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Lissajous curve

Not to be confused with spirographs, which are generally

enclosed by a circular boundary, whereas Lissajous
curves are enclosed by rectangular boundaries.

In mathematics, a Lissajous curve /lsu/, also known

as Lissajous gure or Bowditch curve /badt/, is the
graph of a system of parametric equations

x = A sin(at + ), y = B sin(bt),

which describe complex harmonic motion. This family of

curves was investigated by Nathaniel Bowditch in 1815,
and later in more detail by Jules Antoine Lissajous in
Lissajous gure on an oscilloscope, displaying a 1:3 relationship
1857. between the frequencies of the vertical and horizontal sinusoidal
The appearance of the gure is highly sensitive to the ratio inputs, respectively.
a/b. For a ratio of 1, the gure is an ellipse, with special
cases including circles (A = B, = /2 radians) and lines
are Chebyshev polynomials of the rst kind of degree
( = 0). Another simple Lissajous gure is the parabola
N. This property is exploited to produce a set of points,
(b/a = 2, = /4). Other ratios produce more compli-
called Padua points, at which a function may be sam-
cated curves, which are closed only if a/b is rational. The
pled in order to compute either a bivariate interpolation
visual form of these curves is often suggestive of a three-
or quadrature of the function over the domain [1,1]
dimensional knot, and indeed many kinds of knots, in-
cluding those known as Lissajous knots, project to the
plane as Lissajous gures.
Visually, the ratio a/b determines the number of lobes
of the gure. For example, a ratio of 3/1 or 1/3 produces a
1 Examples
gure with three major lobes (see image). Similarly, a ra-
tio of 5/4 produces a gure with ve horizontal lobes and
four vertical lobes. Rational ratios produce closed (con-
nected) or still gures, while irrational ratios produce
gures that appear to rotate. The ratio A/B determines
the relative width-to-height ratio of the curve. For exam-
ple, a ratio of 2/1 produces a gure that is twice as wide as
it is high. Finally, the value of determines the apparent
rotation angle of the gure, viewed as if it were actually
a three-dimensional curve. For example, = 0 produces
x and y components that are exactly in phase, so the re-
sulting gure appears as an apparent three-dimensional
gure viewed from straight on (0). In contrast, any non-
zero produces a gure that appears to be rotated, either
as a leftright or an updown rotation (depending on the Animation showing curve adaptation as the ratio a/ b increases
ratio a/b). from 0 to 1

Lissajous gures where a = 1, b = N (N is a natural num- The animation shows the curve adaptation with continu-
ber) and ously increasing a/b fraction from 0 to 1 in steps of 0.01
( = 0).

N 1 Below are examples of Lissajous gures with = /2, an

= odd natural number a, an even natural number b, and | a
N 2


b | = 1. left and right channels of a stereo audio signal. On larger,

more sophisticated audio mixing consoles an oscilloscope
may be built-in for this purpose.
On an oscilloscope, we suppose x is CH1 and y is CH2, A
is the amplitude of CH1 and B is the amplitude of CH2,
a is the frequency of CH1 and b is the frequency of CH2,
so a/b is the ratio of frequencies of the two channels, and
is the phase shift of CH1.
a = 1, b = 2 (1:2) A purely mechanical application of a Lissajous curve with
a = 1, b = 2 is in the driving mechanism of the Mars Light
type of oscillating beam lamps popular with railroads in
the mid-1900s. The beam in some versions traces out a
lopsided gure-8 pattern on its side.

a = 3, b = 2 (3:2) 3 Application for the case of a = b

a = 3, b = 4 (3:4)

In this gure both input frequencies are identical, but the phase
a = 5, b = 4 (5:4)
variance between them creates the shape of an ellipse.

When the input to an LTI system is sinusoidal, the output

2 Generation is sinusoidal with the same frequency, but it may have
a dierent amplitude and some phase shift. Using an
Prior to modern electronic equipment, Lissajous curves oscilloscope that can plot one signal against another (as
could be generated mechanically by means of a opposed to one signal against time) to plot the output of
harmonograph. an LTI system against the input to the LTI system pro-
duces an ellipse that is a Lissajous gure for the special
case of a = b. The aspect ratio of the resulting ellipse is a
2.1 Practical application function of the phase shift between the input and output,
with an aspect ratio of 1 (perfect circle) corresponding to
Lissajous curves can also be generated using an a phase shift of 90 and an aspect ratio of (a line)
oscilloscope (as illustrated). An octopus circuit can be corresponding to a phase shift of 0 or 180.[1]
used to demonstrate the waveform images on an oscillo- The gure below summarizes how the Lissajous gure
scope. Two phase-shifted sinusoid inputs are applied to changes over dierent phase shifts. The phase shifts are
the oscilloscope in X-Y mode and the phase relationship all negative so that delay semantics can be used with a
between the signals is presented as a Lissajous gure. causal LTI system (note that 270 is equivalent to +90).
In the professional audio world, this method is used for The arrows show the direction of rotation of the Lissajous
realtime analysis of the phase relationship between the gure.[1]

4 In engineering
A Lissajous curve is used in experimental tests to de-
termine if a device may be properly categorized as a

5 In culture

5.1 In lm

Top: Input signal as a function of time.

Middle: Output signal as a function of time.
Bottom: resulting Lissajous curve when output is plotted as a
function of the input.
In this particular example, because the output is 90 degrees out Science ction style Lissajous animation
of phase from the input, the Lissajous curve is a circle.
Lissajous gures were sometimes displayed on oscillo-
scopes meant to simulate high-tech equipment in science-
ction TV shows and movies in the 1960s and 1970s.[2]
The title sequence by John Whitney for Alfred Hitch-
cock's 1958 lm Vertigo is based on Lissajous gures.[3]

5.2 Company logos

Lissajous gures are sometimes used in graphic design as
logos. Examples include:

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (a = 1, b

= 3, = /2)[4]

The Lincoln Laboratory at MIT (a = 4, b = 3, =


The University of Electro-Communications, Japan

(a = 5, b = 6, = /2).
A pure phase shift aects the eccentricity of the Lissajous oval.
Analysis of the oval allows phase shift from an LTI system to be
measured.. 5.3 In modern art
Further information: Mathematics and art

The Dadaist artist Max Ernst painted Lissajous g- Interactive Lissajous Curves in Java graphical rep-
ures directly by swinging a punctured bucket of resentations of musical intervals, beats, interfer-
paint over a canvas.[6] ence, and vibrating strings

The digital artist Gordon Clyne has created an App Simple HTML5 Lissajous curve generator allows
named Nebula to draw Lissajous gures with just a controls for A and B as integers from 1 to 12 each
few taps on a tablet screen.
Interactive Lissajous curve generator Javascript
applet using JSXGraph
6 See also Animated Lissajous gures

Rose curve

Lissajous orbit

Blackburn pendulum

Lemniscate of Gerono

7 Notes
[1] Al-Khazali, Hisham A. H.; Askari, Mohamad R. (May
2012). Geometrical and Graphical Representations
Analysis of Lissajous Figures in Rotor Dynamic System
(PDF). IOSR Journal of Engineering. 2 (5): 971978.

[2] A long way from Lissajous gures. New Scientist. Reed

Business Information: 77. 24 September 1987. ISSN

[3] Did 'Vertigo' Introduce Computer Graphics to Cin-


[4] The ABCs of Lissajous gures.

[5] Lincoln Laboratory Logo. MIT Lincoln Laboratory.

2008. Retrieved 2008-04-12.

[6] King, M. (2002). From Max Ernst to Ernst Mach:

epistemology in art and science. (PDF). Retrieved 17
September 2015.

8 External links
Lissajous Curve at Mathworld

8.1 Interactive demos

3D Java applets depicting the construction of Lis-
sajous curves in an oscilloscope:

Tutorial from the NHMFL

Physics applet by Chiu-king Ng

Detailed Lissajous gures simulation Drawing Lis-

sajous gures with interactive sliders in Javascript

Lissajous gures generator Allows for drawing Lis-

sajous gures

9 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

9.1 Text
Lissajous curve Source: Contributors: Michael Hardy, Dcljr, Ellywa,
AugPi, Samw, Revolver, Charles Matthews, Imc, Ldo, Robbot, Stewartadcock, Pifactorial, Lzur, Mattaschen, Giftlite, Frencheigh, Grace-
fool, Gzornenplatz, Alberto da Calvairate~enwiki, Russell E, SethTisue, Burschik, Abdull, Thorwald, Jkl, Rich Farmbrough, TedPavlic,
Avriette, Ardonik, Solkoll~enwiki, Kwamikagami, Dungodung, Arthena, Edgriebel, Kurmis~enwiki, Gerd Breitenbach, Firien, Waldir,
Virtualphtn, TedPostol, Bubba73, Alejo2083, MrFiver, Krishnavedala, Roboto de Ajvol, Kordas, Hydrargyrum, BOT-Superzerocool, By-
teemoz~enwiki, SmackBot, Simpsons contributor, Tamfang, OrphanBot, Nmnogueira, Spiritia, Jim.belk, Kransky, Loadmaster, Hvn0413,
Dcashm, Joseph Solis in Australia, Ruslik0, Doctormatt, Robertinventor, Raoul NK, Thijs!bot, WinBot, Tjmayerinsf, Dreaded Walrus,
JAnDbot, Deective, David Eppstein, SharkD, Klauspope, Mrceleb2007, Chiswick Chap, Fountains of Bryn Mawr, VolkovBot, WOSlinker,
Leav, Mr. PIM, SieBot, Flyer22 Reborn, Tesi1700, CBM2, Sfan00 IMG, Jordwest, DrHonzik, Humanengr, XLinkBot, Addbot, Sherman-
bay, K Eliza Coyne, Lightbot, Luckas-bot, Yobot, Materialscientist, LilHelpa, MidnightProgrammer, Rb88guy, Shadowjams, Einsteinino,
FrescoBot, Intelligentsium, PeterDReid, Mktyscn, Gryllida, VEO15, Justzzq, JSo9-10, Dcirovic, Tanner Swett, Nomalas, Cybergothiche,
ChuispastonBot, ClueBot NG, Aisteco, Fylbecatulous, BattyBot, Historyphysics, Vanished user lalsdi45ijne4, GLG GLG, KasparBot,
Ecdemis, CAPTAIN RAJU, Bender the Bot, Kl6785406 and Anonymous: 90

9.2 Images
File:Circular_Lissajous.gif Source: License: CC BY-SA
3.0 Contributors: Own work Original artist: Fiducial
File:Commons-logo.svg Source: License: PD Contributors: ? Origi-
nal artist: ?
File:Lissajous-Figur_1_zu_3_(Oszilloskop).jpg Source:
zu_3_%28Oszilloskop%29.jpg License: CC-BY-SA-3.0 Contributors: ? Original artist: ?
File:LissajousTechnion.png Source: License: CC BY-
SA 3.0 Contributors: I took a picture sduring an experiment at physics lab at the Technion (Israel) Original artist: snamepi
File:Lissajous_animation.gif Source: License: CC
BY-SA 3.0 Contributors: Own work Original artist: Krishnavedala
File:Lissajous_curve_1by2.svg Source: License:
CC-BY-SA-3.0 Contributors: This diagram was created with gnuplot. Original artist: Alessio Damato
File:Lissajous_curve_3by2.svg Source: License:
CC-BY-SA-3.0 Contributors: This diagram was created with gnuplot. Original artist: Alessio Damato
File:Lissajous_curve_3by4.svg Source: License:
CC-BY-SA-3.0 Contributors: This diagram was created with gnuplot. Original artist: Alessio Damato
File:Lissajous_curve_5by4.svg Source: License:
CC-BY-SA-3.0 Contributors: This diagram was created with gnuplot. Original artist: Alessio Damato
File:Lissajous_phase.svg Source: License: CC BY-SA 3.0
Contributors: Own work Original artist: Krishnavedala
File:Question_book-new.svg Source: License: Cc-by-sa-3.0
Created from scratch in Adobe Illustrator. Based on Image:Question book.png created by User:Equazcion Original artist:
File:Simple_Lissajous_Animation.ogv Source:
ogv License: CC0 Contributors: Own work Original artist: Ldo
File:Text_document_with_red_question_mark.svg Source:
with_red_question_mark.svg License: Public domain Contributors: Created by bdesham with Inkscape; based upon Text-x-generic.svg
from the Tango project. Original artist: Benjamin D. Esham (bdesham)

9.3 Content license

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