High order Whitney forms on simplices

12 November 2020

Whitney elements on simplices are perhaps the most widely used finite elements in computational electromagnetics. They offer the simplest construction of polynomial discrete differential forms on simplicial complexes. Their associated degrees of freedom (dofs) have a very clear physical meaning and give a recipe for discretizing physical balance laws, e.g., Maxwell’s equations. As interest grew for the use of high order schemes, such as hp-finite element or spectral element methods, higher-order extensions of Whitney forms have become an important computational tool, appreciated for their better convergence and accuracy properties. However, it has remained unclear what kind of cochains such elements should be associated with: Can the corresponding dofs be assigned to precise geometrical elements of the mesh, just as, for instance, a degree of freedom for the space of Whitney 1-forms belongs to a specific edge? We address this localization issue. Why is this an issue? The existing constructions of high order extensions of Whitney elements follow the traditional FEM path of using higher and higher “moments” to define the needed dofs. As a result, such high order finite k-elements in d dimensions include dofs associated to q-simplices, with k < q ≤ d, whose physical interpretation is obscure. The present paper offers an approach based on the so-called “small simplices”, a set of subsimplices obtained by homothetic contractions of the original mesh simplices, centered at mesh nodes (or more generally, when going up in degree, at points of the principal lattice of each original simplex). Degrees of freedom of the high-order Whitney k-forms are then associated with small simplices of dimension k only.  We provide an explicit  basis for these elements on simplices and we justify this approach from a geometric point of view (in the spirit of Hassler Whitney's approach, still successful 30 years after his death).   

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  • Computational Mathematics and Applications Seminar