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While sense can keep it on. And, sweetest, fairest,

As I my poor self did exchange for you,

To your so infinite loss, so in our trifles

I still win of you: for my sake wear this...

Shakespeare

connecting adjacent nodes of a square lattice. A small portion of such a grid is illustrated

below.

Between every pair of adjacent nodes is a resistance R, and were told that this grid of

resistors extends to infinity in all direction, and were asked to determine the effective

resistance between two adjacent nodes, or, more generally, between any two specified

nodes of the lattice.

For adjacent nodes, the usual solution of this puzzle is to consider the current flow field

as the sum of two components, one being the flow field of a grid with current injected

into a single node, and the other being the flow field of a grid with current extracted from

a single (adjacent) node. The symmetry of the two individual cases then enables us to

infer the flow rates through the immediately adjacent resistors, and hence we can

conclude (as explained in more detail below) that the effective resistance between two

adjacent nodes is R/2. This solution has a certain intuitive plausibility, since its similar to

how the potential field of an electric dipole can be expressed as the sum of the fields of a

positive and a negative charge, each of which is spherically symmetrical about its

respective charge. Just as the electric potential satisfies the Laplace equation, the voltages

of the grid nodes satisfy the discrete from of the Laplace equation, which is to say, the

voltage at each node is the average of the voltages of the four surrounding nodes. Its also

easy to see that solutions are additive, in the sense that the sum of any two solutions for

given boundary conditions is a solution for the sum of the boundary conditions.

If we accept the premise of an infinite grid of resistors, along with some tacit assumption

about the behavior of the voltages and currents at infinity, and if we accept the idea that

we can treat the current fields for the positive and negative nodes separately, and that

applying a voltage to a single node of the infinite grid will result in some current flow

into the grid, the puzzle is easily solved by simple symmetry considerations. We assert

(somewhat naively) that if we inject (say) four Amperes of current into a given node, with

no removal of current at any finite point of the grid, the current will flow equally out

through the four resistors, so one Ampere will flow toward each of the four adjacent

nodes. This one Ampere must flow out through the three other lines emanating from that

adjacent node, as indicated in the left hand figure below.

The figure on the right shows the four nodes surrounding the negative node, assuming

we are extracting four Amperes from that node (with no current injected at any finite

node of the grid). Again, simple symmetry dictates the distribution of currents indicated

in the figure. Adding the two current fields together, we see that the link between the

positive and negative nodes carries a total of 2 Amperes away from the positive node, and

the other three links emanating from the positive node carry away a combined total of 1 +

1 + 1 (2 ) = 2 Amperes. Thus the direct link carries the same current as all the other

paths, so the resistance of the direct link equals the effective resistance of the entire grid

excluding that link. The direct link is in parallel with the remainder of the grid, so the

combined resistance is simply R/2.

This is an appealing argument, and it certainly gives the right answer (as can be

verified by other methods), but the premises are somewhat questionable, and the

reasoning involves some subtle issues that need to be addressed before it can qualify as a

rigorous proof. The fundamental problem with the simple argument, as stated above, is

that it relies on the notion of forcing current into a node of an infinite grid, without

satisfactorily explaining where this current goes. One hand-waving explanation is that

we may regard the grid as being grounded at infinity, but this isnt strictly valid,

because the resistance from any given node to infinity is infinite. This is easily seen

from the fact that a given node is surrounded by a sequence of concentric squares, and the

number of resistive links beginning from the central node and expanding outward to

successive concentric squares are 4, 12, 20, 28, , etc., which implies that the total

resistance to infinity is (at least roughly)

The odd harmonic series diverges, so this resistance is infinite. Therefore, in order for

current to enter the grid at a node and exit at infinity, we would require infinite potential

(i.e., voltage) between the node and the grid points at infinity. To make the argument

rigorous, we could consider a large but finite grid, and convince ourselves that the

behavior approaches the expected result in the limit as the grid size increases. This is not

entirely trivial, because we must be sure the two sequences of expanding grids, one

concentric about the positive node and one concentric about the negative node, approach

mutually compatible boundary conditions in the limit, giving zero net flow to infinity.

To evaluate this limit, the voltage at the central node (relative to the voltage at infinity)

must approach infinity to provide a fixed amount of current. This is discussed further in

another note, where we also discuss the arbitrariness of the solution for a truly infinite

grid. Strictly speaking, for a truly infinite grid, the solution is indeterminate unless some

asymptotic boundary conditions are imposed (which are not specified in the usual

statements of the problem).

The unphysical aspect of the problem can also be seen in the fact that the flow field is

assumed to be fully developed, to infinity, a situation that could not have been established

by any realistic physical process in any finite amount of time. Of course, the postulated

grid consists purely of ideal resistances, with no capacitances or inductances, so there are

no dynamics to consider, and hence one could argue that the entire current field is

established instantaneously to infinity - but this merely illustrates that the postulated grid

is idealized to the point of violating the laws of physics. All real circuits have capacitance

and inductance, which is why the propagation speed cannot be infinite. One might think

that such idealizations are harmless for this problem, but they actually render the problem

totally indeterminate if we apply them rigorously. Our intuitive sense that there is a

unique answer comes precisely from our unconscious imposition of physically

reasonable asymptotic behavior emanatng from a localized source, based on the

asymptotic behavior of a finite grid as the size increases a conception that arises from

our physical notions of locality and finite propagation of effects, notions which are not

justified in the idealized setting.

Setting aside these issues, and just naively adopting the usual tacit assumptions about the

asyptotic conditions of the grid, we can consider the more general problem of

determining the resistance between any two nodes. The most common method is based

on superimposing solutions of the basic difference equation. Again this method tacitly

imposes plausible boundary conditions to force a unique answer, essentially by requiring

that the grid behaves like the limit of a large finite grid. Consider first the trivial example

of a one-dimensional grid of unit resistors, in which the net current emanating from the

nth node is given by

where we stipulate that I0 = 1 Amp and In = 0 for all n 0. Notice that for all n 0

would could negate the signs of the indices on the right hand side without affecting the

equation, because the net current is zero at those nodes, and the equations above and

below the origin are symmetrical. However, the case n = 0 is different if we stipulate that

V1 = V1, and if we stipulate that I0 = -1, which implies

It follows that, for unit resistors, if we stipulate V0 = 0, we must have V1 = 1/2. Therefore,

if we imagine current being extracted from just the node at the origin, while all the other

nodes have zero net current flow, then for all n 0 we have the relation

For any value of that satisfies this equation, its clear that one solution of the preceding

difference equation is Vn = An for any constant A. However, the characteristic equation

has the repeated roots 1 = 2 = 1, so we have a resonance term, and the general form of

the solution of the discrete difference equation is

for some constants A and B, chosen to make the solution consistent with the specified

boundary conditions. We want V0 = 0, so we must put A = 0. Also, since the recurrence

relation doesnt apply at n = 0, we can chose B equal to +1/2 for positive n, and 1/2 for

negative n, which amounts to taking the absolute of n, giving the result Vn = |n|/2. This

implies that the effective resistance between nodes separated by k resistors is (as

expected) simply kR, where R is the resistance of an individual resistor.

We can similarly consider the difference equation for grids of higher dimensions. For a

two-dimensional grid, the current emanating from node (m,n) for all m,n > 0 is

We stipulate that Im,n = 0 for all m,n > 0, so the characteristic equation for this twodimensional difference equation is

This shows that there are infinitely many eigenvalues. Indeed, for any value of we

can solve for the corresponding value , and vice versa. For any such pair of values ,

satisfying this equation its clear that a solution of the preceding difference equation is

given by Vm,n = A(,) mn for any constant A(,). If we define parameters , such that

i = ln() and i = ln(), then these solutions can be written as

Now, any combination of these solutions will satisfy the original difference equation for

nodes with zero net current, but we want I0,0 = 1 Amp, and to achieve this we (again)

take the absolute values of the indices, i.e., we define

For values of m and n different from zero the has no effect the difference equation, i.e., it

still gives zero net current. However, for m = n = 0 we get

This shows that if we put V0,0 = 0 then for -1 Amp of current we must have V1,0 = 1/4

volts, which is consistent with the fact that the resistance between two adjacent nodes of

1/2 ohms, because we superimpose this solution with an equal and opposite solution

centered on the adjacent node with +1 Amp current.

We dont yet have a definite solution satisfying all the conditions, because with the

absolute values of the indices we generally get non-zero currents for Im,0 and I0,n. To solve

this problem, we will simply superimpose several of these solutions, and impose the

requirement that the net currents of the form Im,0 and I0,n all vanish. To do this, we

integrate the solutions of the form (4) over ranging from to . Thus we have

with the understanding that is given as a function of by equation (3). We will find that

this determines the function A( ,). Consider first the requirement Im,0 = 0. Inserting the

expression for Vm,0 from equation (4) into equation (1), we have, for all m > 0,

Now we seek to superimpose many of these solutions such that the net current for these

expressions is zero. To do this, we will integrate this expression over ranging from

to . Thus we have

At this point we recall that the exponential Fourier series for an arbitrary function f(x) is

Therefore we have

where weve made use of the fact that I0,0 = 1 and Im,0 = 0 for all m 0. From this we

infer that

Again, its understood that is given as a function of by equation (3). It might seem as

if we cannot now force the currents I0,n to equal zero. If we had imposed that requirement

first, instead of Im,0 = 0, by symmetry we would have found

which seems superficially different from (7). However, notice that the limits of

integration are reversed, because and progress in opposite directions. Furthermore, if

we take the differential of the characteristic equation (3) we get

which proves that (7) and (8) are equivalent. As discussed previously, the resistance

between the origin and the node (m,n) is twice the value of Vm,n V0,0, so we have the

formula

This can be split into two integrals, one ranging from to 0, and the other ranging from

0 to +, as follows:

Reversing the sign of in the first integral, and noting that cos(-) = cos(), this can be

written as

For example, the resistance between two diagonal corners of a lattice square is given by

As ranges from 0 to , the parameter s ranges from 1 to -1, so the preceding integral can

be written as

we have

(This same result can be derived purely algebraically, without the use of Fourier series, as

described in another note.) Knowing this resistance value for diagonal nodes, and the

resistance value 1/2 for adjacent nodes, we can immediately compute the resistances to

several other nodes by simple application of the basic difference equation. Thus we have

the resistances relative to the origin shown below.

Returning to equation (9), we see that the same substitutions and identities that we used

to simplify R1,1 enable us to write the general expression as

cos(). The first several of these polynomials are

The coefficients of these polynomials are given by a simple recurrence relation, and they

also have a simple trigonometric expression. However, we dont actually need to deal

with these polynomials, because it is sufficient to determine the values of R0,n by the

above integral, and then all the remaining resistances are easily determined by simple

algebra. Hence we can focus on just the integrals

where

and so on.

Another way of simplifying the integrals involved in the infinite grid solution is to return

to equation (7), focusing on the case of positive m and n with m > n, and recalling that

the resistance from the origin to the node (m,n) is twice the voltage given by (7), so we

have

where, for convenience, weve shifted the limits of integration from the range [-,+] to

the range [0,2]. Now suppose we define new variables r,s such that = r + s and = r

s. Substituting for and in equation (3) gives the relation cos(r)cos(s) = 1. In terms of

these parameters equation (10) can be written as

so we have

To this point we have continued to specify the limits of integration in terms of , but now

we note as ranges over the real values from 0 to 2 we have t = (1i) where is a realvalued parameter ranging from infinity to 0. Hence we make this change of variable to

express the result as

where weve made use of the fact that the variable can be multiplied by an arbitrary

factor inside the curved parentheses without affecting the integral. For the first diagonal

node we have m = n = 1 and the integral is simply

For the resistances to the other nodes along the diagonal of the lattice, notice that for any

m we have

from which all the other resistances are easily computed. In another note we consider the

same problem from a more algebraic standpoint.

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