MA221: Differential Equations

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MA221: Differential Equations

Differential equations are, in addition to a topic of study in mathematics, the main language in which the laws and phenomena of science are expressed.  In basic terms, a differential equation is an expression that describes how a system changes from one moment of time to another, or from one point in space to another.  When working with differential equations, the ultimate goal is to move from a microscopic view of relevant physics to a macroscopic view of the behavior of a system as a whole. Let’s look at a simple differential equation.  Based on previous math and physics courses, you know that a car that is constantly accelerating in the x-direction obeys the equation d2x/dt2 = a, where a is the applied acceleration.  This equation has two derivations with respect to time, so it is a second-order differential equation; because it has derivations with respect to only one variable (in this example, time), it is known as an  ordinary differential equation, or an ODE. Let’s say that we want to sol…

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