) for the first 20 seconds.

Analytical Solution:
Well, we know that speed is the change in position (in the x direction in this case) with time, so a constant velocity of 0.5 m/s can be written as the differential equation:

\frac{dx}{dt} = 0.5

To get the ball’s position at a given time we need to integrate this differential equation. It turns out that my calculus students had not gotten to integration yet. So I gave them the 5 minute version, which they were able to pick up pretty quickly since integration’s just the reverse of differentiation, and we were able to move on.

Integrating gives:

x = 0.5t + c

which includes a constant of integration (c). This is the general solution to the differential equation. It’s called the general solution because we still can’t use it since we don’t know what c is. We need to find the specific solution for this particular problem.

In order to find c we need to know the actual position of the ball is at one point in time. Fortunately, the problem states that the ball starts at the origin where x=0 so we know that:

  • at t = 0, x = 0

So we plug these values into the general solution to get:

0 = 0.5(0) + c
solving for c gives:

c = 0

Therefore our specific solution is simply:

x = 0.5t

And we can write a simple python program to print out the position of the ball every second for 20 seconds:

motion-01-analytic.py

for t in range(21):
     x = 0.5 * t
     print t, x

which gives the result:

>>> 
0 0.0
1 0.5
2 1.0
3 1.5
4 2.0
5 2.5
6 3.0
7 3.5
8 4.0
9 4.5
10 5.0
11 5.5
12 6.0
13 6.5
14 7.0
15 7.5
16 8.0
17 8.5
18 9.0
19 9.5
20 10.0

Numerical Solution:
Finding the numerical solution to the differential equation involves not integrating, which is particularly good if the differential equation can’t be integrated.

We start with the same differential equation for velocity:
\frac{dx}{dt} = 0.5

but instead of trying to solve it we’ll just approximate a solution by recognizing that we use dx/dy to represent when the change in x and t are really, really small. If we were to assume they weren’t infinitesimally small we would rewrite the equations using deltas instead of d’s:
\frac{\Delta x}{\Delta t} = 0.5

now we can manipulate this equation using algebra to show that:
\Delta x = 0.5 \Delta t

so the change in the position at any given moment is just the velocity (0.5 m/s) times the timestep. Therefore, to keep track of the position of the ball we need to just add the change in position to the old position of the ball:

x_{new} = x_{old} + \Delta x

Now we can write a program to calculate the position of the ball using this numerical approximation.

motion-01-numeric.py

from visual import *

# Initialize
x = 0.0
dt = 1.0

# Time loop
for t in arange(dt, 21, dt):
     v = 0.5
     dx = v * dt
     x = x + dx
     print t, x

I’m sure you’ve noticed a couple inefficiencies in this program. Primarily, that the velocity v, which is a constant, is set inside the loop, which just means it’s reset to the same value every time the loop loops. However, I’m putting it in there because when we get working on acceleration the velocity will change with time.

I also import the visual library (vpython.org) because it imports the numpy library and we’ll be creating and moving 3d balls in a little bit as well.

Finally, the two statements for calculating dx and x could easily be combined into one. I’m only keeping them separate to be consistent with the math described above.

A Program with both Analytical and Numerical Solutions
For constant velocity problems the numerical approach gives the same results as the analytical solution, but that’s most definitely not going to be the case in the future, so to compare the two results more easily we can combine the two programs into one:

motion-01.py

from visual import *
# Initialize
x = 0.0
dt = 1.0

# Time loop
for t in arange(dt, 21, dt):
     v = 0.5

     # Analytical solution
     x_a = v * t

     # Numerical solution
     dx = v * dt
     x = x + dx

     # Output
     print t, x_a, x

which outputs:

>>> 
1.0 0.5 0.5
2.0 1.0 1.0
3.0 1.5 1.5
4.0 2.0 2.0
5.0 2.5 2.5
6.0 3.0 3.0
7.0 3.5 3.5
8.0 4.0 4.0
9.0 4.5 4.5
10.0 5.0 5.0
11.0 5.5 5.5
12.0 6.0 6.0
13.0 6.5 6.5
14.0 7.0 7.0
15.0 7.5 7.5
16.0 8.0 8.0
17.0 8.5 8.5
18.0 9.0 9.0
19.0 9.5 9.5
20.0 10.0 10.0

Solving a problem involving acceleration comes next.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2016. Numerical versus Analytical Solutions, Retrieved February 23rd, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Girl Awesomeness

November 22, 2013

Ms. Hahn shared this with me because, “This video — in all of its girl awesomeness — reminded me of your recent Rube Goldberg blog entry and my visit to your classroom to see your middle school students’ “machines.” Entertaining.”

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Girl Awesomeness, Retrieved February 23rd, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Equations of Motion

October 6, 2013

To summarize what we’ve been doing this past quarter in Middle School Science, we’ve compiled this handy little reference table of the equations for motion (mechanics).

Reference table of equations for motion, force, work and power.

Reference table of equations for motion, force, work and power.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Equations of Motion, Retrieved February 23rd, 2017, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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