Saturday, April 12, 2014

Math Awareness Month Part 2: Infinite Series

Today's page for Math Awareness Month is about a recent video that caused some huge debate. I saw the video a month or two ago, and was very intrigued. I showed it to some of my friends, and we were arguing about the content for quite a while. It also spread rapidly around the math department at Andover, with some teachers bringing up in their classes.

Take a look at the page and try some of the exercises. You will find the outcomes very interesting and mind-boggling. The concept of infinity is difficult for any human being to grasp, making it tons of fun to think about.

Comment below what you think of the video. Do you think it is accurate? What do you think the fallacies are? How could this be a part of string theory if it is mathematically flawed?

In math class last week, we were given the following problem:

I then did the math and determined that the limit would be -1/12. I then called my teacher over, and pointed to that answer. Recalling the video, I asked him if I could rewrite that -1/12 as 1+2+3+4+5+6+7+... as my final answer. Thankfully, he got the reference. In addition to being a funny anecdote, the fact that people got the joke shows how wide of an audience this information has reached and captivated, which is amazing to see.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Math Awareness Month Part 1: Magic Squares

I explained a bit in my last post that April is Math Awareness Month, as well as linked to the poster on In honor of this occasion, I plan to make my posts this month relevant to the pages on the website and the mathematicians hosting them.

April 1st was a day on magic squares, and I am honored to have been the host of that page. There is a recent performance of me doing it, tutorials on how to make various magic squares, and different activities and questions that can further your magic square experience. Click here to see the page.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Conclusion to Half-Tau Month

Though pi day passed a few weeks ago, my brother made the interesting observation that this month is "Pi Month." It is March of 2014, or 3/14. Since I spent the month focused on trigonometry, I never had a chance to honor this joyous occasion until today.

Interestingly, pi does play a huge role in trigonometry. From wrapping functions to sine curves to angle measurements, pi is always popping up. Though this is kind of interesting, trigonometry is also one of the areas where tau really shines. Having just finished topics such as trigonometry, polar coordinates, and wrapping functions, I have found that it is a real struggle to use pi. I found myself converting most of my problems to tau before solving them just because pi made it too confusion.

No video describes these sorts of issues better than Vi Hart's "Pi is (still) Wrong" video, which gets into some of the issues involved with using pi, one of these being trigonometry.

I would also like to make you all aware that next month is Math Awareness Month. The theme this year is Mathematics, Magic, and Mystery, in part to honor the centennial of Martin Gardner's birth. At, there is a poster with 30 squares on it to represent the 30 days of April. On each day of the month, the next square becomes active. I will try to keep an eye on these webpages, as I will probably use April to comment on the topics posted there. Also, April 1st is a page on magic squares, and I am extremely honored to be hosting that day.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Rediscovering Trigonometry Part 4: More Useful Formulas

Click here to see part one of this four week series.
Click here to see part two of this four week series.

Click here to see part three of this four week series.

Now that we have discovered some useful trigonometric identities, we can continue to build on them and create many more. There are an infinite number of trigonometric identities out there (not all of them have been created of course), but we will stick to two in this post: the product-to-sum formulas and the sum-to-product formulas.

Take the four angle addition/subtraction formulas we discovered in our first week. I will use A and B as our letters rather than alpha and beta.

1. sin(A + B) = sinAcosB + cosAsinB
2. sin(A – B) = sinAcosB – cosAsinB
3. cos(A + B) = cosAcosB – sinAsinB
4. cos(A – B) = cosAcosB + sinAsinB

These can be messed with very easily to create some new formulas. For instance, adding together the first two formulas gives:

sin(A + B) + sin(A – B) = sinAcosB + cosAsinB + sinAcosB – cosAsinB
2sinAcosB = sin(A + B) + sin(A – B)
sinAcosB = [sin(A + B) + sin(A – B)]/2

We now have a new identity. This can be now be used to solve a whole new range of problems and generate a whole new range of identities. The same steps can be done by subtracting the second equation from the first, adding the third and fourth together, and subtracting the fourth from the third. This creates the four product-to-sum identities.

These four formulas can be rewritten in a way that converts the sum into a product. Let's rewrite the variables as the following:

a + b = A
a – b = B

Making this change, we can then perform some operations to get a whole new set of formulas. These are called the sum-to-product identities.

These can then be built upon to generate whole new sets of formulas as well. Though the actual mathematics here might be a bit complicated, the idea is simple. Mathematics is always continuing to be developed, and this can be done through building upon previous ideas to form new ideas that help solve new problems. Trigonometry is a great place to see this sort of thing happen.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rediscovering Trigonometry Part 3: Half Angle Formulas

Click here to see part one of this four week series.
Click here to see part two of this four week series.

Last week, we figured out a way to figure out trigonometric functions for twice a given angle. This week, we will do the same, but for determining the trigonometric functions for half a given angle. First, let's discuss what half of an angle means.

Remember that there are 360° in a circle, or 360° in a full revolution. This means that a number like 370° can also be expressed as 10°. Though they are different measurements, plugging 370° into a trigonometric function will yield the same answer as 10°. It is also equivalent in most other situations in mathematics.

For double angle formulas, we did not need to discuss this. This is because when doing double angle formula calculations with these measurements, there would be no issue.

sin(2 • 10°) = sin(20°)
sin(2 • 370°) = sin(740°) = sin(740° - 720°) = sin(20°)

Note that 720° is two full revolutions around a circle, and thus, it can be subtracted off when performing a trigonometric operation.

But performing a half angle calculation will create more of an issue. Let's use 10° and 370° again.

sin(1/2 • 10°) = sin(5°)
sin(1/2 • 370°) = sin(185°)

These answers are not the same. Since they are both in the 0° - 360° interval, we cannot make any assumptions. We do know that the sine and cosine of 185° are the negative sine and negative cosine of 5° respectively, but this proves that they are not equal. If one were go up to 730°, they would be back to normal, however.

sin(1/2 • 730°) = sin(365°) = sin(365° - 360°) = sin(5°)

This means that for every angle, the half sine and half cosine function should yield two answers. The two answers should have the same absolute value, but different signs (they are the same number, but one is negative and one is positive). You may already have a function in your head that can create this type of situation, but we will be able to derive it as well.

Take a variation of the cosine double angle formula that we derived last week:

cos(2α) = 1 – 2sin2α

Let's try to isolate sinα. We would first add that to the left hand side and subtract the cosine of 2α over to the right hand side.

2sin2α = 1 – cos(2α)

Divide through by 2 to get:

sin2α = (1 – cos(2α))/2

And square root both sides to get:

sinα = ±√((1 - cos(2α))/2)

Notice how there is a ± sign in front of the square root. This is because when one squares a positive or negative value, it becomes positive. For instance, the equation x2 = 25 would be solved as x = ±5 because (5)(5) = 25 and (–5)(–5) = 25. The same thing happened here. But also remember what we found before. We proved through logic that the half sine and half cosine of an angle has two answers, one negative and one positive. With that in mind, we can see that this is the accurate way to write the square root (some derivations call for just a positive answer such as the Distance Formula).

Let's replace angle α with α/2 to keep the half angle definition. This gives a formula of:

sin(α/2) = ±√((1 - cosα)/2)

Let's derive a cosine half angle formula. We can take another variation on the cosine double angle formula and go forward.

cos(2α) = 2cos2α – 1

This time, we will only need to add one to both sides to isolate the cosα term. Let's also flip the equation around to make it simpler.

2cos2α = 1 + cos(2α)

Divide through by 2 to get:

cos2α = (1 + cos(2α))/2

And square rooting both sides yields:

cosα = ±√((1 + cos(2α))/2)

Again, we end up with a ± sign in the formula. This means that we probably did everything correctly, as logic shows we will need this sort of sign to create two answers. Rewriting α as α/2 gives a final formula of:

cos(α/2) = ±√((1 + cosα)/2)

It is tough to see what these formulas actually look like in this formatting, so I have written them out in LaTeX so you can see what is going on more conveniently.

These formulas themselves are pretty cool, but the logic involved in finding them is also very interesting. The fact that we could predict the nature of the function before we even found it is really helpful. This can be huge in trying to figure out the right way to go about solving a problem.