# Teaching the Laplace Transform Using Diagrams

Author(s): V. Ngo and S. Ouzomgi
Source: The College Mathematics Journal, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Sep., 1992), pp. 309-312
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I claim that the
simplifying assumption
early
in the
procedure,
for to most students it is
completely
unmotivated at this
point.
In
fact, often,
the
only
reason
given
for the
simplifying assumption
is that it reduces the amount of
work
required
in
determining
yp(x);
unfortunately,
this leaves
many
students
wondering why
none of the other terms was chosen to be zero
for that
would
just
as well make
evaluating
y"p(x)
easier.
I
propose that,
rather than
making
the
simplifying assumption
at this
stage,
it is
far better to labor
through evaluating
yp(x)
in all its
goriness.
For
doing
so
gives
(after some
rearrangement)
f=y'p+py'p
+
<iyp
=
cx[y'[ +py\
+
qyx]
+
c2[ y2+py2
+
qy2]
+
[c'[yx
+
c\y\
+
cn2y2
+
c'2y'2
+
c\y[
+
c'2y'2} +p[c\yi
+
c'2y2]
=
[c'[yi
+
c\ y\]
+
[c'2[y2
+
c'2y'2} +p[c[yx
+
c'2y2]
=
fa(c\yi)
+
^(^2)
+Mc'iyi
+
c'2y2]
+
[c\y\
+
c'2y'2}
d
=
fa[c'iy\
+
^2^2] +P[c\yi
+
cf2y2]
+
[c\y\
+
c'2y'2}.
Now,
at this
point, making
the
assumption
that
c[yx
+
c'2y2
=
0 is well moti?
vated,
for it eliminates almost all the terms in the last line and
yields
the
system
c,1y1
+
c2y2
=
0
/iy'i
+
c'2/2=/
in one fell
swoop!
Teaching
the
Laplace
Transform
Using Diagrams
V.
Ngo,
California State
University, Long Beach,
CA
90040,
and S.
Ouzomgi,
The
Pennsylvania
State
University, Abington,
PA 19001
In this
capsule,
we
present
an
approach
to
evaluating
the
Laplace
transform and
its inverse
using
commutative
diagrams.
The value of this
technique
is twofold.
First,
it
presents
a visual
approach
to a
symbolic process. Second,
it introduces the
concept
of commutative
diagrams,
which
embody
the
important
idea of distinct
processes producing
identical results.
The
Laplace transform
of a function
f(t)
(t
>
0) is defined
by
F(s)=^{f(t)}
=
[
e-?f(t)dt
for all values s for which the
integral
is defined. We write
f(t)=^f
l{F(s)}
and
call
f(t)
the inverse
Laplace transform
of
F(s).
If a is a real constant and n is a
VOL.
23,
NO.
4,
SEPTEMBER 1992 309
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positive integer,
we have
1
^{eat}
s
?
a
a
(s>a) sin
n\
^flsin
at)
=
~ ~
1 J
s2 + a2
(s>0) ^f{cos at)
=
s2 + a2
(s>0)
(s>0).
The
following
theorem can be found in standard differential
equations
texts.
Theorem 1. Let
f(t)
be a
function
with
Laplace transform
F(s).
Then the
Laplace
transform of
the
function f^f^dr
is
(l/s)F(s).
This theorem is illustrated
by
the
following diagram.
/(')
i-1 H*)
ff{r)di
l
-F(s)
This
diagram
indicates that
integrating f(t) corresponds
to
dividing
its
Laplace
transform
by
s.
Calculation of
Laplace
transforms and their inverses
may
be illustrated in a
similar
way.
Example.
Find the inverse
Laplace
transform of
l/(s2(s
-
1)).
Solution. We see that
\/(s2(s
-
1))
can be obtained from
l/(s-\),
whose
inverse
Laplace
transform is
el, by dividing by
s twice. We draw the
corresponding
diagram, filling
in the
appropriate
inverse transforms. The answer is in the lower
left corner.
1
(teTdr
=
et-l
(\eT-l)dT
=
?t-1
s-l
1
s(s-l)
s2(s-l)
Other
properties
can be illustrated in the same manner.
Theorem 2. Let
f(t)
be a
function
with
Laplace transform
F(s).
Then the
Laplace
transform of
the
function tf(t)
is -F'(s).
f(0
tfO)
F(s)
F'(s)
310
THE COLLEGE MATHEMATICS JOURNAL
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This
diagram
indicates that
multiplying f(t) by
t
corresponds
to
differentiating
its
Laplace
transform and
multiplying by
-1.
Example.
Find the inverse
Laplace
transform
f(t)
of
\n(s2/(s2
+
1)).
Solution. We construct the
following diagram
/(o
tf(t)
=
-2 + 2cos?
ln-
V
+
i)
=
2 In s
-
\n(s2
+
1)
2s
s s2+\
from which we see that
tf(t)=
-2 + 2cos t and so
/(')
=
2cosr-2
t
Two other
important properties
of the
Laplace
transform can be illustrated
by
the
self-explanatory diagrams
/(')
eatf(t)
F(s)
/(0
F(s-a) ua(t)f(t-a)
F(s)
e~asF(s)
where uit)
??
1 t > a
jO
r<?.
Example.
Find the
Laplace
transform of
j^ue11
cos wrfw.
Solution. We obtain the answer in the lower
right
hand corner of the
following
diagram.
cos t
t cos t
tet cos ?
/ we" cos wdw
s2+l
s2-l
(s2+l)2
(*-l)-l
s2-2s
[(s-lf
+
l]
(s2-2s
+
2)2
s-2
(s2-2s
+
2)
VOL.
23, NO.
4,
SEPTEMBER 1992 311
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We have found this
diagrammatic approach very
effective in
enforcing
the
concept
of the
Laplace
transform and its
properties,
while also
providing
a visual
way
of
keeping
track of the
processes
used in calculations.
Reference
R. V.
Churchill, Operational Mathematics,
3rd
ed.,
McGraw
Hill,
New
York,
1972.
A
Serendipitous Application
of the
Pythagorean Triplets
Susan
Forman,
Bronx
Community College/CUNY, Bronx,
NY 10453
On
occasion,
a
purely pedagogical
interesting
mathemati?
cal result. To determine whether students had a
good grasp
of the
process
of
factoring
monic
pairs
of the form
(x2+px
+
_7, x2+px
-q),
P,q^0 (1)
where each
polynomial
has
integer
zeros.
Examples
are:
(i) (x2
+ 5x +
6,
x2jt5x-6)
(ii) (x2
+ 13* +
30,
x2 + 13*
-
30)
(iii) (x2
4- Ux +
60,
x2 + Ux
-
60).
The natural
question
arose as to whether it is
possible
to
produce
all such
pairs
of
polynomials.
As we will
see,
yes.
We
begin
with the observation that once a
pair
of the desired
polynomials
is
known,
an infinite number of
pairs
can be
generated
from
it;
for if the
polynomials
in
(1)
have
integer zeros,
so do
(x2
+
tpx
4-
t2q,
x2 4-
tpx
-
t2q)
for each
integer
t.
We are
merely producing polynomials
whose zeros have been
multiplied by
t. This
motivates the
following
definitions:
Definitions. A
pair
of
polynomials
of the form described in
(1) is an
integer
if each
polynomial
has
integer
zeros. If the
polynomials
in
(1)
satisfy
requirement
that
(p,q)
=
1,
then the
polynomials
will
be called a
representative pair.
It is
seen that if
t\(p,q)
and
(x2+px
+
q, x2+px-q)
is an
integer
then (x2
4-
(p/t)x
4-
q/t2,
x2 4-
(p/t)x
-
q/t2)
is also
such a
pair.
It follows that each
can be derived
from a
representative pair
and
therefore,
it suffices to
produce
all
representative
pairs.
To this
end,
we
prove
the
following
theorem.
312 THE COLLEGE MATHEMATICS JOURNAL
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