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Partial Derivatives and their Geometric Interpretation


The purpose of this lab is to acquaint you with using Maple to compute partial derivatives.

Getting Started

To assist you, there is a worksheet associated with this lab that contains examples. You can copy that worksheet to your home directory with the following command, which must be run in a terminal window, not in Maple.

cp /math/calclab/MA1024/Pardiff_start_B08.mws My_Documents

You can copy the worksheet now, but you should read through the lab before you load it into Maple. Once you have read to the exercises, start up Maple, load the getting started worksheet and go through it carefully. Then you can start working on the exercises.


For a function $f(x)$ of a single real variable, the derivative $f'(x)$ gives information on whether the graph of $f$ is increasing or decreasing. Finding where the derivative is zero was important in finding extreme values. For a function $F(x,y)$ of two (or more) variables, the situation is more complicated.

Partial derivatives

A differentiable function, $F(x,y)$, of two variables has two partial derivatives: $\partial F /\partial x$ and $\partial F /\partial
y$. As you have learned in class, computing partial derivatives is very much like computing regular derivatives. The main difference is that when you are computing $\partial F /\partial x$, you must treat the variable $y$ as if it was a constant and vice-versa when computing $\partial F /\partial

The Maple commands for computing partial derivatives are D and diff. The Getting Started worksheet has examples of how to use these commands to compute partial derivatives.


  1. Compute the three distinct second order partial derivatives of

    \begin{displaymath}f(x,y)=\frac{\exp(x+y)}{(x^2+y^2)} \end{displaymath}

    at the point $(-1,1)$ using the diff command and then again using the D command.

  2. Given the function

    \begin{displaymath}k(x,y)=2xy^3-3x^3y+y-x^2y^2-xy^2 \end{displaymath}

    Plot the function and the plane $y=-4$ on the same graph. Use intervals $-5 \leq x \leq 5$, $-5 \leq y \leq 5$, $-500 \leq z \leq 500$.
    Find the derivative of $k$ in the $y=-4$ plane.
    Graph the two-dimensional intersection of the plane $y=-4$ and $k$ on the same graph.
    Does your two-dimensional graph look like the intersection from your three-dimensional graph? Be sure to use the same ranges to properly compare and rotate the 3-D graph.

  3. Find the equation of the plane tangent to the surface $z=\displaystyle \frac{x+y}{\sqrt{1+9x^2+9y^2}}$ at the point $\displaystyle (\frac{1}{2},\frac{1}{2})$ and find the equation of the plane tangent to the graph at $\displaystyle (-\frac{1}{2},-\frac{1}{2})$. Plot both tangent planes on the same graph as the surface over the intervals $-2 \leq x \leq 2$ and $-2 \leq y \leq 2$. Be sure to rotate the graph to see that the planes are tangent to the surface.

next up previous
Next: About this document ... Up: lab_template Previous: lab_template
Dina J. Solitro-Rassias