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In dynamics, the **Van der Pol oscillator** is a non-conservative oscillator with non-linear damping. It evolves in time according to the second-order differential equation:

where *x* is the position coordinate—which is a function of the time *t*, and *μ* is a scalar parameter indicating the nonlinearity and the strength of the damping.

The Van der Pol oscillator was originally proposed by the Dutch electrical engineer and physicist Balthasar van der Pol while he was working at Philips.^{[1]} Van der Pol found stable oscillations,^{[2]} which he subsequently called relaxation-oscillations^{[3]} and are now known as a type of limit cycle in electrical circuits employing vacuum tubes. When these circuits were driven near the limit cycle, they become entrained, i.e. the driving signal pulls the current along with it. Van der Pol and his colleague, van der Mark, reported in the September 1927 issue of *Nature* that at certain drive frequencies an irregular noise was heard,^{[4]} which was later found to be the result of deterministic chaos.^{[5]}

The Van der Pol equation has a long history of being used in both the physical and biological sciences. For instance, in biology, Fitzhugh^{[6]} and Nagumo^{[7]} extended the equation in a planar field as a model for action potentials of neurons. The equation has also been utilised in seismology to model the two plates in a geological fault,^{[8]} and in studies of phonation to model the right and left vocal fold oscillators.^{[9]}

Liénard's theorem can be used to prove that the system has a limit cycle. Applying the Liénard transformation , where the dot indicates the time derivative, the Van der Pol oscillator can be written in its two-dimensional form:^{[10]}

- .

Another commonly used form based on the transformation leads to:

- .

Two interesting regimes for the characteristics of the unforced oscillator are:^{[11]}

- When
*μ*= 0, i.e. there is no damping function, the equation becomes:

- This is a form of the simple harmonic oscillator, and there is always conservation of energy.

- When
*μ*> 0, the system will enter a limit cycle. Near the origin*x*=*dx*/*dt*= 0, the system is unstable, and far from the origin, the system is damped. - The Van der Pol oscillator does not have an exact, analytic solution.
^{[12]}However, such a solution does exist for the limit cycle if*f(x)*in the Lienard equation is a constant piece-wise function.

One can also write a time-independent Hamiltonian formalism for the Van der Pol oscillator by augmenting it to a four-dimensional autonomous dynamical system using an auxiliary second-order nonlinear differential equation as follows:

Note that the dynamics of the original Van der Pol oscillator is not affected due to the one-way coupling between the time-evolutions of *x* and *y* variables. A Hamiltonian *H* for this system of equations can be shown to be^{[13]}

where and are the conjugate momenta corresponding to *x* and *y*, respectively. This may, in principle, lead to quantization of the Van der Pol oscillator. Such a Hamiltonian also connects^{[14]} the geometric phase of the limit cycle system having time dependent parameters with the Hannay angle of the corresponding Hamiltonian system.

The forced, or driven, Van der Pol oscillator takes the 'original' function and adds a driving function *A*sin(*ωt*) to give a differential equation of the form:

where *A* is the amplitude, or displacement, of the wave function and *ω* is its angular velocity.

Author James Gleick described a vacuum tube Van der Pol oscillator in his book from 1987 *Chaos: Making a New Science*.^{[16]} According to a *New York Times* article,^{[17]} Gleick received a modern electronic Van der Pol oscillator from a reader in 1988.

- Mary Cartwright, British mathematician, one of the first to study the theory of deterministic chaos, particularly as applied to this oscillator.
^{[18]}

- The quantum van der Pol oscillator, which is the quantum version of the classical van der Pol oscillator, has been proposed using a Lindblad equation to study its quantum dynamics and quantum synchronization.
^{[19]}Note the above Hamiltonian approach with an auxiliary second-order equation produces unbounded phase-space trajectories and hence cannot be used to quantize the van der Pol oscillator. In the limit of weak nonlinearity (i.e.*μ→*0) the van der Pol oscillator reduces to the Stuart-Landau equation. The Stuart-Landau equation in fact describes an entire class of limit-cycle oscillators in the weakly-nonlinear limit. The form of the classical Stuart-Landau equation is much simpler, and perhaps not surprisingly, can be quantized by a Lindblad equation which is also simpler than the Lindblad equation for the van der Pol oscillator. The quantum Stuart-Landau model has played an important role in the study of quantum synchronisation^{[20]}^{[21]}(where it has often been called a van der Pol oscillator although it cannot be uniquely associated with the van der Pol oscillator). The relationship between the classical Stuart-Landau model (*μ→*0) and more general limit-cycle oscillators (arbitrary*μ*) has also been demonstrated numerically in the corresponding quantum models.^{[19]}

**^**Cartwright, M.L., "Balthazar van der Pol",*J. London Math. Soc.*,**35**, 367–376, (1960).**^**B. van der Pol: "A theory of the amplitude of free and forced triode vibrations", Radio Review (later Wireless World) 1 701–710 (1920)**^**Van der Pol, B., "On relaxation-oscillations",*The London, Edinburgh and Dublin Phil. Mag. & J. of Sci.*,**2**(7), 978–992 (1926).**^**Van der Pol, B. and Van der Mark, J., “Frequency demultiplication”,*Nature*,**120**, 363–364, (1927). doi:10.1038/120363a0**^**Kanamaru, T., "Van der Pol oscillator",*Scholarpedia*,**2**(1), 2202, (2007).**^**FitzHugh, R., “Impulses and physiological states in theoretical models of nerve membranes”,*Biophysics J*,**1**, 445–466, (1961).**^**Nagumo, J., Arimoto, S. and Yoshizawa, S. "An active pulse transmission line simulating nerve axon",*Proc. IRE*,**50**, 2061–2070, (1962).**^**Cartwright, J., Eguiluz, V., Hernandez-Garcia, E. and Piro, O., "Dynamics of elastic excitable media",*Internat. J. Bifur. Chaos Appl. Sci. Engrg.*,**9**, 2197–2202, (1999).**^**Lucero, Jorge C.; Schoentgen, Jean (2013). "Modeling vocal fold asymmetries with coupled van der Pol oscillators".*Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics*.**19**(1): 060165. doi:10.1121/1.4798467. ISSN 1939-800X.**^**Kaplan, D. and Glass, L.,*Understanding Nonlinear Dynamics*, Springer, 240–244, (1995).**^**Grimshaw, R.,*Nonlinear ordinary differential equations*, CRC Press, 153–163, (1993), ISBN 0-8493-8607-1.**^**Panayotounakos, D. E., Panayotounakou, N. D., & Vakakis, A. F. (2003). On the lack of analytic solutions of the Van der Pol oscillator. ZAMM‐Journal of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics/Zeitschrift für Angewandte Mathematik und Mechanik: Applied Mathematics and Mechanics, 83(9), 611–615.**^**Shah, Tirth; Chattopadhyay, Rohitashwa; Vaidya, Kedar; Chakraborty, Sagar (2015). "Conservative perturbation theory for nonconservative systems".*Physical Review E*.**92**(6): 062927. arXiv:1512.06758. Bibcode:2015PhRvE..92f2927S. doi:10.1103/physreve.92.062927. PMID 26764794. S2CID 14930486.**^**Chattopadhyay, Rohitashwa; Shah, Tirth; Chakraborty, Sagar (2018). "Finding the Hannay angle in dissipative oscillatory systems via conservative perturbation theory".*Physical Review E*.**97**(6): 062209. arXiv:1610.05218. doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.97.062209. PMID 30011548. S2CID 51635019.**^**K. Tomita (1986): "Periodically forced nonlinear oscillators". In:*Chaos*, Ed. Arun V. Holden. Manchester University Press, ISBN 0719018110, pp. 213–214.**^**Gleick, James (1987).*Chaos: Making a New Science*. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 41–43. ISBN 0-14-009250-1.**^**Colman, David (11 July 2011). "There's No Quiet Without Noise".*New York Times*. Retrieved 11 July 2011.**^**Mary Cartwright and J. E. Littlewood (1945) "On Non-linear Differential Equations of the Second Order", Journal of the London Mathematical Society 20: 180 doi:10.1112/jlms/s1-20.3.180- ^
^{a}^{b}A. Chia, L. C. Kwek, and C. Noh (2020). Relaxation oscillations and frequency entrainment in quantum mechanics. Phys. Rev. E 102, 042213 (2020) doi:10.1103/PhysRevE.102.042213 **^**Stefan Walter, Andreas Nunnenkamp, and Christoph Bruder (2014). Quantum Synchronization of a Driven Self-Sustained Oscillator. Physical Review Letters, 112(9), 094102. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.094102**^**T. E. Lee, H. R. Sadeghpour (2013). Quantum synchronization of quantum van der Pol oscillators with trapped ions. Physical Review Letters, 111(23), 234101. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.111.234101

- "Van der Pol equation",
*Encyclopedia of Mathematics*, EMS Press, 2001 [1994] - Van der Pol oscillator on Scholarpedia
- Van Der Pol Oscillator Interactive Demonstrations