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Professor Karen Thompson

Gavin Weiss
February 10, 2015
Project 2: Technical Definitions and Descriptions

This memo presents the technical definition and description of the process separation of
variables. Laid out will be the basic principles and concepts behind how separation of variables
solves specific partial differential equations. This document will stick to the most basic form of
partial differential equations with homogeneous boundary conditions.
The intended audience for the definition and description are biologists and scientists who are
working in multicellular biological systems. The majority of the audience will have taken an
ordinary differential equations class or have a small knowledge of these equations. All audience
members have graduated college with a biological based degree and are looking to broaden their
differential skills to strengthen their career. The definition and description will be written so that
its easily understandable with small amounts of mathematical knowledge.
The problem the audience faces is that partial differential equations are present in multicellular
biological systems. The goal of this definition and description is to give the audience the tools to
solve basic homogeneous partial differential equations. The definition and description will allow
the non-specialized audience the ability to further understand how they are solving systems in
their area of expertise.
The placement of this memo is the technical definition first and ending with the technical
description. The technical definition will have the basic definition of the process separation of
variables followed by an example of the process used in biological systems. The technical
description will give a more detailed description of the process and how it can be used to solve
homogeneous partial differential equations.
Choice of Visuals
The visual that is placed into the memo is there to give the reader a real life example of the
partial differential equations. The visual will allow the audience the ability to connect the
definition to their career.


Technical Definition: What is the process separation of variables?

The process separation of variables is a technique that solves partial differential equations with
homogeneous boundary conditions. The technique is formed from the idea of changing the
partial differential equation defined by two variables into an equation with two functions that
each are defined by one variable. Through this process, a complicated equation is morphed into a
solvable equation.
For example, consider the division of cells where there is asymmetric division. The partial
differential equation created below can define this division and stage structured population.
PDE: (, ) + [()(, )] + ()(, ) = 2 ()(, )(, )

(0, ) = 0

(, ) = 0
(, 0) = 0 ()
Both of the boundary conditions (BCs) are
equal to 0. Thus, the partial differential
equation is homogeneous.
Because of the homogeneous quality, the
equation can be solved by separation of
variables. The desired equation (, ) can be
written so that the two variables are separated
into two functions:
(, ) = ()()
By changing the equation, the original
complexity of multiple variables can be
diffused by creating two equations based off
of one variable each. This creates an easier to
solve problem.

Figure 1. Asymmetric Division of the elegans one-cell


When the equation is changed by separation

of variables, (, ) can be found through
ordinary differential equation methods.
Without this method, the equation is
unattainable because of the multiple variables.

If the boundary conditions (BCs) are not equal to 0, then the equation cannot be solved by
separation of variables. Separation of variables only works if the BCs are 0.


Technical Description: How does the process separation of variables work?

Separation of variables is an efficient way to solve partial differential equations with boundary
conditions that are equal to 0. The process allows mathematicians, physicists, biologists, and
many more to find solutions to equations that are too complicated to solve with normal
differential methods.
How it works:
Consider an arbitrary partial differential equation,
(, ) = 2 (, )

0 < < ,


(0, ) = 0

(, ) = 0
(, 0) = ()
Because the BCs are 0, separation of variables can be used. Thus,
(, ) = ()()
From the equation, we get that () =
(, ) =

2 2

and () = +

2 2

Through the first BC,

(0, ) =

2 2

0 +

2 2

0 = 0

2 2


(, ) =

2 2

By the second BC,

2 2

(, ) = = 0
For = 0, has to equal for = 1,2,3,
This means that,

(, ) =

2 ()2



In consideration of the initial condition (IC),

(, 0) = sin() = ()


= 2 () sin()

Through the use of the IC and the derived equation, the solution to the equation can be found.

1. Make sure the boundary conditions are equal to zero (the equation is homogeneous)
2. Create a simple equation of the form (, ) = ()() from the partial differential
3. Use the boundary conditions to further understand the new equation
4. Combine the newly formed equation and the initial condition to solve the partial
differential equation.
Source for Visuals