Discrete Green's functions and spectral graph theory for computationally efficient thermal modeling

Kevin D. Cole, Alex Riensche, Prahalada K. Rao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


This work concerns solutions of the heat equation with the spectral graph method, for which the temperature is defined at discrete points in the domain and the spatial relationship among the points is described by a graph. The heat equation on the graph is solved using matrix techniques involving the eigenvectors and eigenvalues of the Laplacian matrix. The spectral graph approach precludes the computationally intensive meshing and numerous time-integration steps of the finite element method. In the present work, the spectral graph method is extended to include heat loss at the boundaries with a generalized boundary condition, and physics-based edge weights are introduced which simplify the calibration process. From this approach a discrete Green's function is defined which allows for solutions under a variety of heating conditions including: space-varying initial conditions; time-and-space varying internal heating; and, time-and-space-varying heating at boundaries of type 1 (Dirichlet), type 2 (Neumann) and type 3 (Robin). Results are provided for benchmark heat transfer problems in one spatial dimension and in three spatial dimensions, and verification is provided by comparison with exact analytical solutions and finite difference solutions. The spectral graph method converges within 0.4% error of the analytical solution. The practical utility of the approach is demonstrated by thermal simulation of a multilayer additive manufacturing process. The spectral graph results are compared to experimentally-obtained temperature data for two metal parts, with error less than 5% of the experimental measurements, with computation time less than one minute on a desktop computer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number122112
JournalInternational Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • Additive manufacturing
  • Greens_function
  • Heat conduction
  • Semi-analytical method
  • Spectral graph method
  • Thermal modeling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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