The Finite Element Method


Dr Bishnu Lamichhane, The University of Newcastle


The finite element method is one of the most powerful techniques in approximating the solution of partial differential equations arising in the mathematical modelling of many physical and engineering processes. The finite element method is based on firm mathematical foundation, where mathematical tools from functional analysis, approximation theory and variational calculus are applied to analyse the whole approximation process. This course aims at introducing the theory and computation of finite element techniques for elliptic and parabolic partial differential equations. Applications to heat transfer, elasticity and image processing will be discussed.

Course Overview

This course will provide an introduction to the finite element method. The following topics will be covered:

  • Weak formulation: Weak formulation of partial differential equations, Sobolev spaces, well-posedness, finite element discretisation, error estimates
  • Finite element spaces: Linear and quadratic finite element methods in one, two and three dimensions, construction of some finite element spaces, Reaction-diffusion and convection-reaction-diffusion problems
  • Implementation: Programming linear and quadratic finite element methods for convectionreaction-diffusion problems, time-dependent problems
  • Applications: heat transfer, image processing and solid mechanics

Contact Hours

28 hours of lectures spread over the four weeks, with consultation as requested/required. Some lectures may be held in a computer lab.


  • Analysis and differential equations: Mathematical analysis and differential equations of second year level.
  • MATLAB: Background in programming in MATLAB.


  • Two assignments 50%
  • Final exam 50%

Resources/pre-reading (if available)

Most of the materials will be based on following finite element books:

  • D. Braess, Finite Elements: Theory, Fast Solvers, and Applications in Solid Mechanics, Third Edition, Cambridge University Press, 2007
  • B.D. Reddy, Introductory Fucntional Analysis with Applications to Boundary Value Problems and Finite Elements, Springer, 1998
  • P.G. Ciarlet, The Finite Element Method for Elliptic Problems, SIAM, Philadelphia, 2002

Lecture notes will be provided on a weekly basis.

Not sure if you should sign up for this course?

Take this quiz and look at some of the expected foundational skills in this topic.

Want to review that again? Download the slides

Dr Bishnu Lamichhane,
The University of Newcastle

I received my MSc in industrial mathematics from the University of Kaiserslautern in 2001, and PhD in mathematics from the University of Stuttgart in 2006. I arrived in Australia in 2008 as a postdoctoral fellow at the Australian National University. Now I am a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle. Broadly, I am interested in applied mathematics,numerical analysis and differential equations. My main research focus is approximating solutions of partial differential equations using finite element methods.