November 20, 2017

Why Lissajous Figures?


Lissajous figures may be drawn by moving some type of marking tool back and forth in one direction with one frequency while simultaneously moving it in a perpendicular direction at a second frequency.  The resulting curve will be closed when the frequencies are in an integer ratio.  The results can be somewhat amusing, like a child’s Spirograph toy.  At the same time, these curves are rich with mathematical content interesting to mathematicians, physicists and engineers.  For a more in depth discussion visit my Lissajous Figures article.  The curve you see plotted here was generated by a Matlab program with a Graphical User Interface which is available for free download to users of Matlab.  The program is useful for investigating the properties of Lissajous curves and their derivatives.  The discussion is rich with the periodic functions sine and cosine with various parametrizations.  The curves are parametric curves, and the derivative of a Lissajous curve is another Lissajous curve.  Jules Antoine Lissajous was inspired by these curves to create a mechanical device for projecting them on a screen, and others improved upon the concept in the form of the harmonograph.

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