Tutorial

To follow along with this tutorial in an interactive Python session, if you wish to do so, make sure you have downloaded the demonstration model capacitor.mph from MPh’s source-code repository. Save it in the same folder from which you run Python.

It is a model of a non-ideal, inhomogeneous, parallel-plate capacitor, in that its electrodes are of finite extent, the edges are rounded to avoid excessive electric-field strengths, and two media of different dielectric permittivity fill the separate halves of the electrode gap. Running the model only requires a license for the core Comsol platform, but not for any add-on module beyond that.

Screen-shot of demonstration model "capacitor" in Comsol GUI

Starting Comsol

In the beginning was the client. And the client was with Comsol. And the client was Comsol. So let there be a Comsol client.

>>> import mph
>>> client = mph.start(cores=1)

The start() function returns a client object, i.e. an instance of the Client class. It takes roughly ten seconds for the client to spin up.

In this example, the Comsol back-end is instructed to use but one processor core. If the optional parameter is omitted, it will use all cores available on the machine. Restricting this resource is useful when other simulations are running in parallel. Note, however, that within the same Java and therefore Python session, only one Comsol client can run at a time. So the Client class cannot be instantiated more than once. If you wish to work around this limitation imposed by Comsol, and realize the full parallelization potential of your simulation hardware, you will need to run multiple Python processes, one for each client.

Managing models

Now that we have the client up and running, we can tell it to load a model file.

>>> model = client.load('capacitor.mph')

It returns a model object, i.e. an instance of the Model class. We will learn what to do with it further down. For now, it was simply loaded into memory. We can list the names of all models the client currently manages.

>>> client.names()
['capacitor']

If we were to load more models, that list would be longer. Note that the above simply displays the names of the models. The actual model objects can be recalled as follows:

>>> client.models()
[Model('capacitor')]

We will generally not need to bother with these lists, as we would rather hold on to the model reference we received from the client. But to free up memory, we could remove a specific model.

>>> client.remove(model)

Or we could remove all models at once — restart from a clean slate.

>>> client.clear()
>>> client.names()
[]

Inspecting models

Let’s have a look at the parameters defined in the model:

>>> model.parameters()
{'U': '1[V]', 'd': '2[mm]', 'l': '10[mm]', 'w': '2[mm]'}

With a little more typing, we can include the parameter descriptions:

>>> for (name, value) in model.parameters().items():
...     description = model.description(name)
...     print(f'{description:20} {name} = {value}')
...
applied voltage      U = 1[V]
electrode spacing    d = 2[mm]
plate length         l = 10[mm]
plate width          w = 2[mm]

Two custom materials are defined:

>>> model.materials()
['medium 1', 'medium 2']

They will be used by these physics interfaces:

>>> model.physics()
['electrostatic', 'electric currents']

To solve the model, we will run these studies:

>>> model.studies()
['static', 'relaxation', 'sweep']

Notice something? All features are referred to by their names, also known as labels, such as medium 1. But not by their tags, such as mat1, which litter not just the Comsol programming interface, but, depending on display settings, its graphical user interface as well.

Tags are an implementation detail. An unnecessary annoyance to anyone who has ever scripted a Comsol model from either Matlab or Java. Unnecessary because names/labels are equally enforced to be unique, so tags are not needed for disambiguation. And annoying because we cannot freely change a tag. Say, we remove a feature, but then realize we need it after all, and thus recreate it. It may now have a different tag. And any code that references it has to adapted.

This is Python though. We hide implementation details as much as we can. Abstract them out. So refer to things in the model tree by what you name them in the model tree. If you remove a feature and then put it back in, just give it the same name, and nothing has changed. You may also set up different models to be automated by the same script. No problem, as long as your naming scheme is consistent throughout.

Modifying parameters

As we have learned from the list above, the model defines a parameter named d that denotes the electrode spacing. If we know a parameter’s name, we can access its value directly.

>>> model.parameter('d')
'2[mm]'

If we pass in not just the name, but also a value, that same method modifies it.

>>> model.parameter('d', '1[mm]')
>>> model.parameter('d')
'1[mm]'

This particular model’s only geometry sequence

>>> model.geometries()
['geometry']

is set up to depend on that very value. So it will effectively change the next time it is rebuilt. This will happen automatically once we solve the model. But we may also trigger the geometry rebuild right away.

>>> model.build()

Running simulations

To solve the model, we need to create a mesh. This would also be taken care of automatically, but let’s make sure this critical step passes without a hitch.

>>> model.mesh()

Now run the first study, the one set up to compute the electrostatic solution, i.e. the instantaneous and purely capacitive response to the applied voltage, before leakage currents have any time to set in.

>>> model.solve('static')

This modest simulation should not take longer than a few seconds. While we are at it, we may as well solve the remaining two studies, one time-dependent, the other a parameter sweep.

>>> model.solve('relaxation')
>>> model.solve('sweep')

They take a little longer, but not much. We could have solved all three studies at once, or rather, all of the studies defined in the model.

>>> model.solve()

Evaluating results

Let’s see what we found out and evaluate the electrostatic capacitance, i.e. at zero time or infinite frequency.

>>> model.evaluate('2*es.intWe/U^2', 'pF')
array(1.31948342)

All results are returned as NumPy arrays. Though “global” evaluations such as this one could be readily cast to a regular Python float.

We might also ask where the electric field is strongest and have evaluate() perform a “local” evaluation.

>>> (x, y, E) = model.evaluate(['x', 'y', 'es.normE'])
>>> E.max()
1480.2743893783063
>>> imax = E.argmax()
>>> x[imax], y[imax]
(-0.000503768636204733, -0.004088126064370979)

Note how this time we did not specify any units. When left out, values are returned in default units. Here specifically, the field strength in V/m and its coordinates in meters.

We also did not specify the dataset, even though there are three different studies that have separate solutions and datasets associated along with them. When not named specifically, the default dataset is used. That generally refers to the study defined first, here “static”. The default dataset is the one resulting from that study, here — inconsistently — named “electrostatic”.

>>> model.datasets()
['electrostatic', 'time-dependent', 'parametric sweep', 'sweep//solution']

Now let’s look at the time dependence. The two media in this model have a small, but finite conductivity, leading to leakage currents in the long run. As the two conductivities also differ in value, charges will accumulate at the interface between the media. This interface charge leads to a gradual relaxation of the electric field over time, and thus to a change of the capacitance as well. We can tell that from its value at the first and last time step.

>>> C = '2*ec.intWe/U^2'
>>> model.evaluate(C, 'pF', 'time-dependent', 'first')
array(1.31948342)
>>> model.evaluate(C, 'pF', 'time-dependent', 'last')
array(1.48410283)

The 'first' and 'last' time step defined in that study are 0 and 1 second, respectively.

>>> (indices, values) = model.inner('time-dependent')
>>> values[0]
0.0
>>> values[-1]
1.0

Obviously, the capacitance also varies if we change the distance between the electrodes. In the model, a parameter sweep was used to study that. These “outer” solutions, just like the time-dependent “inner” solutions, are referenced by indices, i.e. integer numbers, each of which corresponds to a particular parameter value.

>>> (indices, values) = model.outer('parametric sweep')
>>> indices
array([1, 2, 3], dtype=int32)
>>> values
array([1., 2., 3.]
>>> model.evaluate(C, 'pF', 'parametric sweep', 'first', 1)
array(1.31948342)
>>> model.evaluate(C, 'pF', 'parametric sweep', 'first', 2)
array(0.73678535)
>>> model.evaluate(C, 'pF', 'parametric sweep', 'first', 3)
array(0.52865775)

Then again, with a scripting interface such as this one, we may as well run the time-dependent study a number of times and change the parameter value from one run to the next. General parameter sweeps can get quite complicated in terms of how they map to indices as soon as combinations of parameters are allowed. Support for this may therefore be limited.

Exporting results

Two exports are defined in the demonstration model:

>>> model.exports()
['data', 'image']

The first exports the solution of the electrostatic field as text data. The second renders an image of the plot featured in the screen-shot at the top of the page.

We can trigger all exports at once by calling model.export(). Or we can be more selective and just export one: model.export('image'). The exported files will end up in the same folder as the model file itself and have the names that were assigned in the model’s export nodes. Unless we supply custom file names or paths by adding them as the second argument.

>>> model.export('image', 'static field.png')

The idea here is to first set up sensible exports in the GUI, such as images that illustrate the simulation results, and then trigger them from a script for a particular simulation run, the results of which may depend on parameter values.

Saving results

To save the model we just solved, along with its solution, just do:

>>> model.save()

This would overwrite the existing file we loaded the model from. To avoid this, we could specify a different file name.

>>> model.save('capacitor_solved')

The .mph extension will be added automatically if it is not included in the first place.

Maybe we don’t actually need to keep the solution and mesh data around. The model was quick enough to solve, and we do like free disk space. We would just like to be able to look up modeling details somewhere down the line. Comsol also keeps track of the modeling history: a log of which features were created, deleted, modified, and in which order. Typically, these details are irrelevant. We can prune them by resetting that record.

>>> model.clear()
>>> model.reset()
>>> model.save('capacitor_compacted')

Most functionality that the library offers is covered in this tutorial. The few things that were left out can be gleaned from the API documentation. A number of use-case examples are showcased in chapter Demonstrations. That chapter and the API documentation also explain how to go beyond the scope of this library and access the full Comsol API from Python, if needed.