This paper presents an electronic spreadsheet model of the Van der Pol oscillator, a well-known nonlinear second-order ordinary differential equation. The spreadsheet features a number of dynamic controls that permit the user to alter the parameters of the Van der Pol equation and explore the effects of such changes on the solution. Furthermore, the spreadsheet exploits its graphics capabilities to produce a rendition of the limit cycle associated with the (periodic) steady-state solution to this nonlinear equation. The Van der Pol equation models many phenomena in which periodic behavior occurs such as the oscillations encountered in electronic circuits and biological systems. After investigating the behavior of the Van der Pol oscillator with the accompanying spreadsheet, the reader will have gained a better appreciation of limit cycles and nonlinear dynamics.
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