The previous chapters surveyed various energy conversion devices. The purpose of Chapters 11 and 12 is to establish a general framework to describe any energy conversion process. By placing energy conversion processes in a larger framework, we may be able to see relationships between processes or identify additional energy conversion processes to study. Establishing this framework requires some abstraction and hence some mathematics. In the next section, we define the Principle of Least Action and the idea of calculus of variations. In the following sections, we apply these ideas to two example energy conversion systems: a mass spring system and a capacitor inductor system.
An advantage of using calculus of variations over other techniques is that the analysis is based on energy, which is a scalar, instead of the potential, which may be a scalar or vector. Working with a scalar quantity like energy instead of a vector can make the mathematics quite a bit more manageable.
Thumbnail: Minimizing function and trial functions. (CC BY-SA 2.5; Banerjee).