Solving Dierential Equations with Long Division
Solving Differential Equations with Long Division
This is a handout to describe the basics of the long division technique for solving differential equations. This
technique evolved from my discussions with 18.03 students over the course of the year. While it won't solve
every 18.03 problem, it will solve a good many.
For those of you who are familiar with 18.03, this technique can be considered a replacement for the
undertermined coefficients technique in its capacities.
2.1 What we need to know from calculus
In calculus, we learned about the derivative. Here is a short list of important facts about the derivative:
These are all the facts we need to know to use
on any polynomial or
any polynomial times an
exponential . For example,
2.2 What we need to know about integration
Integration was the first differential equation one solves . It asks, for some g(x), find a f(x) such that
Solving this problem is easy if g(x) is a polynomial,
or if g(x) is an exponential,
We quickly learned that since
that many different solutions were possible for a given
so to capture this idea we wrote
where C was some constant about which we had no
If we describe our differential equations with fractional notation, the integration problem is
or, more generally,
3 Simple differential equations with simple solutions
Complicating the integration problem:
In other words, we are looking for a function which when 3
of it is added to its derivative, the result is 9x3.
In fractional notation, we might write
looks a bit alien, by thinking of it as a division, there is a straightforward
way to get an
really a function that if you add 3 of it to its derivative you get 9x3?
This is easy
and the long division process has worked.
We can make up harder problems by taking more derivatives or making the right side more complicated
The long division method can still give us a solution of
Again, the answer is not hard to check,
which sums to 4x2 + x + 1 as it should.
3.1 Why does long division work?
Under certain common conditions, the long division technique above gets a solution. Those conditions are:
• The numerator is a polynomial in x
• The denominator is a polynomial in
• The denominator has a (non- zero ) constant term
Under these conditions, long division will produce a polynomial in x which is a solution of the differential
equation associated with that fraction.
Put in more mathemtical terms :
Theorem 3.1 (Long Division). The differential equation
has a solution by the long division method whenever
and that solution is a polynomial of degree m or
Proof. We can see that if m = 0, so the right hand side is b0, then is a solution (all its derivatives
vanish since f(x) is constant). The degree of is 0, because it is a constant, so the statement about degrees
More generally, at each step of the long division method, we approximate our solution f(x) with
R(x) where R(x) is the rest. Plugging this into the differential equation gives
and moving terms from the left to the right (cancelling )
The operations on the left hand side are the same, only in
terms of the new function R(x) and the right
hand side, r(x), is a new polynomial of degree m - 1 or less, corresponding to the remainder after the one
step of long division. In fractions
Thus, as we repeat, we reduce the degree of the right hand side with each step, until it is just a constant.
4 Solving harder problems
The long division method itself only let's solve when N(x) is a polynomial in x and is a
polynomial in with D(0) ≠ 0. There are some tricks we can use to extend the method beyond these
4.1 The constant part of the denominator vanishes
An example is This fraction stands for the differential equation
That is the same as making up some intermediate function g(x) and saying
which is solved by
which is a fraction we can solve with long division.
This could just as well be written compactly as
giving a solution.
Put in more mathemtical terms:
Lemma 4.1 (Integration step). A solution to
can be found by taking any solution of
This is true for higher derivatives as well,
where we used long division for We can check,
Lemma 4.2 (Exponential shift step). A solution to
can be found by taking any solution of