Suppose that over time the *x* and *y* coordinates of a point are both given by a harmonic oscillator, i.e.

*x*(*t*) = cos(*n*_{x} *t* + φ_{x})

*y*(*t*) = cos(*n*_{y} *t* + φ_{y})

Then the resulting path is called a **Lissajous curve**.

If you add a *z* coordinate also given by harmonic oscillator

*z*(*t*) = cos(*n*_{z} *t* + φ_{z})

then the result is a **Lissajous knot**. This means that if we project a Lissajous *knot* onto a coordinate plane, we get a Lissajous *curve*.

For example, here is a Lissajous knot. See the code at the bottom for parameter details.

Here are its projections onto the *xy* plane,

the *yz* plane,

and the *xz* plane.

If you’ve ever seen an oscilloscope, you may have seen Lissajous curves on its screen.

In order to get a knot, we require that the frequencies, the *n*‘s, are pairwise relatively prime. We also require that the curve not intersect itself, which imposes a constraint on the phases, the φ’s, as well.

Last week I used torus knots as an example of a family of knots. The Lissajous knots are a distinct family of knots: no torus knot is also a Lissajous knot.

Here’s the Mathematica code to produce the images above.

x[t_] := Cos[3 t] y[t_] := Cos[4 t + Sqrt[2]] z[t_] := Cos[5 t + Sqrt[3]] ParametricPlot3D[{x[t], y[t], z[t]}, {t, 0, 2 Pi}] ParametricPlot[{x[t], y[t]}, {t, 0, 2 Pi}] ParametricPlot[{y[t], z[t]}, {t, 0, 2 Pi}] ParametricPlot[{x[t], z[t]}, {t, 0, 2 Pi}]