Inhomogeneous linear differential equations. Exponential functions. Sine or Cosine (Part A).

The general form of inhomogenous linear differential equations is:

x'' + p(t) x' + q(t) x = g(t)

We need 2 initial conditions x(0) = x0, x'(0) = u0 to have a unique solution, there is a 3-step method to solve it:

  1. Solve the homogeneous equation, where g(t) = 0, to find the general solution to the homogeneous equation:
    xh(t) = C1 x1(t) + C2 x2(t) .
  2. Find the particular solution to the inhomegenous differential equation xp(t) .
  3. Write general solution as x(t) = xh(t) + xp(t) . Determine C1 and C2 from initial conditions.

Inhomogeneous Term

Exponential FunctionsAnsatz x = A et
Sine or Cosine FunctionsAnsatz x = A cos(t) + B sin(t)
Leverage eit = cos(t) + i sin(t) ,
convert function to complex,
then use ansatz z = C eit
PolynomialsAnsatz x = A t2 + B t + C
Inhomogeneous linear differential equations. Sine or Cosine (Part B). Polynomial. Resonance.


Resonance is a phenomenon which can be observed when somebody sings against a wine glass at the glass’s frequency, causing that glass vibrates violently until it breaks. One dimensional model of resonance is below, this is a second order linear constant coefficient equation that has an inhomogeneous term:

x'' + ฯ‰02 x = f cosฯ‰t

The homogeneous part of this equation, i.e. x'' + ฯ‰02 x = 0 , is the wine glass itself. ฯ‰0 is the natural frequency. The right hand side f cosฯ‰t is modeling the voice of singer, at the frequency ฯ‰ . Resonance is going to happen when ฯ‰ is getting close to ฯ‰0 .

We will solve this equation when ฯ‰0 and ฯ‰ are different frequencies, then we will limit the solution as ฯ‰ goes to ฯ‰0.

Resonance. RLC circuit.


There are some nice applications of these second order differential equations

RLC (resistor, capacitor, inductor) circuit, connected to an AC current

The constitutive relations for these circuit elements are:

  1. The voltage drop across a resistor is equal to the current in the circuit times the resistance. VR = i R
  2. The voltage drop across a capacitor is equal to the charge on the capacitor divided by the capacitance. VC = q / C
  3. The voltage drop across the inductor is equal to the derivative of the current with respect to time, times L. VC = di / dt L
  4. The current is equal to the time derivative of the charge. i = dq / dt
  5. The AC current can be modeled as ฮต(t) = ฮต0 cos ฯ‰t

Differential equation comes from Kirchhoff’s law, which says the voltage supplied by the AC, is equal to the voltage drop across each elements in the circuit when they are in series ฮต(t) = VL +VR + VC .

Mass on a spring. Pendulum.

Mass on a spring

You will get an non-dimensionalization equation which is exactly the equation we got for the LRC circuit, except the definitions are different.


Different from previous 2 applications, differential equation in this case is nonlinear. If the oscillation is of a small amplitude, then ฮธ is approximately equal to sinฮธ. Then you will get an non-dimensionalization equation which is exactly the equation we got for the LRC circuit, except the definitions are different.

Damped Resonance

The three application problems has the same dimensionless differential equation. ฮฑ presents the damping, which is proportional to the velocity.

x'' + ฮฑ x' + x = cos ฮฒt, ฮฑ > 0

The homogeneous solution to this equation is just a transient. Eventually it will become small and you can neglect it. Final solution will be independent of the initial conditions.


Nondimensionalization is making an equation dimensionless. If we nondimensionalize an equation,it is possible to reduce parameters into a smaller set. The non-dimensional equation here may be equivalent to other physical systems. First you need to know the units of the various things. A physical equation is only valid if every term in that equation has the same units.

Damped Resonance. Nondimensionalization.

My Certificate

For more on Inhomogeneous Linear Differential Equations, please refer to the wonderful course here

I am Kesler Zhu, thank you for visiting my website. Check out more course reviews at

Don't forget to sign up newsletter, don't miss any chance to learn.

Or share what you've learned with friends!