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SEMINAR TWO - CLASSICAL MECHANICS

1 Generalized coordinates

The position of a particle in space is deﬁned by a radius vector

r

; its velocity and acceleration are respectively

v

=

d

r

dt

and

a

=

d

2

r

dt

. The number of independent quantities that must be speciﬁed to determine the positionof a system is called its number of degrees of freedom; a system of

n

particles in 3-space requires 3

n

coordinates. Any set of

s

quantities

q

1

,q

2

,

···

,q

s

that completely deﬁnes the position of a system is a setof generalized coordinates for the system; the time derivatives ˙

q

i

of the generalized coordinates are thegeneralized velocities. The generalized coordinates and velocities, along with the equations of motion for thesystem, completely determine the mechanical state of the system.

2 The Euler-Lagrange equations

There is a function of the generalized coordinates and velocities of a system, and time, known as theLagrangian,

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

), that characterizes a mechanical system. Suppose that the system occupies deﬁnedpositions at times

t

1

and

t

2

; then the action

S

of the system is deﬁned as

S

=

t

2

t

1

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

)

dt.

(1)Hamilton’s principle states that the system evolves in such a way that

S

is minimized; formally, it takes thepath such that

δS δq

= 0. There are particular equations that solve the problem of minimizing the action.To derive these equations, consider ﬁrst the case of a system with one degree of freedom. Let the function

q

=

q

(

t

) minimize

S

; it follows that

S

is larger when

q

(

t

) is replaced by

q

(

t

)+

δq

(

t

), where

δq

(

t

) is a variationon

q

(

t

), and is everywhere small. All variations of the path

q

(

t

) must take the same values at the endpointsof the time interval, so

δq

(

t

1

) =

δq

(

t

2

) = 0. When

q

(

t

) is varied, the change in

S

is

δS

=

t

2

t

1

L

(

q

+

δq,

˙

q

+

δ

˙

q,t

)

dt

−

t

2

t

1

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

)

dt,

(2)and

δS

= 0 for small variations. Expanding the ﬁrst integrand in powers of

δq

and

δ

˙

q

and neglecting termsof higher than ﬁrst order shows that

L

(

q

+

δq,

˙

q

+

δ

˙

q,t

) =

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

) +

∂L∂q

δq

+

∂L∂

˙

q

δ

˙

q

, resulting in

t

2

t

1

∂L∂q δq

+

∂L∂

˙

q δ

˙

q

dt

= 0

.

(3)Noting that

δ

˙

q

=

dδqdt

and integrating by parts yields

∂L∂

˙

q δq

t

2

t

1

+

t

2

t

1

∂L∂q

−

ddt∂L∂

˙

q

δq dt

= 0

.

(4)Since the endpoints are set, the integrated term is 0, so the integrated term vanishes for all values of

δq

; forthis to be so, the integrand is identically zero. This condition is achieved by the Euler-Lagrange equation

ddt

∂L∂

˙

q

−

∂L∂q

= 0

.

(5)It is trivial to extend this derivation to systems of more than one degree of freedom; in general, the numberof Euler-Lagrange equations necessary to describe a system is equal the number of degrees of freedom. TheEuler-Lagrange equations provide equations of motion for a given Lagrangian; these equations of motionare second-order diﬀerential equations. Thus far, the concept of a Lagrangian has been employed withoutdeﬁning what it actually is; it remains to be done to deduce the form of the Lagrangian.1

3 The form of the Lagrangian

The Lagrangian of a system of particles is generally not precisely the sum of the Lagrangians of the individualparticles; this would neglect the eﬀect of interactions between the particles. However, this is indeed the casein the limit where the particles are inﬁnitely far from each other, and therefore do not interact. The additivityof the Lagrangian implies that a Lagrangian may be multiplied by a constant only if the Lagrangians for allsystems in consideration are multiplied by constants. Also important to note is that the Lagrangian is onlyunique up to an added total time derivative; for the Lagrangian

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

) =

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

) +

ddt

f

(

q,t

),

S

=

t

2

t

1

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

)

dt

=

t

2

t

1

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

)

dt

+

t

2

t

1

df dtdt

=

S

+

f

(

q

2

,t

2

)

−

f

(

q

1

,t

1

)

,

(6)diﬀering from the initial action by a quantity that gives zero on variation.Consider ﬁrst the example of a free particle in space, and choose an inertial reference frame. An inertialreference frame is one in which space is homogeneous and isotropic, and time is homogeneous. The homo-geneity of space and time means that the Lagrangian cannot depend explicitly on coordinates or time, andthe isotropy of space means that the direction of the velocity vector is irrelevant. From these facts it ispossible to crudely approximate the Lagrangian as dependent on the square of the velocity.Discovering the form of this dependence relies on Galileo’s relativity principle, which states that the lawsof motion are identical in all inertial reference frames. Suppose there is an inertial reference frame at rest,and another inertial reference frame moving with inﬁnitesimal velocity

relative to the rest frame. For avelocity

v

in the rest frame, the corresponding velocity in the moving frame is

v

=

v

+

; therefore, theinitial Lagrangian

L

(

v

2

) is converted to

L

=

L

(

v

2

) =

L

(

v

2

+ 2

v

·

+

2

). Expanding and neglecting termsof higher than ﬁrst order,

L

(

v

2

) =

L

(

v

2

) +

∂L∂v

2

2

v

·

.

(7)The form of the Lagrangian for a free particle is thus

L

=

12

mv

2

; this is shown to be invariant under aGalilean transformation for a ﬁnite velocity

V

:

L

=12

mv

2

=12

m

(

v

+

V

)

2

=12

mv

2

+

m

v

·

V

+12

mV

2

=

L

+

d

(

m

r

·

V

+

12

mV

2

t

)

dt.

(8)The Lagrangian for a system of interacting particles is thus

L

=

12

m

a

v

2

a

−

U

(

r

1

,

r

2

,

···

), where

T

=

12

m

a

v

2

a

is the kinetic energy and

U

is the potential energy, or the energy derived from the interactionsbetween particles. Applying the Euler-Lagrange equation to this Lagrangian produces

ddt∂L∂

v

a

−

∂L∂

r

a

= 0

→

m

a

d

v

a

dt

=

−

∂U ∂

r

a

,

(9)where it turns out that the negative of the derivative of potential energy is the force of Newtonian mechanics;the Lagrangian and the Newtonian formulations of mechanics are equivalent.

4 The Hamiltonian formulation

Lagrangian mechanics provides a powerful tool for analysis of classical systems; however, it is not easyto apply Lagrangian mechanics directly to quantum mechanics, where the concept of velocity is not well-deﬁned. Hamiltonian mechanics focuses on momentum (the product of mass and velocity, and a quantitythat is well-deﬁned in quantum mechanics) instead of velocity; while it does not typically oﬀer improvedsolution methods for problems in classical mechanics, it is very revealing as to the structure of mechanicaltheory.The Hamiltonian formulation is actually derived directly from Lagrangian mechanics, and naturallythese two systems are equivalent. It is necessary to transform the Lagrangian

L

(

q,

˙

q,t

) into the Hamiltonian2