# Calculus of variations Definition and 40 Discussions

The calculus of variations is a field of mathematical analysis that uses variations, which are small changes in functions
and functionals, to find maxima and minima of functionals: mappings from a set of functions to the real numbers. Functionals are often expressed as definite integrals involving functions and their derivatives. Functions that maximize or minimize functionals may be found using the Euler–Lagrange equation of the calculus of variations.
A simple example of such a problem is to find the curve of shortest length connecting two points. If there are no constraints, the solution is a straight line between the points. However, if the curve is constrained to lie on a surface in space, then the solution is less obvious, and possibly many solutions may exist. Such solutions are known as geodesics. A related problem is posed by Fermat's principle: light follows the path of shortest optical length connecting two points, where the optical length depends upon the material of the medium. One corresponding concept in mechanics is the principle of least/stationary action.
Many important problems involve functions of several variables. Solutions of boundary value problems for the Laplace equation satisfy the Dirichlet principle. Plateau's problem requires finding a surface of minimal area that spans a given contour in space: a solution can often be found by dipping a frame in a solution of soap suds. Although such experiments are relatively easy to perform, their mathematical interpretation is far from simple: there may be more than one locally minimizing surface, and they may have non-trivial topology.

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1. ### I Independent coordinates are dependent

(This is not about independence of ##q##, ##\dot q##) A system has some holonomic constraints. Using them we can have a set of coordinates ##{q_i}##. Since any values for these coordinates is possible we say that these are independent coordinates. However the system will trace a path in the...
2. ### Maximizing the volume of a cylinder

Note this is in our Lagrangian Mechanics section of Classical Mechanics, so I assume he wants us to use Calculus of Variations to solve it. The surface area is fixed, so that'll be the constraint. Maximizing volume, we need a functional to represent Volume. This was tricky, but my best guess for...

5. ### I Applying a constraint in the calculus of variations

I have an analytical function F of the discrete variables ni, which are natural numbers. I also know that the sum of all ni is constant and equal to N. N also appears explicitly in F, but F is not a function of N. F exists in a coordinate system given by the ni only. Should I carry out the...
6. ### A Gateaux vs. Frechet in Calc.Variations

Good Morning Could someone summarize the distinction between the Frechet and the Gateaux derivative with specific regard to the Calculus of Variations? Why use one or the other? Or both? Is one easier than the other? More precise? Or Accessible? I feel I understand the process, but with...
7. ### I Derivation of the Euler-Lagrangian

I have a question about a very specific step in the derivation of Euler-Lagrangian. Sorry if it seems simple and trivial. I present the question in the course of the derivation. Given: \begin{equation} \begin{split} F &=\int_{x_a}^{x_b} g(f,f_x,x) dx \end{split} \end{equation}...
8. ### I Derivative of a Variation vs Variation of a Derivative

When a classical field is varied so that ##\phi ^{'}=\phi +\delta \phi## the spatial partial derivatives of the field is often written $$\partial _{\mu }\phi ^{'}=\partial _{\mu }(\phi +\delta \phi )=\partial _{\mu }\phi +\partial _{\mu }\delta \phi$$. Often times the next step is to switch...
9. ### A Derivative of argmin/argmax w.r.t. auxiliary parameter?

As part of my work, I'm making use of the familiar properties of function minima/maxima in a way which I can't seem to find in the literature. I was hoping that by describing it here, someone else might recognise it and be able to point me to a citation. I think it's highly unlikely that I'm the...
10. ### A Maximization problem using Euler Lagrange

Hi, I'm trying to solve the following problem ##\max_{f(x)} \int_{f^{-1}(0)}^0 (kx- \int_0^x f(u)du) f'(x) dx##. I have only little experience with calculus of variations - the problem resembles something like ## I(x) = \int_0^1 F(t, x(t), x'(t),x''(t))dt## but I don't know about the...
11. ### A Maximization Problem

Consider a double integral $$K= \int_{-a}^a \int_{-b}^b \frac{B}{r_1(y,z)r_2^2(y,z)} \sin(kr_1+kr_2) \,dy\,dz$$ where $$r_1 =\sqrt{A^2+y^2+z^2}$$ $$r_2=\sqrt{B^2+(C-y)^2+z^2}$$ Now consider a function: $$C = C(a,b,k,A,B)$$ I want to find the function C such that K is maximized. In other...
12. ### I Delta x in the derivation of Lagrange equation

Hello PF, I was doing the derivation of the Lagrange equation of motion and had to do some calculus of variations. The first step in the derivation is to multiply the integral of ƒ(y(x),y'(x);x)dx from x1 to x2 by δ. and then by the chain rule we proceed. But I cannot understand why we are...
13. ### Difference between Hamiltonian and Lagrangian Mechanics

Hello, I am trying to "integrate into my understanding" the difference between Hamiltonian and Lagrangian mechanics. In a nutshell: If Lagrange did all the work and formulated L = T - V, they why is Hamilton's name attached to the minimization principle? YES; I KNOW about Hamilton's Second...
14. ### A Derivation of Euler Lagrange, variations

What is wrong with the simple localised geometric derivation of the Euler Lagrange equation. As opposed to the standard derivation that Lagrange provided. Sorry I haven't mastered writing mathematically using latex. I will have a look at this over the next few days. More clarification. I...
15. ### I Calculus of variations question

Hey, I have a theorem I cannot prove. We have a function x^* that maximizes or minimizes the integral: \int^{t_1}_{t_0} F(t,x(t),\dot{x}(t))dt Our end point conditions are: x(t_0) = x_0, x(t_1) \geq x_1 I am told that x^* has to satisfy the Euler equation. That I can fully understand since...

29. ### Calculus of variations question

Okay, so I've run into a rather weird functional that I am trying to optimize using calculus of variations. It is a functional of three functions of a single variable, with a constraint, but I can't figure out how to set up the Euler-Lagrange equation. The functional in question is (sorry it's...
30. ### Why y, y' (derivative of y), x are independent?

In calculus of variations when we solve Euler's equation we always do think of y, x and y' as independent variables. In thermodynamics we think that different potentials have totally different variables I don't understand why the slope of the function is not directly dependent on function itself.
31. ### Calculus of Variations: Minimizing Fuel Consumption w/ v(t)

Homework Statement (I'm learning all of this in German, so I apologize if something is translated incorrectly.) So last week we started calculus of variations, and I'm rather confused about how to approach the following problem: The fuel consumption of a vehicle per unit of time is expressed...
32. ### Functional derivative of normal function

I can't convince myself whether the following functional derivative is trivial or not: ##\frac \delta {\delta \psi(x)} \big[ \partial_x \psi(x)\big],## where ##\partial_x## is a standard derivative with respect to ##x##. One could argue that ## \partial_x \psi(x) = \int dx' [\partial_{x'}...
33. ### Simple Symplectic Reduction Example

Homework Statement I'm struggling to perform a symplectic reduction and don't really understand the process in general. I have a fairly solid understanding of differential equations but am just starting to explore differential geometry. Hopefully somebody will be able to walk me through this...
34. ### Calculus Gelfand & Fomin vs. Lanczos to learn Calculus of Variations

I am learning the Lagrangian formalism from Landau & Lifshitz but I'm not very familiar with variational calculus. Landau assumes its knowledge and uses it directly. Although the equations look analogous to what you'd do with ordinary calculus, I'd like to understand the foundation and ideas...

40. ### Functionals and calculus of variations

I have been studying calculus of variations and have been somewhat struggling to conceptualise why it is that we have functionals of the form I[y]= \int_{a}^{b} F\left(x,y,y' \right) dx in particular, why the integrand F\left(x,y,y' \right) is a function of both y and it's derivative y'? My...