Friday, April 8, 2016

Taming the Brachistochrone Problem

Find the shape of the curve down which a bead sliding from rest and accelerated by gravity will slip (without friction) from one point to another in the least time. The term derives from the Greek(brachistos) "the shortest" and (chronos) "time, delay."

The brachistochrone problem was one of the earliest problems posed in the calculus of variations. Newton was challenged to solve the problem in 1696, and did so the very next day (Boyer and Merzbach 1991, p. 405). In fact, the solution, which is a segment of a cycloid, was found by Leibniz, L'Hospital, Newton, and the two Bernoullis. Johann Bernoulli solved the problem using the analogous one of considering the path of light refracted by transparent layers of varying density (Mach 1893, Gardner 1984, Courant and Robbins 1996). Actually, Johann Bernoulli had originally found an incorrect proof that the curve is a cycloid, and challenged his brother Jakob to find the required curve. When Jakob correctly did so, Johann tried to substitute the proof for his own (Boyer and Merzbach 1991, p. 417).

In the solution, the bead may actually travel uphill along the cycloid for a distance, but the path is nonetheless faster than a straight line (or any other line).
from Wolfram Mathworld

4 comments:

FreeThinke said...

Much too far above my pay grade for me even to ATTEMPT to contemplate!

You have a quasi-Sadistic need to bring people face to face with their hopeless inadequacies, don't you?

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-FJ said...

I stumbled across this problem this morning... and found it interesting from a "professional" persepctive... where the shortest 'distance' between two points would not necessarily correspond to the shortest "time".

-FJ said...

The solution (cycloid) also lends an interesting insight into the nature of time.

-FJ said...

ps - Contemplating the problem is one thing... solving w/o the equations, quite another!