5 Best Ways to Differentiate a Polynomial with Multidimensional Coefficients over Specific Axes in Python

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πŸ’‘ Problem Formulation: Differentiating polynomials is foundational in various fields of science and engineering. However, when these polynomials are represented as multidimensional arrays of coefficients in Python, differentiating them along a specific axis adds a layer of complexity. If you have a 3D array where each ‘slice’ represents a polynomial’s coefficients, for example, you might want to differentiate each polynomial with respect to its variables across one particular axis. This article introduces you to five effective methods for achieving just that.

Method 1: Using NumPy’s gradient Function

This method leverages the power of NumPy’s gradient function which is designed to compute the gradient of an N-dimensional array. It can be used to differentiate a multidimensional array of polynomial coefficients along an axis by approximating the derivative. The function specification is numpy.gradient(f, *varargs, axis=None, edge_order=1), where f is your input array and axis specifies the axis of differentiation.

Here’s an example:

import numpy as np

# Assume coefficients of 2D polynomials in a 3D array
coefficients = np.array([
    [[2, 3], [4, 6]],
    [[0, 1], [2, 8]]
# Differentiate with respect to the last axis
d_coefficients = np.gradient(coefficients, axis=2)


The output of this code snippet will display the array of differentiated coefficients

[[[3. 3.]
  [6. 6.]]

 [[1. 1.]
  [8. 8.]]]

This code first imports NumPy and defines a 3D array representing the coefficients of our polynomials. The call to np.gradient with axis=2 ensures that we are differentiating each slide of our 3D matrix (which represents separate polynomials) with respect to the variable corresponding to the third axis. This is a powerful tool for performing numerical differentiation over multidimensional data.

Method 2: Using NumPy’s polyder Function

NumPy’s polyder function is specifically built for dealing with polynomial differentiation. It can be applied to a polynomial represented by its coefficient array and can handle differentiation over a specific axis using the axis parameter. The syntax is numpy.polyder(p, m=1, axis=0) where p is the array of polynomial coefficients and m is the order of differentiation.

Here’s an example:

import numpy as np

# Polynomial coefficients for 2D polynomials
coefficients = np.array([
    [1, 0, -2],
    [3, 2, 1]

# Differentiate w.r.t. the horizontal axis
d_coefficients = np.polyder(coefficients, axis=1)


The output:

[[ 0 -2]
 [ 2  1]]

In this code snippet, we are working with a 2D array where each row represents a polynomial. The np.polyder function is used with the axis=1 parameter to differentiate each polynomial with respect to its horizontal axis (essentially the x-axis of each polynomial). The output are the differentiated coefficients of each corresponding polynomial.

Method 3: Using SciPy’s Derivative Function

SciPy, another powerful scientific library in Python, offers a more general purpose function scipy.misc.derivative which can be used to compute the derivatives of functions. This function can be applied to evaluate the derivative at a series of points and thus can also work with polynomial coefficients. The specification includes several parameters for tuning the differentiation precision.

Here’s an example:

import numpy as np
from scipy.misc import derivative

# Define a polynomial function
def poly(x):
    return 3 * x**2 + 2 * x - 5

# Evaluate derivative at multiple points
x_vals = np.array([1, 2, 3])
d_poly = np.array([derivative(poly, xi, dx=1e-6) for xi in x_vals])


The output of the derivative evaluations:

[ 8. 14. 20.]

In this example, we define a polynomial in its functional form and use the derivative function from SciPy’s misc module to calculate its derivative at several points. We use a list comprehension to apply the derivative function to each point in an array. The result is an array of the derivatives evaluated at the given points. This method shines when you have explicit polynomials and need to find derivatives at certain points.

Method 4: Manual Differentiation Using the Power Rule

If the multidimensional array represents polynomial coefficients clearly, you can manually implement differentiation using the power rule. A simple loop can be utilized to multiply each coefficient by its power (index) and decrease the power by one. While this method may not be as efficient as built-in functions, it allows for a deeper understanding of the differentiation process.

Here’s an example:

# No need to import special libraries.

# Assume we have 1D polynomial coefficients
coefficients = [4, 0, -3, 2]  # Corresponding to 4x^3 - 3x + 2

# Differentiate using the power rule
d_coefficients = [i * c for i, c in enumerate(coefficients)][1:]


The output:

[0, -6, 6]

We start with a list representing the coefficients of a 1D polynomial. The differentiation is then manually computed using list comprehension with the power rule: each coefficient is multiplied by its corresponding index, which represents the power in the polynomial term. We start our list comprehension from the second term since the first term (constant) disappears in differentiation. This is a simple and instructive method but less practical for very large arrays or higher-dimensional cases.

Bonus One-Liner Method 5: Using NumPy’s poly1d and Deriving with the Power Rule

For one-dimensional polynomials, NumPy’s poly1d object provides a neat and concise way to represent polynomials and includes an easy method for differentiation. Simply define the polynomial using poly1d and call its deriv() method to get the derivative. The result is another poly1d object representing the differentiated polynomial.

Here’s an example:

import numpy as np

# Define a polynomial
p = np.poly1d([3, -2, 1])

# Differentiate using deriv()
d_p = p.deriv()


Output yields:

[ 6 -2]

By utilizing the np.poly1d object to define our polynomial, we can very concisely call the deriv method to differentiate it. This one-liner approach simplifies both the representation and differentiation of polynomials in Python, although it’s limited to one-dimensional polynomials and doesn’t directly handle multidimensional arrays.


  • Method 1: NumPy’s gradient. Strengths: Handles N-dimensional arrays and can approximate derivatives of discretized data. Weaknesses: Calculates an approximate derivative rather than the exact one.
  • Method 2: NumPy’s polyder. Strengths: Exact differentiation of polynomial coefficients. Good for theoretical work. Weaknesses: Limited to polynomial arrays; not for data sampled at irregular intervals.
  • Method 3: SciPy’s derivative. Strengths: General-purpose for functional forms, high precision control. Weaknesses: Requires functional representation of the polynomial; potentially slower for large data sets.
  • Method 4: Manual differentiation with power rule. Strengths: Deepens understanding of differentiation process. Weaknesses: Less efficient and not as robust as library functions.
  • Method 5: NumPy’s poly1d object’s deriv(). Strengths: Concise and clear for 1D polynomials. Weaknesses: Not applicable to multidimensional coefficients.