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On Forming the Lagrange Equations

The Lagrange equations for the purpose of our class include dissipation using the Rayleigh
dissipation function and external forces using the idea of generalized forces. I will not derive the
equations here, merely discuss how to form them. I will restrict the discussion to motion in two

The Lagrangian function is the difference between the kinetic energy of a system and its
potential energy. Our systems will include rigid masses, springs and dampers. Forces will
include gravity, which will enter through the potential energy, and external forces and torques.
The kinetic energy of an extended mass confined to two dimensions is given by

1 1
T = m ( x " 2 + y " 2 ) + I# " 2 (1)
2 2

where the position of the center of mass of the mass is given by (x, y) and θ denotes an angle of
rotation about the center of mass.
! The kinetic energy of any system can be written as the sum of
the individual kinetic energies. The masses are connected to each other and/or to the ground, and
these connections lead to constraints, reducing the number of degrees of freedom. One can
always write the kinetic energy using (1) and then simplify by applying the constraints. For
example, the kinetic energy of a pendulum is given formally by (1), but x and y depend on q —

x = lsin ", y = #lcos " (2)

where l denotes the distance from the pivot to the center of mass, and I have assumed a normal
pendulum hanging down. More
! complicated systems have more complicated constraints.
We will consider gravitational and elastic (spring) potential energies. (It is possible to include
electromagnetic potentials, but this is beyond the scope of this course.) The gravitational
potential energy is the usual mgy, where g denotes the acceleration of gravity, supposed to act
down (in the negative y direction) and y denotes the height of the mass, m, with respect to some
reference level. Spring potential energy is given by

1 2
Vk = k ( s " s0 ) (3)

where k denotes the spring constant, s displacement and s0 the reference length of the spring.
The total potential energy is the sum of all the individual potential energies.

Once the energies have been found it is necessary to apply the constraints. The constraints will
eliminate extra variables, reducing the variable set to the number of degrees of freedom. It is
conventional to denote the variables in this minimum set by q: q1, q2, etc. The Lagrangian is then
a function of the qs and their time derivatives.

L = T " V = L(q1#, q#2 ,L,q1,q2 ,L) (4)

It is worth noting that the kinetic energy for our mechanical problems can always be written in
terms of an inertia matrix
! M, which may depend on the qs, but not on the derivatives of the qs.
That form can be written

1 1 n
T = q"T Mq" = # M ij q"iq"j (5)
2 2 i, j=1

where n denotes the number of degrees of freedom of the system. The potential energy for our
problems depends only on!the qs. Thus the Lagrangian can be written in an alternate form

1 n
L= # M ij q"iq"j $ V (q1,q2,L)
2 i, j=1

The n Lagrange equations for an n degree of freedom system with no damping and no external
forces can be written !

d $ "L ' "L

& )* = 0, i = 1,2,L,n (7)
dt % "q#i ( "qi

External forces enter in the form of generalized forces, generally denoted by Q. You can find the
generalized force corresponding
! to the generalized coordinate q by looking at the work done by
the nonpotential forces during a virtual displacement. This is less mysterious than it sounds, and
can often be done by inspection. If an external force is applied to a mass, then it does work when
the mass moves; it is (at least part of) the generalized force corresponding to the generalized
coordinate that varies when the mass moves. The term generalized means that generalized forces
need not be actual forces. We will have generalized forces that are actually torques. (There are
further possible generalizations, but we will not address those in this course.) The generalized
forces bring us to the forced equations corresponding to (7):

d $ "L ' "L

& )* = Qi , i = 1,2,L,n (8)
dt % "q#i ( "qi

Friction or other sources of dissipation/damping can be included as generalized forces. In the

special case of viscous
! damping (damping proportional to velocity) we can introduce the
Rayleigh dissipation function (RDF). Each damper contributes a term to the RDF that is
analogous in form to the potential energy of a spring. For example, the contribution of a damper
of magnitude c connecting masses i and j would be written

1 2
Fij = c (q"i # q"j ) (9)

The complete RDF enters the Lagrange equations on the left hand side:

!d $ "L ' "L "F

& )* + = Qi , i = 1,2,L,n (10)
dt % "q#i ( "qi "q#i

The procedure for constructing the Lagrange equations can be summarized as

• ! energy.
Find the kinetic

• Find the potential energy.

• Use constraints (if any) to reduce the system to n generalized coordinates q.

• Find the Rayleigh dissipation function if there is viscous damping.

• Use the concept of virtual work to find the generalized forces, Q.

• Write L = T – V and form the equations using the form (10)

We’ll do four of these in this week’s workshop.