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and displacement interpolations (ux, uy). The shape functions are defined by natural coordinates, such as triangle coordinates for triangles and square coordinates for any quadrilateral. Prior to the idea of isoparametric representation, the element geometry and displacements were not treated equally (this was called superparametric representation). The coordinates defined both the geometry and shape functions, which represent the displacement interpolations. The displacement equations (ux, uy) would become more refined as the order of the element increases, but the geometry would remain the same (simple geometries with straight sides). The advantages of isoparametric elements include the ability to map more complex shapes and have compatible geometries. In addition, there is no need to distinguish between straight and curved boundaries of isoparametric elements. The disadvantages of isoparametric elements are the possibility of poor (overstiff) performance of low order isoparametric elements and the limited use of isoparametric elements for solving plate bending and shell problems. The completeness condition for plate bending and shell problems (which have a higher variational index, greater than 1) is not satisfied using isoparametric formulation.
Sources: “Introduction to FEM: Chapter 16: Isoparametric Representation.” College of Engineering and Applied Science at University of Colorado. Web. 16 February 2011. <http://www.colorado.edu/engineering/CAS/courses.d/IFEM.d/IFEM.Ch16.d/IFEM.Ch1 6.pdf> R. T. Haftka. “EML5526 Finite Element Analysis: Isoparametric Elements.” University of Florida. 16 February 2011. <http://www.mae.ufl.edu/haftka/finiteelement/Lecture17.pdf>