# Phase Plane Method

The phase plane method refers to graphically determining the existence of limit cycles in the solutions of the differential equation.

The solutions to the differential equation are a family of functions. Graphically, this can be plotted in the phase plane like a two-dimensional vector field. Vectors representing the derivatives of the points with respect to a parameter (say time t), that is (dx/dt, dy/dt), at representative points are drawn. With enough of these arrows in place the system behaviour over the regions of plane in analysis can be visualized and limit cycles can be easily identified.

The entire field is the phase portrait, a particular path taken along a flow line (i.e. a path always tangent to the vectors) is a phase path. The flows in the vector field indicate the time-evolution of the system the differential equation describes.

In this way, phase planes are useful in visualizing the behaviour of physical systems; in particular, of oscillatory systems such as predator-prey models (see Lotkaâ€“Volterra equations). In these models the phase paths can "spiral in" towards zero, "spiral out" towards infinity, or reach neutrally stable situations called centres where the path traced out can be either circular, elliptical, or ovoid, or some variant thereof. This is useful in determining if the dynamics are stable or not.

Other examples of oscillatory systems are certain chemical reactions with multiple steps, some of which involve dynamic equilibria rather than reactions that go to completion. In such cases one can model the rise and fall of reactant and product concentration (or mass, or amount of substance) with the correct differential equations and a good understanding of chemical kinetics.

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