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Finite Element

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We have seen that the idea of using the weak form of a differential equation together with the idea

of looking for the solution of the weak form in a finite dimensional subspace lead to an effective

means for generating approximate solutions to our model boundary value problem. This method of

generating numerical approximations is called the Galerkin method.

Before looking further at further examples of the Galerkin method methods, I will list a few comments

intended to enhance your understanding of the method, and how it relates to the concept of best

approximation in a subspace.

1. Energy inner product and norm. It is easy to see that the bilinear form a(u, v), u, v V

satisfies all the requirements for an inner product on the linear space V. In particular, it is

R`

clear that a(u, u) = 0 AE(u0 )2 + cu2 dx 0, and if a(u, u) = 0 it must be true that u 0.

This is obvious when c > 0, if c 0 then u0 = 0 so u = b =constant. Then since u V entails

u(0) = 0, it follows that b = 0. Thus, the pair V, a(, ) forms an inner product

space (we

p

call a the energy inner product), and we can define the energy norm kukE = a(u, u) so that

V, k kE is a normed space.

2. Best approximation. We now see that the problem of finding u V such that a(u, v) =

(f, v) v V takes place in a normed space, and we can now show that the Galerkin method

leads to the best approximation un to the solution from the finite dimensional subspace Vn .

That is un = minwn Vn kwn ukE . This follows directly from the observations: a(un , vn ) =

(f, vn ) vn Vn V , and a(u, vn ) = (f, vn ) for u the actual solution. Subtracting we find that

a(u un , vn ) = 0 vn Vn so that u un is perpendicular to Vn . This property, as weve

previously seen, implies that un is the best approximation from Vn .

3. Need for sparse stiffness matrices. An objection to the use of polynomials as the basis

elements {i } of our approximating subspace is that the resulting stiffness matrix, [a(i , j )],

may have many nonzero entries, and this fact can pose a heavy computational burden. For

example, with approximating subspace of, say, dimension 100, a fully populated stiffness matrix

would have 10,000 elements to be computed and would, in addition, be difficult to invert. The

ideal basis functions should be easy to work with and lead to sparse stiffness matrices (i.e.,

matrices with many 0 elements).

4. Finite element basis functions. The finite element approach to choosing basis elements for

the Galerkin method is (in 1D) to divide the interval over which the equation is to be satisfied

into a finite number of parts, and in each of these parts to use a polynomial approximation to

the solution. E.g., choose points x0 = 0 < x1 , < xn < xn+1 = ` in the interval [0, `], and

take Vn as the set of continuous functions that are linear in each subinterval [xi , xi+1 ], i =

0, . . . , n and vanish at 0, ` (i.e., continuous, piecewise linear functions). Vn is a subspace of

C([0, `]) of dimension n corresponding to values of v Vn at the points xi , i = 1, . . . , n. This

choice of basis functions leads to sparse stiffness matricies as we will discover shortly.

5. A technical difficulty There is problem that has to be mentioned with the finite element basis

functions just described. Consider the continuous piecewise linear functions with, say, n = 2

for simplicity. A typical v V2 looks like

x0

x1

x3

x2

It is clear that the function v is continuous but has only one derivative, and this derivative is

only piecewise continuous (actually piecewise constant). Thus, V2 is not a subspace of V whose

elements must have two continuous derivatives. The way around this dilemma is to extend the

notion of a solution, i.e., enlarge the space V so that it contains subspaces of finite element

piecewise polynomials. We wont worry about how to do this, and will verify by examples that

we havent made the approximating subspaces too large. Thus, at least within the context of

this course, the difficulties just discovered may be forgotten, and we may assume whenever

necessary that the space V contains the finite element subspaces to be introduced.

To present the basic ideas of the finite element method and at the same time generalize our sample

problem, well consider a boundary value problem (BVP) for the ordinary differential equation of

the type weve been studying, but with some extra features. Let p 6= 0 R be given and set

Vp = {w C 2 ([0, 1]) : w(0) = p}, i.e. functions having two continuous derivatives and taking a

specified value at the left end point. We formulate our BVP as follows:

Problem P1 : find u Vp satsifying L(u) = u00 + u = f (x), 0 < x < 1,

u0 (1) = q,

The new features of this BVP are: 1.) A nonzero boundary condition on the unknown function

has been added at the left end point. 2.) The right hand boundary condition has been changed to

require that the first derivative take a given value. (In the elastic rod case, this would correspond

to a prescribed value of stress at x = 1 recall = Eu0 . Note that the left end condition has

been incorporated into the definition of Vp conditions on the unknown function are called essential

conditions whereas the right hand condition is given explicitly.

Our approach to numerial approximation requires that we start with the weak form. How do we get

it for this new problem? Recall that we showed the equvalence of the weak form and the BVP simply

by using integration by parts. We can do this with our new problem. Define the linear subspace

of C 2 ([0, 1]) by V0 = {w C 2 ([0, 1]) : w(0) = 0} (note only the value at the left hand end point is

required to be 0). For u Vp satisfying P1 and any v V0 we have

Z 1

Z 1

(u00 v + uv f v) dx,

v(Lu f ) dx =

0=

0

Z 1

Z

Z 1

((u0 v)0 + u0 v 0 ) dx = u0 v|10 +

u00 v dx =

0

u0 v 0 dx = qv(1) +

Z

0

u0 v 0 dx

where weve used the facts that v(0) = 0 and u0 (1) = q. Substuting we have

qv(1) +

where as before

a(u, v) =

(f, v) =

f v dx, u Vp , v V0

a(u, v) = (f, v) + qv(1)

for all v V0 .

But now we can reverse the process just completed and find the P1 is equivalent to

Problem P2 : find u Vp such that a(u, v) = (f, v) + qv(1) for all v V0

Note that the only difference between Vp and V0 is that functions in Vp are required to take the value

p 6= 0 at x = 0, where as those in V0 vanish there. V0 is a linear space (since v, w V0 v + w and

v V0 ), but Vp is not e.g. if v(0) = p then v

/ Vp unless = 1. In fact, if v Vp is any fixed

element of Vp , then all other elements v are of the form v = v + w, w V0 (since the difference of

any two elements of Vp belongs to V0 ). Thus, Vp is just a translated version of the linear space V0

the dimension of Vp is defined as the dimension of V0 (it is called an affine subspace of V rather

than a linear subspace).

Ignoring the fact P1 and hence P2 can be solved exactly for any f , we will try to find an approximate

numerical solution. Using a small generalization of the previous Galerkin approach, we seek the

approximate solution u in a finite dimensional subspace of Vp,n Vp , and we require that P2 be

satisfied for all v V0,n where Vp,n and V0,n are n dimensional subspaces of V (any u Vp,n is

on the form u

+ v with u

a fixed element of Vp,n and v V0,n ). (u will usually be called the trial

function and any v will be called a test function.)

Of course, we could work with polynomials again, but now we introduce the finite element ideas.

We define a grid of points in the interval [0, 1], and call these points xi , i = 1, . . . , n + 1 where

0 = x1 < < xn+1 = 1, and xi+1 xi hi , i = 1, . . . , n is the grid spacing. Usually, these points

will be evenly spaced, hi = 1/n, but at this point we wont enforce this restriction. We take Vp,n

to be the space of continuous, piecewise linear functions u on [0, 1] such that u(0) = p, u is linear

in each subinterval [xi , xi+1 ], with u(xi ) = ui , i = 1, . . . , n. We take V0,n to be the same space but

with the value 0 specified at x = 0. Any function in either space is determined entirely by its values

at the n points xi , i = 2, . . . , n + 1, and this implies that the spaces are n dimensional. In fact well

now define a useful system of basis functions with n elements.

Consider three grid points xe1 , xe , xe+1 , and let v V0,n (or Vp,n ) have the values ve1 , ve , ve+1

at these points as shown in the sketch below.

The trial or test functions are linear on each interval, or element, I e = [xe , xe+1 ] of the grid.

Thus, on element e 1 we have v = ve1 (xe x)/he1 + ve (x xe1 )/he1 and on element e,

v = ve (xe+1 x)/he + ve+1 (x xe )/he . That is, on each element I e , a test or trial function v can

be expressed as a linear combination of two element basis functions H1e (x) = (xe+1 x)/he and

P2

H2e (x) = (x xe )/he , i.e., we can write v|I e = j=1 ve+j1 Hje , where the notation v|I e indicates the

restriction of v to element e. Combining the expressions for v on the separate elements, we arrive at

a formula which holds for all of I

n+1

X

v(x) =

i (x)vi

i=1

with

1 (x) =

and

0,

x2 x < 1

n+1 (x) =

0,

H2n (x),

0 x xn ,

xn < x 1 = xn+1

0,

0 x < xj1

H j1 (x), x

j1 x < xj

2

, j = 2, . . . , n,

j (x) =

j

H1 (x),

xj x < xj+1

0,

xj+1 x 1

where v1 = 0 for a test function and v1 = p for the trial function. The i s, sketched below, are

often called tent functions for obvious reasons.

Now substitute the trial function into the weak form and use the fact that a is linear in its second

factor, i.e., a(w, u1 + u2 ) = a(w, u1 ) + a(w, u2 )

a(w, u) = a(w,

n+1

X

uj j ) =

j=1

n+1

X

j=1

where F (w) = (f, w) + qw(1). The now any test u function is a linear combination of tent functions

(excluding 1 , since w1 = 0). In addition, a is linear in its first argument w and F is also linear in

w. This means that requiring a(w, u) = F (w) for any test function is equivalent to the requirement

that a(i , u) = F (i ), i = 2, . . . , n + 1. Thus, we arrive at the system of n equations for the n

unknown quantities u2 , . . . , un+1

n+1

X

a(i , j )uj = F (i ), i = 2, . . . , n + 1

j=1

It is often convenient to ignor the fact that u1 = p and allow i to range over the range 1, . . . , n + 1

in the above system. Prior to obtaining an algebraic solution, of course, the constraint on u1 must

be imposed. Let us compute the coefficient matrix K = [a(i , j )] and the right hand side vector

F = [F (1 ), , F (n+1 ]T . As noted previously, K is often called the stiffness matrix and F the

load vector because of the structural origins of the FEM.

For the load vector we have (because only n+1 is nonzero at x = 1)

Fe = F (e ) =

e f (x) dx + e,n+1 q,

where

i,j =

i = j,

otherwise

1,

0,

Z 1

Z

H11 (x)f (x) dx =

F1 =

I1

Given the functional form of f , we can evaluate these integrals either analytically or numerically.

For our first example, we take f to be a constant. In this case,

e=1

f h1 /2,

Fe = f (he1 + he )/2, e = 2, . . . , n

f hn /2 + q,

e=n+1

Next we turn to the stiffness matrix K. The element basis functions Hje (x) have constant derivatives

H1e 0 = 1/he ,

H2e 0 = 1/he .

0,

1/h1 , 0 x < x2 ,

01 (x) =

n+1 (x) =

1/hn ,

0,

x2 x < 1

5

0 x xn ,

xn < x 1

and

0j (x)

0,

1/h

j1 ,

1/hj ,

0,

x xj1

xj1 < x < xj

, j = 2, . . . , n

xj < x < xj+1

x xj+1

1 1 0

0 0

1 2 1 0 0

..

..

..

1

.

.

.

0

K|c=0 = .

..

h ..

.

0

0 1 2 1

0

0 0 1 1

R1

If c 6= 0, we must add the elements kc,ij = c 0 i j dx. We find for the diagonal elements

Z

Z

1

kc,ee =

H2e1 (x)2 dx +

H1e (x)2 dx = (he1 + he ), e = 2, . . . , n,

3

I e1

Ie

and kc,11 = h1 /3, kc,n+1,n+1 = hn /3. Of the off diagonal elements, only those on the first subdiagonal

and superdiagonal are nonzero, and we find

Z

kc,e1,e =

H2e1 (x)H1e (x) dx = he1 /3,

I e1

We now have all the elements necessary for obtaining the solution of the differential equation.

function fem_ex00(n, c, f, p, q)

% finite element solution of -u+cu=f, u(0)=p,u(1)=q

% using n intervals in [0,1]. Known value of u at x=0 is

% included as a additional equation so we start with n+1 unknowns.

x=linspace(0,1,n+1); h=1/n; % define grid points and spacing

% construct the load vector

ff=zeros(n+1,1);

ff(2:n)=h*f; ff(n+1)=h*f/2+q;

kk=kstif(n,c);

% enforce boundary condition u(0)=u1=p at x=0

kk(1,:)=0; kk(1,1)=1; ff(1)=p;

uu=kk\ff; % solve for u

uex=uexac(x,c,f, p, q);

fprintf(1,%10s%10s%10s%10s\n,x, uapprox, uexact, error);

disp([x, uu, uex, abs(uex-uu)]);

plot(x,uu,k-, x,uex, ko);

%===================================

function kmat=kstif(n,c)

% stiffness matrix for c=0

% kk(1,1)=kk(n+1,n+1)=1/h, all other diagonal elements kk(i,i)=2/h

% first sub and super diagonal elements kk=-1/h

6

% kk(1,1)=kk(n+1,n+1)=c*h/3, all other diagonal elements kk(ii)=2*c*h/3

% first sub and super diagonal elements kk=c*h/6

% all other kk=0

h=1/n;

kmat=(2*c*h/3+2/h)*diag(ones(1,n+1),0)+(c*h/6-1/h)*(diag(ones(1,n),-1)+diag(ones(1,n),1));

kmat(1,1)=(c*h/3+1/h); kmat(n+1,n+1)=(c*h/3+1/h);

%===================================

function u=uexac(x,c,f,p,q)

% exact solution to -u+cu=f, u(0)=p, u(1)=q

rtc=sqrt(c);

c1=q/(rtc*cosh(rtc)); c2=(p-f/c)/cosh(rtc);

u=f/c+c1*sinh(rtc*x)+c2*cosh(rtc*(x-1));

The results of a sample computation with f = 1, c = 4, p = 1, q = 2 are given below:

1.5

1.4

1.3

1.2

1.1

0.9

0.8

0.1

0.2

0.3

0.4

0.5

0.6

0.7

0.8

0.9

>> fem_ex00(10,4,1,1,2)

x

uapprox

0

1.0000

0.1000

0.9226

0.2000

0.8723

0.3000

0.8470

0.4000

0.8458

0.5000

0.8685

0.6000

0.9162

0.7000

0.9907

0.8000

1.0951

0.9000

1.2334

1.0000

1.4114

uexact

1.0000

0.9230

0.8730

0.8480

0.8470

0.8700

0.9178

0.9925

1.0969

1.2354

1.4134

error

0.0000

0.0004

0.0007

0.0010

0.0012

0.0014

0.0016

0.0018

0.0019

0.0020

0.0020

The computation above is not arranged in the usual FEM fashion. We have not taken advantage

of the fact that all computations can be performed locally on elements. We will in our future

work arrange things so that the element stiffness matrix and load vectors are computed and then

assembled into the global stiffness matrix and load vector. For the problem just completed, this

element approach would not achieve any gains in simplicity, but in more complex problems the

assembly process becomes necessary for computational efficiency.

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