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Workshop: Differentiable Programming Workshop

A research framework for writing differentiable PDE discretizations in JAX

Antonio Stanziola · Simon Arridge


Differentiable simulators are an emerging concept with applications in several fields, from reinforcement learning to optimal control. Their distinguishing feature is the ability to calculate analytic gradients with respect to the input parameters. Like neural networks, which are constructed by composing several building blocks called layers, a simulation often requires computing the output of an operator that can itself be decomposed into elementary units chained together. While each layer of a neural network represents a specific discrete operation, the same operator can have multiple representations, depending on the discretization employed and the research question that needs to be addressed. Here, we propose a simple design pattern to construct a library of differentiable operators and discretizations, by representing operators as mappings between families of continuous functions, parametrized by finite vectors. We demonstrate the approach on an acoustic optimization problem, where the Helmholtz equation is discretized using Fourier spectral methods, and differentiability is demonstrated using gradient descent to optimize the speed of sound of an acoustic lens.