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ME 471 Introduction to the Finite Element Method

Spring Term 2003 Course Information

Instructor: John E. Molyneux
Office: Kirkbride 103
Course Web Page:, or via the Widener University web site.

Required Text: The Finite Element Method Using MATLAB 2nd Ed., Y. W. Hwon and H. Bang,
CRC Press, New York, 2000
Description: This course will introduce the finite element method (FEM) and demonstrate its use in both
the analysis of engineering problems and in the design process. Methods for properly formulating physical
problems for finite element solution will be emphasized, and the structure of FEM programs analyzed.
The Matlab software package will be used throughout the course both to provide necessary mathematical
subroutines, and as a convenient programming tool. All software provided with the text runs in the Matlab
environment. This course is not intended as an introduction to the use of commercial software packages
(e.g., ALGOR, ANSYS, FLUENT, MSC-Nastran to name a few). Instead, the central ideas are to develop
an appreciation for the computations performed by such packages, and to gain an understanding of the
strengths and limitations of finite element analysis.
1. Convey the central theoretical ideas of finite element analysis at a level suitable for senior engineering
2. Illustrate implementation of the theory using the Matlab programming enviornment.
3. Apply the theory and programming techniques to the develop numerical solutions to a variety of
physical problems.
Summary of Lecture Topics
1. Matlab programming concepts and useful routines.
2. Mathematical notions basic to the understanding of the FEM.
3. Approximation techniques and variational principles associated with the finite element method.
4. Overview of FEM programming practice. Some sample problems.
5. Application of the FEM (using linear elements) to the solution of Laplace and Poissons equations.
Treatment of transient (initial-boundary value) problems using FEM methods.
6. Polynomial interpolation and its use in the FEM. Typical elements in one, two and three dimensions.
Numerical integration methods.
7. Higher order equations in one space dimension. Bernoulli-Euler and Timeshenko beam problems.
Hermite interpolation.
8. Linear elasticity problems in two dimensions. Static and dynamic analysis.

9. Selected special topics.

Homework: Homework will consist of reading assignments, programming problems, and applications of the
supplied software.
Quizzes and Examinations: There will several (approximately 5) short (approximately 30 minute) in-class
problems or quizzes. In addition, there will be a final examination (final exam period: May 27).
Grading: Grades will be based on the homework (15 %), quizzes (60 %), final examination (25 %).
Supplementary Information
The number of books and other material on the finite element method is almost overwhelming. (A recent
search on Google revealed approxately 649,000 hits for finite elements and about 20,100 for matlab finite
elements.) Of course, a vast amount of material is not helpful if you dont consult at least some of it. As
a minimum, you will certainly want to read some additional textbooks on the finite element method. I
recommend that you browse through the librarys collection to find one or more references that you feel are
readable. To get you started here are a few good ones:
E. B. Becker, C. F. Carey, and J. T. Oden Finite Element An Introduction vol. 1, New York, McGraw-Hill,
K. Eriksson, D. Estep, P. Hansbo, and C. Johnson, Computational Differential Equations, Cambridge,
New York, 1996
M. S. Gockenbach, Partial Differential Equations Analytical and Numercial Methods, SIAM, Philadelphia, 2002
J. N. Reddy, An introduction to the Finite Element Method, 2nd Ed., New York, McGraw-Hill, 1993
O. C. Zienkiewicz and R. .L Taylor, The Finite Element Method 4th Ed. vol. 1: Basic Formulation and
Linear Problems, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1990