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Self-oscillation. (English) Zbl 1295.34050

Summary: Physicists are very familiar with forced and parametric resonance, but usually not with self-oscillation, a property of certain dynamical systems that gives rise to a great variety of vibrations, both useful and destructive. In a self-oscillator, the driving force is controlled by the oscillation itself so that it acts in phase with the velocity, causing a negative damping that feeds energy into the vibration: no external rate needs to be adjusted to the resonant frequency. The famous collapse of the Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940, often attributed by introductory physics texts to forced resonance, was actually a self-oscillation, as was the swaying of the London Millennium Footbridge in 2000. Clocks are self-oscillators, as are bowed and wind musical instruments. The heart is a “relaxation oscillator”, i.e., a non-sinusoidal self-oscillator whose period is determined by sudden, nonlinear switching at thresholds. We review the general criterion that determines whether a linear system can self-oscillate. We then describe the limiting cycles of the simplest nonlinear self-oscillators, as well as the ability of two or more coupled self-oscillators to become spontaneously synchronized (“entrained”). We characterize the operation of motors as self-oscillation and prove a theorem about their limit efficiency, of which Carnot’s theorem for heat engines appears as a special case. We briefly discuss how self-oscillation applies to servomechanisms, Cepheid variable stars, lasers, and the macroeconomic business cycle, among other applications. Our emphasis throughout is on the energetics of self-oscillation, often neglected by the literature on nonlinear dynamical systems.

MSC:

34C15 Nonlinear oscillations and coupled oscillators for ordinary differential equations
93B52 Feedback control
34C05 Topological structure of integral curves, singular points, limit cycles of ordinary differential equations
34D20 Stability of solutions to ordinary differential equations
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