In mathematics, a Dirichlet problem is the problem of finding a function which solves a specified partial differential equation (PDE) in the interior of a given region that takes prescribed values on the boundary of the region.
The Dirichlet problem can be solved for many PDEs, although originally it was posed for Laplace's equation. In that case the problem can be stated as follows:
The Dirichlet problem goes back to George Green, who studied the problem on general domains with general boundary conditions in his , published in 1828. He reduced the problem into a problem of constructing what we now call Green's functions, and argued that Green's function exists for any domain. His methods were not rigorous by today's standards, but the ideas were highly influential in the subsequent developments. The next steps in the study of the Dirichlet's problem were taken by Karl Friedrich Gauss, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) and Peter Gustav Lejeune Dirichlet, after whom the problem was named, and the solution to the problem (at least for the ball) using the Poisson kernel was known to Dirichlet (judging by his 1850 paper submitted to the Prussian academy). Lord Kelvin and Dirichlet suggested a solution to the problem by a variational method based on the minimization of "Dirichlet's energy". According to Hans Freudenthal (in the Dictionary of Scientific Biography, vol. 11), Bernhard Riemann was the first mathematician who solved this variational problem based on a method which he called Dirichlet's principle. The existence of a unique solution is very plausible by the "physical argument": any charge distribution on the boundary should, by the laws of electrostatics, determine an electrical potential as solution. However, Karl Weierstrass found a flaw in Riemann's argument, and a rigorous proof of existence was found only in 1900 by David Hilbert, using his direct method in the calculus of variations. It turns out that the existence of a solution depends delicately on the smoothness of the boundary and the prescribed data.Essay on the Application of Mathematical Analysis to the Theories of Electricity and Magnetism
The Green's function to be used in the above integral is one which vanishes on the boundary:
In some simple cases the Dirichlet problem can be solved explicitly. For example, the solution to the Dirichlet problem for the unit disk in R2 is given by the Poisson integral formula.
The integrand is known as the Poisson kernel; this solution follows from the Green's function in two dimensions:
For bounded domains, the Dirichlet problem can be solved using the Perron method, which relies on the maximum principle for subharmonic functions. This approach is described in many text books. It is not well-suited to describing smoothness of solutions when the boundary is smooth. Another classical Hilbert space approach through Sobolev spaces does yield such information. The solution of the Dirichlet problem using Sobolev spaces for planar domains can be used to prove the smooth version of the Riemann mapping theorem. Bell (1992) has outlined a different approach for establishing the smooth Riemann mapping theorem, based on the reproducing kernels of Szegő and Bergman, and in turn used it to solve the Dirichlet problem. The classical methods of potential theory allow the Dirichlet problem to be solved directly in terms of integral operators, for which the standard theory of compact and Fredholm operators is applicable. The same methods work equally for the Neumann problem.
Dirichlet problems are typical of elliptic partial differential equations, and potential theory, and the Laplace equation in particular. Other examples include the biharmonic equation and related equations in elasticity theory.
Consider the Dirichlet problem for the wave equation describing a string attached between walls with one end attached permanently and the other moving with the constant velocity i.e. the d'Alembert equation on the triangular region of the Cartesian product of the space and the time:
As one can easily check by substitution, the solution fulfilling the first condition is