An ODE to Thanksgiving

A turkey is taken from the refrigerator at {\theta_0}^{\circ} C and placed in an oven preheated to E^{\circ} C and kept at that temperature; after t_1 minutes the internal temperature of the turkey has risen to {\theta_1}^{\circ} C. The fowl is ready to be taken out when its internal temperature reaches {\theta_2}^{\circ} C.

Typically, {\theta_0} = 2, E=200, t_1=30, \theta_1=16, \theta_2=88.

Determine the cooking time required.


According to Newton’s law of heating and cooling (see “Convective heat transfer“), the rate of heat gain or loss of an object is directly proportional to the difference in the temperatures between the object and its surroundings. This law is best described by the following ODE (Ordinary Differential Equation):

\frac{d}{dt}{\theta(t)} = k\cdot(E-\theta(t)),\quad\quad\quad(1)

where \theta(t), E are the temperatures of the object and its surroundings respectively. k > 0 is the constant of proportionality.

Fig. 1

We see that (1) has a critical point \theta^* = E. Fig. 1 illustrates the fact that depending on its initial temperature, an object either heats up or cools down, trending towards E in both cases.

We formulate the problem as a system of differential-algebraic equations:

\begin{cases} \frac{d}{dt}{\theta(t)} = k\cdot(E-\theta(t)) \\ \theta(0)=\theta_0\\ \theta(t_1)=\theta_1 \\ \theta(\boxed{t_2}) = \theta_2\end{cases}(2)

To find the required cooking time, we solve (2) for t_2 (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2

Using Omega CAS Explorer, the typical cooking time is found to be approximately 4 hours (3.88...\approx 4)


Luise Lange of Woodrow Wilson Junior College once wrote (see ” A Century of Calculus, Part I”, p. 50):

“In many calculus texts problems are formulated too one-sidedly in terms of particular, numerical data rather than in general terms. While pedagogically it may be wise to begin a new type of problem with some numerical examples, it is only the general formulation, and the interpretation of the answer in general terms, which can give insight into the functional relation between the given and the derived data.”

I agree with her wholeheartedly! On encountering a mathematical modeling problem stated with numerical values, I prefer to re-state it using symbols first. Then solve the problem symbolically. The numerical values are substituted for the symbols at the very end.

This post is a case in point, as the problem is re-formulated from page 1005 of Jan Gullberg’s “Mathematics From the Birth of Numbers”:


Exercise-1 Solving (2) without using a CAS.

Exercise-2 Given \theta_0< \theta_1 < E, show that

k = \frac{t\log(\frac{E-\theta_0}{E-\theta_1})}{t_1} > 0.

Exercise-3 Given \theta_0 < \theta_1< E, verify that \lim\limits_{t\rightarrow \infty} \theta(t) = E from

\theta(t) = -Ee^{ -\frac{t\log(\frac{E-\theta_0}{E-\theta_1})}{t_1}   } + \theta_0 e^{-\frac{t\log(\frac{E-\theta_0}{E-\theta_1})}{t_1}} + E.

Exercise-4 A slice is cut from a loaf of bread fresh from the oven at 180^{\circ} C and placed in a room with a constant temperature of 20^{\circ} C. After 1 minute, the temperature of the slice is 140^{\circ} C. When has the slice of bread cooled to 32^{\circ} C?

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