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So I understand the the Superposition Principle states that all the forced oscillations, as determined by multiple external forces, are to be added up in order to get the entire solution.

However, I'm at a loss as to go about proving this - do I start with the general solution of a simple driven oscillatory system, $x(t)=x_o \cos(\omega t - \phi)$? To be honest, I'm quite confused about how to go about this.

EDIT: this problem in particular is what i'm trying to prove,

Prove the superposition principle for inhomogenous linear equations of motion used in deriving the motion of a driven oscillator. Will it still apply if the force on an oscillator was $-kx^2$ instead of $-kx$?

Like I mentioned before, i'm stumped about how to even attempt it.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I understand what the question is. $\endgroup$ – DumpsterDoofus Feb 14 '14 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ You start with the sum of all the forces on an object - after all, that and the initial conditions are what governs its motion. $\endgroup$ – Kvothe Feb 14 '14 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ If I understand the question properly, I would try using the fact that differentiation is linear. $\endgroup$ – EtaZetaTheta Feb 14 '14 at 18:40
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For a linear system, the superposition principle holds since, be definition, a linear system has the following property:

(1) if $y_1$ is the output for input $x_1$ and

(2) if $y_2$ is the output for input $x_2$ then

(3) the output is $ay_1 + by_2$ for input $ax_1 + bx_2$

In other words, the output for a superposition of inputs is the superposition of the associated outputs.

So, if the differential equation for your system is linear, e.g., the harmonic oscillator, the Superposition Principle holds.

What, then, are you trying to prove?


Prove the superposition principle for inhomogenous linear equations of motion used in deriving the motion of a driven oscillator. Will it still apply if the force on an oscillator was −kx2 instead of −kx?

This is, I think, misworded. For example, for the mass on a (linear) spring system, the force on the mass, due to the spring is, by Hooke's law, $-kx$.

A driving force, on the other hand, would be given as a function of time: $F_d = f(t)$.

Then, the net force on the mass is the sum of the driving force and the spring force, $F = f(t) - kx$, which leads to a linear differential equation:

$$m \ddot x +kx = f(t) $$

and thus, the Superposition Principle holds by definition.

This is easy to show by assuming $f(t) = f_1(t) + f_2(t)$ and $x(t) = x_1(t) + x_2(t)$ and inserting into the differential equation.

However, the way I read the problem as stated in your edit, it is the restoring force, not the driving force, that is $-kx^2$.

If that is in fact the case, the resulting differential equation is non-linear

$$m \ddot x +kx^2 = f(t) $$

and thus, the Superposition Principle will not hold since

$$(x_1 + x_2)^2 = x_1^2 + x_2^2 + 2x_1x_2 \ne x_1^2 + x_2^2$$

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I get that - at least at face value. I'll go ahead and put what i'm actually trying to prove in my OP $\endgroup$ – Lame-Ov2.0 Feb 14 '14 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Lame-Ov2.0, see the update to my answer. $\endgroup$ – Alfred Centauri Feb 14 '14 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ If it's misworded, it's fault of my professor lol - it's typed straight from the problem set. This makes a lot more sense, thank you $\endgroup$ – Lame-Ov2.0 Feb 14 '14 at 22:50

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