# Prequel to “A Relentless Pursuit”

Fig. 1

Suppose we have two circular hoops of unit radius, centered on a common x-axis and a distance $2a$ apart. Suppose too, that a soap films extends between the two hoops, taking the form of a surface of revolution about the x-axis (see Fig. 2). Then if gravity is negligible the film takes up a state of stable, equilibrium in which its surface area is a minimum.

Fig. 2

Our problem is to find the function $y(x)$, satisfying the boundary conditions

$y(-a) = y(a) = 1,\quad\quad\quad(1)$

which makes the surface area

$A=2\pi\displaystyle\int\limits_{-a}^{a}y\sqrt{1+(y')^2}\;dx\quad\quad\quad(2)$

a minimum.

Let

$F(x,y, y') = 2\pi y \sqrt{1+(y')^2}.$

We have

$\frac{\partial F}{\partial y} = 2\pi \sqrt{1+(y')^2}$

and

$\frac{\partial F}{\partial y'} = 2 \pi y \cdot\frac{1}{2}\left(1+(y')^2\right)^{-\frac{1}{2}}\cdot 2y'=\frac{2 \pi y y'}{\sqrt{1+(y')^2}}.$

The Euler-Lagrange equation

$\frac{\partial F}{\partial y} - \frac{d}{dx}\left(\frac{\partial F}{\partial y'}\right) = 0$

becomes

$\sqrt{1+(y')^2} - \frac{d}{dx}\left(\frac{y y'}{\sqrt{1+(y')^2}}\right) = 0.$

Fig. 3

Using Omega CAS Explorer (see Fig. 3), it can be simplified to:

$y \frac{d^2 y}{dx^2}- \left(\frac{dy}{dx}\right)^2=1.$

This is the differential equation solved in “A Relentless Pursuit” whose solution is

$y = C_1\cdot \cosh(\frac{x+C_2}{C_1}).$

We must then find $C_1$ and $C_2$ subject to the boundary condition (1), i.e.,

$C_1\cdot \cosh(\frac{a+C_2}{C_1}) = C_1\cdot\cosh(\frac{-a+C_2}{C_1})\implies \cosh(\frac{a+C_2}{C_1}) = \cosh(\frac{-a+C_2}{C_1}).$

The fact that $\cosh$ is an even function implies either

$a+C_2 = -a+C_2\quad\quad\quad(3)$

or

$a+C_2 = -(-a+C_2).\quad\quad\quad(4)$

While (3) is clearly false since it claims for all $a >0, a = -a$, (4) gives

$C_2=0.$

And so, the solution to boundary-value problem

$\begin{cases} y \frac{d^2 y}{dx^2}- \left(\frac{dy}{dx}\right)^2=1,\\ y(-a)=y(a)=1\end{cases}\quad\quad\quad(5)$

is

$y = C_1\cdot \cosh(\frac{x}{C_1}).\quad\quad\quad(6)$

To determine $C_1$, we deduce the following equation from the boundary conditions that $y=1$ at $x=\pm a:$

$C_1\cdot \cosh(\frac{a}{C_1}) = 1.\quad\quad\quad(7)$

This is a transcendental equation for $C_1$ that can not be solved explicitly. Nonetheless, we can examine it qualitatively.

Let

$\mu = \frac{a}{C_1}$

and express (7) as

$\cosh(\mu) = \frac{\mu}{a}.\quad\quad\quad(8)$

Fig. 4

A plot of (8)’s two sides in Fig. 4 shows that for sufficient small $a$, the curves $z = \cosh(\mu)$ and $z = \frac{\mu}{a}$ will intersect. However, as $a$ increases, $z=\frac{\mu}{a}$, a line whose slope is $\frac{1}{a}$ rotates clockwise towards $\mu$-axis. The curves will not intersect if $a$ is too large. The critical case is when $a=a^*$, the curves touch at a single point, so that

$\cosh(\mu) = \frac{\mu}{a^*}\quad\quad\quad(9)$

and $y=\frac{\mu}{a}$ is the tangent line of $z=\cosh(\mu),$ i.e.,

$\sinh(\mu) = \frac{1}{a^*}.\quad\quad\quad(10)$

Dividing (9) by (10) yields

$\coth(\mu) = \mu. \quad\quad\quad(11)$

What the mathematical model (5) predicts then is, as we gradually move the rings apart, the soap film breaks when the distance between the two rings reaches $2a^*$, and for $a > a^*$, there is no more soap film surface connects the two rings. This is confirmed by an experiment (see Fig. 1).

We compute the value of $a^*$, the maximum value of $a$ that supports a minimum area soap film surface as follows.

Fig. 5

Solving (11) for $\mu$ numerically (see Fig. 5), we obtain

$\mu = 1.1997.$

By (10), the corresponding value of

$a^* = \frac{1}{\sinh(\mu)} = \frac{1}{\sinh(1.1997)} = 0.6627$.

We also compute the surface area of the soap film from (2) and (6) (see Fig. 6). Namely,

$A = 2\pi \displaystyle\int\limits_{-a}^{a} C_1 \cosh\left(\frac{x}{C_1}\right) \sqrt{1+\left(\frac{d}{dx}C_1\cosh\left(\frac{x}{C_1}\right)\right)^2}\;dx = \pi C_1^2\left(\sinh\left(\frac{2a}{C_1}\right) + \frac{2a}{C_1}\right).$

Fig. 6

Exercise-1 Given $a=\frac{1}{2}$, solve (7) numerically for $C_1.$

Exercise-2 Without using a CAS, find the surface area of the soap film from (2) and (6).