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Finite Differences

P. Sam Johnson

P. Sam Johnson (NITK)

Finite Differences

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Overview
Assume that we have a table of values
(xi , yi ),

i = 0, 1, 2, . . . , n

of any function y = f (x), the values of x being equally spaced.

That is, xi = x0 + ih, i = 0, 1, 2, . . . , n. The step length h is called the
interval of differencing.
Suppose that we are required to recover the values of f (x) for some
intermediate values of x, or to obtain the derivative of f (x) for some x in
the range x0 x xn .
The methods for the solution to these problems are based on the
concept of the differences of a function. There are three important
types of differences which we define and disucss in three lectures.
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Overview
The calculus of finite differences deals with the changes that take place
in the value of the function (dependent variable), due to finite changes in
the independent variable.
Through this, we also study the relations that exist between the values
assumed by the function, whenever the independent variable changes by
(equal or unequal) finite jumps.
On the other hand, in infinitesimal calculus, we study those changes of
the function which occur when the independent variable changes
continuously in a given interval.
We shall study the variations in the function when the independent
variable changes by equal intervals.
The calculus of differences is very useful for the finding the sum of a given
series.
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Differences of y
Suppose a function (usually unknown) y = f (x) is given at discrete values
of x, x0 , x1 , . . . , xn so that we have a table of values
(xi , yi ),

i = 0, 1, 2, . . . n.

The values of x being equally spaced. That is,

xi = x0 + ih,

i = 0, 1, 2, . . . , n.

If y0 , y1 , y2 , . . . , yn denote a set of values of y = f (x) on x0 , x1 , . . . , xn

respectively (note that yi = f (xi ), 0 i n), then
y1 y0
y2 y1
..
.
yn yn1
are called the differences of y .
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Denoting the differences, (y1 y0 ), (y2 y1 ), . . . , (yn yn1 ) by

y0 , y1 , . . . , yn1
respectively, we have
y0 = y1 y0 , y1 = y2 y1 , . . . , yn1 = yn yn1
where is called forward difference operator and y0 , y1 . . ., are
called first forward differences.
is not a quantity but an operation.

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Higher Differences
The differences of the first forward differences are called second forward
differences and are denoted by 2 y0 , 2 y1 , . . . .
The symbol 2 does not represent the square of a quantity but denotes
the repetition of the operation .
Similarly, one can define third forward differences, fourth forward
differences, etc.
In general, the nth differences are defined as
n yi = n1 yi+1 n1 yi .
The forward difference operator can be operated on function-values,
generally denoted as
f (x) = f (x + h) f (x),
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x = x0 , x1 , . . . , xn1 .

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Exercises
1. Evaluate tan1 x, (e x log 2x), (x 2 / cos 2x).
2. Evaluate


5x + 12
,
x 2 + 5x + 16

interval of differencing being unity.

3. Find the successive differences of f (x) = ab c x and sum the first n
differences.
4. Find the function (with suitable h) whose first difference is
(a) ax + b
(b) sin x

(c) e x
(d) e a+bx

5. Prove that the operator obeys the index law :

m n f (x) = m+n f (x)
where m and n are positive integers.
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The following result can be proved by the method of induction and it helps
in expressing, any powers of operated on y (x), in terms of yi s. The
proof is based on continuous substitution.
Theorem
Suppose that we have a table of values (xi , yi ), i = 0, 1, 2, . . . ., n of any
function y = f (x), the values of x being equally spaced with h as the
interval of differencing. Then for any non-negative integer k,
 
k
X
ki k
yr =
(1)
yr +i .
i
k

i=0

The theorem refers to the following facts:

(a) Any higher order forward difference can be expressed in terms of the
preceding differences.
(b) Any higher order forward difference can be expressed in terms of the
entries.
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(Forward) Difference Table

Value
of
x
x0

Value
of
y = f (x)
y0

x0 + h

y1

First
Difference
f (x)

Second
Difference
2 f (x)

Third
Difference
3 f (x)

Fourth
Difference
4 f (x)

y0
2 y 0
3 y 0

y1
x0 + 2h

y2
x0 + 3h

y3

x0 + 4h

y4

4 y 0

y1

y2

y1
2 y 2

y3
y0 , the first entry is called the leading term. y0 , 2 y0 , 3 y0 etc. are called the
leading differences. It can be seen that the differences k yi with a fixed
subscript i lie along the diagonal sloping downwards and each difference is written
midway between the values substracted.
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Shift Operator, E
An operator E defined as
Ef (x) = f (x + h)
is called a shift operator which results in increasing the argument by the
interval of differencing.
E n stands for the operation E being carried n times. Then
E n f (x) = f (x + nh).
The inverse operator E 1 is defined as
E 1 f (x) = f (x h).

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Relation between E and

f (x) = f (x + h) f (x) = Ef (x) f (x).
Hence
Ef (x) = f (x) + f (x) = (1 + )f (x).
Here 1 (unity) is an operator just as E and and leaves the function
unaltered when it operates on that function. That is, 1f (x) = f (x).
Since f (x) is arbitrary, we get
E 1 + .
This is known as separation of symbols. We shall define some more
operators later and establish many relations between the operators.
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With the help of the operators E and , we can prove the above result
which is restated below.
For any non-negative integer k,
 
k
X
ki k
yr =
(1)
yr +i .
i
k

i=0

Exercises

6. Evaluate E 0 f (x), (c) and E (c) where c is a constant.

7. Say true or false : If f (x) = 0, then either 0 or f (x) = 0. False
8. Say true or false : E 2 f (x) and E 2 [f (x)]2 are identical.

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Finite Differences

False

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Exercise
9. An operator T is said to be linear if
T [af (x) + bg (x)] = aT [f (x)] + bT [g (x)],
where a, b are constants. Prove that the operators E and are linear.
The following theorem says that any value of the function f (x) can be
expressed in terms of leading term and the leading differences of an
ordinary difference table. It can be proved by the method of induction.
Theorem
For all integral values of k, yk =

Pk

k
r =0 r

k y0 .

use (E)^k =(delta+1)^k

Exercise
10. Prove the above result with the help of the operators E and .

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Let f (x) be a polynomial of degree n in x. If h is the interval of the

argument, then f (x) is a polynomial of degree (n 1). Thus it is to be
noted that the result of differencing a polynomial once, reduces its degree
by one.
Theorem
Let f (x) be a polynomial of degree n in x. Then the nth difference of this
polynomial is constant. Also the (n + 1)th and higher differences are zero.
The converse of the above theorem is also true. That is, if the nth
difference of a function tabulated at equally spaced intervals are
constant, the function is a polynomial of degree n.
This fact is important in numerical analysis as it enables us to
approximate a function by a polynomial of nth degree if its nth
order differences become nearly constant.
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Exercises
11. If f (x) = a0 x n + a1 x n1 + + an1 x + an (a0 6= 0), then find
n f (x). Obtain 25 {(x a)(x b) (x z)} where the operand
has only 25 factors and there is no factor of the type (x x).
12. Prove that
x

e =

2
E

ex .

Ee x
,
2 e x

the interval of differencing being unity.

13. Prove that yn y0 is the sum of all entries in the first difference
column of the difference table for (xi , yi ), 0 i n.
That is,

n1
X

yx = yn y0 .

x=0

14. Prove that y4 = y3 + y2 + 2 y1 + 3 y1 .

15. Show that y4 = y0 + 4y0 + 62 y1 + 103 y1 if fourth and higher
differences are zero.
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Exercises
16. Prove that






n+1
n+1
n+1
y0 + y1 + + yn =
y0 +
y0 + +
n y0 .
1
2
n+1
17. Prove the following identity

X
x=0

y2x

1X
1
=
yx +
2
4
x=0

4
1 +

2
4


y0 .

18. Find the sum of the series,

1.2 x n 2.3 2 x n + 3.4 3 x n 4.5 4 x n +
the interval of differencing being unity.

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Backward Difference Operator, (called nabla)

The differences
y1 y0 , y2 y1 , . . . , yn yn1
are called first backward differences and they are denoted by
y1 , y2 , , yn
respectively, so that
y1 = y1 y0
y2 = y2 y1
..
.
yn = yn yn1
where is called the backward difference operator.
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(Backward) Difference Table

Value
of
x
x0

Value
of
y = f (x)
y0

x0 + h

y1

First
Difference
f (x)

Second
Difference
2 f (x)

Third
Difference
3 f (x)

Fourth
Difference
4 f (x)

y1
2 y2
3 y3

y2
x0 + 2h

2 y3

y2
y3

x0 + 3h

4 y 4
3 y4

2 y4

y3
y4

x0 + 4h

y4

y4 , the last entry is called the last term. y4 , 2 y4 , 3 y4 etc. are called
the last differences.
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The central difference operator is defined by the relations

y1 y0 = y1/2 , y2 y1 = y3/2 , . . . , yn yn1 = yn1/2 .
Similarly, higher-order central differences are defined as
y3/2 y1/2 = 2 y1 , y5/2 y3/2 = 2 y2 ,
2 y2 2 y1 = 3 y3/2
and so on.

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Value
of
x
x0

Value
of
y = f (x)
y0

x0 + h

y1

First
Difference
f (x)

Second
Difference
2 f (x)

Third
Difference
3 f (x)

Fourth
Difference
4 f (x)

y1/2
2 y1
3 y3/2

y3/2
x0 + 2h

2 y2

y2
y5/2

x0 + 3h

4 y2
3 y5/2

2 y3

y3
y7/2

x0 + 4h

y4

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Some observations on central difference table are as

follows.

(a) The central differences on the same horizontal line have the same
suffix.
(b) The differences of odd order are known only for half values of the
suffix.
(c) The differences of even order are known only for integral values of the
suffix.

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Averaging Operator,
It is often required to find the mean of adjacent values in the same column
of differences. We denote this mean by , the averaging
(mean)

1
operator defined by yr = 2 yr +1/2 + yr 1/2 .
Thus y1 = 21 [y1/2 + y3/2 ], 2 y3/2 = 21 [ 2 y1 + 2 y2 ], . . . .
An Important Observation : We can observe the following
y0 = y1 = y1/2 ,

3 y1 = 3 y4 = 3 y5/2 .

It is only the notation which changes and not the differences.

For example, y1 y0 = y0 = y1 = y1/2 .
Of all the formulae, those involving central differences are most useful in
practice as the coefficients in such formulae decrease much more rapidly.
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Exercises
Deduce the following:
24. E 1/2 E 1/2 
2
25. 1 + 2 2 = 1 + 2

19. 1 E 1
20. = 2

21. (1/2)(E 1/2 + E 1/2 )

26. 2 1 + (1/4)2
q
q
2
2+
big
delta

27.of

1+
22. 21 2 + 1 + 4 write delta in term
2 1+
23. (E 1/2 + E 1/2 )(1 + )1/2 2 +

2
4.

28. E E E 1/2 .

*
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Exercises
29. If y = a(3)x + b(2)x and h = 1, prove that (2 + 6)y = 0.
30. Evaluate 10 [(1 ax)(1 bx 2 )(1 cx 3 )(1 dx 4 )]. abcd*fact(10) *h^10
h
i
problem with sign (positive sign )
f (x)
1
31. Show that f (x)
= f (x)f
(x+1) .
o
n
(x)
.
32. Prove that log f (x) = log 1 + f
f (x)
33. Find the missing yx values from the first differences provided.
yx
0 0 1- -3 -7 -14 -25
yx 0 1 2 4 7 11

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Differential Operator, D
The differential operator D is defined by
Df (x) =

d
[f (x)].
dx

Exercises
Prove the following identities.
34. E e hD (Hint: Taylors series)
35. hD

2
2

3
3

take log on both sides of the equation 34. and write

E-1=delta... and use
1 infinite expansion of log

37. yn+1 h(1 +

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1
2

5
2
12

()

+ )yn0 .

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Exercises
38. Using the method of separation of symbols, prove the following
identities:
(a) yx n yxn = yx1 + yx2 + 2 yx3 + + n1 yxn . doubt
x
x2
x3
2
(b) y1 x + y2 x 2 + y3 x 3 + = 1x
y1 + (1x)
2 y1 + (1x)3 y1 + .

39. Taking fifth order differences of yx to be constant and given

y0 , y1 , y2 , y3 , y4 , y5 prove that
1
25(c b) + 3(a c)
y2 1 = c +
2
2
256

doubt

where a = y0 + y5 , b = y1 + y4 , c = y2 + y5 .
40. For any positive integer n, prove the following:


x
(a) r nn = nr
,

n x
(b) n = 1.

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r <n
doubt

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Exercises
41. Using the method of separation of symbols, prove that
2
3
y0 + y1!1 x + y2!2 x 2 + y3!3 x 3 + = e x [y0 + xy0 + x2! 2 y0 + x3! 3 y0 + ].
Hence find the sum of the following series.
3

(a) 13 + 21! x + 32! x 2 + 43! x 3 +

10x 2
20x 3
35x 4
56x 5
(b) 1 + 4x
1! + 2! + 3! + 4! + 5! .

42. Prove Montmorts theorem that

y0 + y1 x + y2 x 2 + =

y0
xy0
x 2 2 y0
+
+
+ .
1x
(1 x)2 (1 x)3

Hence find the sum of the series 1.2 + 2.3x + 3.4x 2 + .

43. Using Montmorts theorem find the sum of the series
(a) 1.3 + 3.5x + 5.7x 2 + 7.9x 3 + .
(b) 12 + 22 x + 32 x 2 + 42 x 3 + .

false

44. Say true or false : [f (x).g (x)] and f (x)g (x) are identical.
45. Prove that yi zi = y1 zi + zi+1 yi .
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Factorial Notation for Positive Integer

The continued product of factors whose first factor is x and successive
factors decrease by a constant difference h, is called a factorial function.
It is denoted by [x]n where n is a positive integer, which determines the
number of factors in [x]n . Thus
[x]n = x(x h)(x 2h) (x (n 1)h).
For convention, we take [x]0 = 1.
When h = 1,
[x]n =

 
x!
x
= n!
(x n)!
n

(x > n).

Exercise
46. Prove that for any positive integer n,
[x]n = (x (n 1)h)[x]n1 .
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First Difference and General Formula for n > 0

In fact f (x) = [x]n where n is a positive integer, is called the factorial
polynomial of degree n and the various differences of a factorial
polynomial are again factorial polynomials.
[x]n = nh[x]n1 is a polynomial of degree (n 1) in factorial notation.
In general, n [x]n = n!hn , a constant term and k [x]n = 0 for k > n.
When h = 1,
[x]n = n[x]n1
2 [x]n = n(n 1)[x]n2
..
..
.
.
n [x]n = n!.
Hence differencing of functions in factorial notations resembles the
differentiating of functions when h = 1.
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The factorial notation is of special utility in the theory of finite

differences. It helps in finding the successive differences of a
polynomial directly, by a simple rule of differentiation. When h = 1,
we have
[x]n = n[x]n1
[ax + b]n = an[ax + b]n1 .
That is, the result of differencing [x]n is analogous to that of
differentiating x n .
It is easier to find [x]n than r x n when a given polynomial is expressed
as factorial polynomial. Is this possible? Yes. The following theorem gives
Theorem
Every polynomial of degree n can be expressed as a factorial polynomial of
the same degree and vice versa. important rule
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Using the method of synthetic division, we divide the given polynomial by

x, x 1, x 2, . . .
successively.
We put the coefficients of different powers of x in order beginning with
the highest power of x.
If any power of x is missing in order, we should first make the given
function complete by taking its coefficient as zero and then employ this
method.

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Second Method : Direct Method

The method is illustrated with an example.
Suppose f (x) = x 4 12x 3 + 24x 2 30x + 9
f (x) = A[x]4 + B[x]3 + C [x]2 + D[x]1 + E

where the constants A, B, C and D are to be found.

Putting x = 0, 1, 2 and 3 in equation (1), we get four equations in A, B, C
and D. Solving them, we get the required polynomial in factorial notation.
Exercises
47. Express 2x 3 3x 2 + 3x 10 in factorial notation by both the
methods.
48. Fill the blank: The coefficient of the highest power of x
(remains unchanged / may change) while
transforming a polynomial to factorial notation.
49. If f (x) = (2x + 1)(2x + 3) (2x + 15), find the value of 4 f (x).
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Reciprocal Factorial Function (Factorial Notation for

Negative Integer

We now discuss the factorial function [x]n , when n is any negative integer.
For any positive integer n, define
[x]n =

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1
1
=
.
(x + h) (x + nh)
[x + nh]n

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First Difference and General Formula for n < 0

The first difference of [x]n ,
[x]n = nh[x](n+1) .
In general,
r [x]h = (1)r n(n + 1) (n + r 1)hr [x](n+r ) .
When h = 1, we have the following:
(a) r [x]n = (1)r n(n + 1) (n + r 1)[x](n+r ) .
(b) r [ax + b]n = (1)r n(n + 1) (n + r 1)ar [ax + b](n+r ) .
(c) [x]n = n[x](n+1) .
(d) [ax + b]n = na[ax + b](n+1) .
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Exercises
50. Express the function
x 4 12x 3 + 24x 2 30x + 9
in factorial notation, the interval of differencing being unity.
51. Using factorial notation, obtain the function whose first difference is
x 3 + 4x 2 + 9x + 12.
52. Express 2x 3 3x 2 + 3x 10 and its successive difference in factorial
notation.
53. A third degree polynomial passes through (0, 1), (1, 3), (2, 7) and
(3, 13). Find the polynomial.
54. Prove that [x]r [x rh]n = [x]r +n .
55. Find the relation between , and in order that + x + x 2 may
be expressible in one term in the factorial notation. doubt
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The process of finding yx when yx is given, is known as inverse finite

difference operation. That is, if yx = ux , then yx = 1 ux . The
symbol 1 or 1/ is called the inverse of the operator .
We have the following important results.
[x]n+1
n+1 .
n+1
b]n = [ax+b]
a(n+1) .

(a) 1 [x]n =
(b) 1 [ax +

[x]n+1
n+1 .
n+1
b]n = [ax+b]
a(n+1) .

(c) 1 [x]n =
(d) 1 [ax +

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Application to Summation of Series

The calculus of finite differences is very useful for finding the sum of a
given series.
The inverse operator 1 is especially useful to find the sum of a series.
This is explained below.
If ur = yr = yr +1 yr , then u1 + u2 + + un = yn+1 y1 .
Exercise
Find the sum to n terms of the series.
56. 2.3.4 + 3.4.5 + 4.5.6 +
57.
58.

1
1
1
3.4.5 + 4.5.6 + 5.6.7 +
13 + 2 3 + + n 3 .

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Effect of an error on a difference table

Suppose there is an error in the entry y3 of a table. As higher differences are
formed, this error spreads out and is considered magnified. How it effects the
difference table, as shown below.
x
x0

y = f (x)
y0

x1 = x0 + h

y1

f (x)

2 f (x)

3 f (x)

y0
2 y 0
3 y 0 +

y1
x2 = x0 + 2h

y2

y1 +
3 y1 3

y2 +
x3 = x0 + 3h

y2 2

y3 +

3 y2 + 3

y3
x4 = x0 + 4h

y4

y3 +
3 y 3

y4
x5 = x0 + 5h
..
.
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y5
..
.

..
.
Finite Differences

y4
..
.

..
.
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The above table shows that

(a) The error increases with the order of differences.
(b) The coefficients of s in any column are the binomial coefficients of
(1 )n .
Thus the errors in the fourth difference column are , 4, 6, 4, .
(c) The algebraic sum of the errors in any difference column is zero.
(d) The maximum error in each column, occurs opposite to the entry y3
containing the error.
The above facts enable us to detect errors in a difference table.

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Exercises
59. One entry in the following table is incorrect and y is a cubic
polynomial in x. Use the difference table to locate and correct the
error.
x 0
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
y 25 21 18 18 27 45 76 123
60. The following table gives the values of y which is a polynomial of
degree five. It is known that f (3) is in error. Correct the error.
x
y

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0
1

1
2

2
33

3
254

4
1025

Finite Differences

5
3126

6
7777

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To find one or more missing terms

When one or more values of y = f (x) corresponding to the equidistant
values of x are missing, we can find these using any of the following two
methods.
First Method. We assume that the missing term or terms as a, b etc. and
form the difference table. Assuming the last difference as zero, we solve
these equations for a, b. These give the missing term / terms.
Second Method. If n entries of y are given, f (x) can be represented by a
(n 1)th degree polynomial. That is, n y = 0.
Since E 1, therefore (E 1)n y = 0. Now expanding (E 1)n and
substituting the given values, we obtain the missing term / terms.

P. Sam Johnson (NITK)

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January 31, 2015

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Exercises
61. Find the missing term in the table:
x 2
3
4
5
6
y 45 49.2 54.1 - 67.4
62. Find the missing terms in the following data.
x 45 50 55 60 65
y 3
2
- -2.4
63. Assuming that the following values of y belong to a polynomial of
degree 4, compute the next three values.
x 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
y 1 -1 1 -1 1 - - -

P. Sam Johnson (NITK)

Finite Differences

January 31, 2015

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Exercises
64. Match the following :
+
E
2
hD

log(1 )
65. Express any value of y in terms of yn and backward differences of yn .

66. Express u = x 4 12x 3 + 24x 2 30x + 9 and its successive difference

in factorial notation. Hence show that 5 u = 0.
67. Obtain the function whose first difference is 2x 3 3x 2 + 3x 10.
68. If y =

1
(3x+1)(3x+4)(3x+7) ,

evaluate 2 y . Also find 1 y .

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Exercises
71. Prove that (n Cr +1 ) =

n+1 C

r +1

nC

r +1 .

72. If y0 = 3, y11 = 6, y12 = 11, y13 = 18, y14 = 27, find y4 .

73. If yx is a polynomial for which fifth difference is constant and
y1 + y7 = 784, y2 + y6 = 686, y3 + y5 = 1088, find y4 .

P. Sam Johnson (NITK)

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January 31, 2015

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References
Richard L. Burden and J. Douglas Faires, Numerical Analysis Theory and Applications, Cengage Learning, Singapore.
Kendall E. Atkinson, An Introduction to Numerical Analysis, Wiley
India.
David Kincaid and Ward Cheney, Numerical Analysis Mathematics of Scientific Computing, American Mathematical
Society, Providence, Rhode Island.
S.S. Sastry, Introductory Methods of Numerical Analysis, Fourth
Edition, Prentice-Hall, India.
Har Swarup Sharma, A Textbook of Numerical Analysis, Ratan
Prakashan Mandir, Delhi.
B.S. Grewal, Numerical Methods in Engineering & Science, Khanna
Publishers, Delhi.
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