Course Descriptions
MECH_ENG 432: Optimization Methods

Quarter Offered

Fall : MWF 1:00 pm ; S. Ghosal


Calculus to the level of ODEs, partial derivative and multiple integrals, some knowledge of PDEs helpful but not essential.


Who Takes It

Since optimization problems are encountered in every branch of science and engineering, students with diverse backgrounds would benefit from it. In particular, students with research interests in any area of mechanical engineering, physics, applied mathematics, chemistry, chemical engineering, and biomedical engineering are encouraged to register. The course is primarily for graduate students (at any level) but advanced undergraduates may also benefit from it if they have the prerequisites mentioned above.

What It's About

We often marvel at the manner in which animals seem so perfectly adapted to their environment: the cheetah is perfectly build for running at high speeds in open areas, the shark has all the adaptations for swimming at high speeds under water, certain eels use electric fields instead of vision to navigate in muddy waters, and so on. Mathematically speaking each of these animals is a "solution" to an "optimization problem" that nature has solved through the iterative method of mutation and natural selection! In the machines that we build, as in nature's "machines," the need to maximize or minimize certain things (such as energy consumption, cost, aerodynamic resistance, etc.) is the essence of the design process. In this practically-oriented course we will look at the various common types of "optimization problems" that arise in diverse areas of science and engineering and learn some of the methods that have been developed to solve them.


  • Introduction
  • Extremizing functions of several variables (review)
  • Extremizing with constraints - Lagrange multipliers
  • Functionals and the Euler-Lagrange equations
  • Constrained optimization of functionals
  • Some classical problems in the calculus of variations
  • Applications: classical mechanics, geometrical optics, elasticity, fluid mechanics, vibrations and waves


Homework, projects


Calculus of Variations: with applications to Physics and Engineering (Robert Weinstock, Dover)


Professor: Sandip Ghosal