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Galileo’s Inclined Planes

This post is based on the maths and ideas of Hahn’s Calculus in Context – which is probably the best mathematics book I’ve read in 20 years of studying and teaching mathematics.  Highly recommended for both students and teachers!

Hahn talks us though the mathematics, experiments and thought process of Galileo as he formulates his momentous theory that in free fall (ignoring air resistance) an object falling for t seconds will fall a distance of ct² where c is a constant.  This is counter-intuitive as we would expect the mass of an object to be an important factor in how far an object falls (i.e that a heavier object would fall faster).  Galileo also helped to overturned Aristotle’s ideas on motion.  Aristotle had argued that any object in motion would eventually stop, Galileo instead argued that with no friction a perfectly spherical ball once started rolling would roll forever.  Galileo’s genius was to combine thought experiments and real data to arrive at results that defy “common sense” – to truly understand the universe humans had to first escape from our limited anthropocentric perspective, and mathematics provided an opportunity to do this.

Inclined Planes

Galileo conducted experiments on inclined planes where he placed balls at different heights and then measured their projectile motion  when they left the ramp, briefly ran past the edge of a flat surface and then fell to the ground.  We can see the set up of one ramp above.  The ball starts at O, and we mark as h this height.  At an arbitrary point P we can see that there are 2 forces acting on the ball, F which is responsible for the ball rolling down the slope, and f, which is a friction force in the opposite direction.  At point P we can mark the downwards force mg acting on the ball.  We can then use some basic rules of parallel lines to note that the angles in triangle PCD are equal to triangle AOB.

Galileo’s times squared law of fall

We have the following equation for the total force acting on the ball at point P:

We also have the following relationship from physics, where m is the mass and a(t) the acceleration:

This therefore gives:

Next we can use trigonometry on triangle PCD to get an equation for F:

and so:

Next we can use another equation from physics which gives us the frictional force on a perfectly spherical, homogenous body rolling down a plane is:

So this gives:

We can then integrate to get velocity (our constant of integration is 0 because the velocity is 0 when t = 0)

and integrate again to get the distance travelled of the ball (again our constant of integration is 0):

When Galileo was conducting his experiments he did not know g, instead he noted that the relationship was of the form;

where c is a constant related to a specific incline.  This is a famous result called the times squared law of fall.  It shows that the distance travelled is independent of the mass and is instead related to the time of motion squared.

Velocity also independent of the angle of incline

Above we have shown that the distance travelled is independent of the mass – but in the equation it is still dependent on the angle of the incline.  We can go further and then show that the velocity of the ball is also independent of the angle of incline, and is only dependent on the height at which the ball starts from.

If we denote as t_b as the time when the ball reaches point A in our triangle we have:

This is equal to the distance from AO, so we can use trigonometry to define:

This can then be rearranged to give:

this is the time taken to travel from O to A.  We can the substitute this into the velocity equation we derived earlier to give the velocity at point A.  This is:

This shows that the velocity of the ball at point A is only dependent on the height and not the angle of incline or mass.  The logical extension of this is that if the angle of incline has no effect on the velocity, that this result would still hold as the angle of incline approaches and then reaches 90 degrees – i.e when the ball is in free fall.

Galileo used a mixture of practical experiments on inclined planes, mathematical calculations and thought experiments to arrive at his truly radical conclusion – the sign of a real genius!

Complex Numbers as Matrices – Euler’s Identity

Euler’s Identity below is regarded as one of the most beautiful equations in mathematics as it combines five of the most important constants in mathematics:

I’m going to explore whether we can still see this relationship hold when we represent complex numbers as matrices.

Complex Numbers as Matrices

First I’m I’m going to define the following equivalences between the imaginary unit and the real unit and matrices:

The equivalence for 1 as the identity matrix should make sense insofar as in real numbers, 1 is the multiplicative identity.  This means that 1 multiplied by any real number gives that number.  In matrices, a matrix multiplied by the identity matrix also remains unchanged.  The equivalence for the imaginary unit is not as intuitive, but let’s just check that operations with complex numbers still work with this new representation.

In complex numbers we have the following fundamental definition:

Does this still work with our new matrix equivalences?

Yes, we can see that the square of the imaginary unit gives us the negative of the multiplicative identity as required.

More generally we can note that as an extension of our definitions above we have:

Complex number multiplication

Let’s now test whether complex multiplication still works with matrices.  I’ll choose to multiply the following 2 complex numbers:

Now let’s see what happens when we do the equivalent matrix multiplication:

We can see we get the same result.  We can obviously prove this equivalence more generally (and check that other properties still hold) but for the purposes of this post I want to check whether the equivalence to Euler’s Identity still holds with matrices.

Euler’s Identity with matrices

If we define the imaginary unit and the real unit as the matrices above then the question is whether Euler’s Identity still holds, i.e:

First I can note that:

Next I can note that the Maclaurin expansion for e^(x) is:

Putting these ideas together I get:

This means that:

Next I can use the matrix multiplication to give the following:

Next, I look for a pattern in each of the matrix entries and see that:

Now, to begin with here I simply checked these on Wolfram Alpha – (these sums are closely related to the Macluarin series for cosine and sine).

Therefore we have:

So, this means I can write:

And so this finally gives:

Which is the result I wanted!  Therefore we can see that Euler’s Identity still holds when we define complex numbers in terms of matrices.  Complex numbers are an incredibly rich area to explore – and some of the most interesting aspects of complex numbers is there ability to “bridge” between different areas of mathematics.

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Time dependent gravity and cosmology!

In our universe we have a gravitational constant – i.e gravity is not dependent on time.  If gravity changed with respect to time then the gravitational force exerted by the Sun on Earth would lessen (or increase) over time with all other factors remaining the same.

Interestingly time-dependent gravity was first explored by Dirac and some physicists have tried to incorporate time dependent gravity into cosmological models.  As yet we have no proof that gravity is not constant, but let’s imagine a university where it is dependent on time.

Inversely time dependent gravity

The standard models for cosmology use G, where G is the gravitational constant.  This fixes the gravitational force as a constant.  However if gravity is inversely proportional to time we could have a relationship such as:

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Where a is a constant.  Let’s look at a very simple model, where we have a piecewise function as below:

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This would create the graph at the top of the page.  This is one (very simplistic) way of explaining the Big Bang.  In the first few moments after t = 0, gravity would be negative and thus repulsive [and close to infinitely strong], which could explain the initial incredible universal expansion before “regular” attractive gravity kicked in (after t = 1).  The Gravitational constant has only been measured to 4 significant figures:

G = 6.674 x 10-11m3kg-1s-2.

Therefore if there is a very small variation over time it is possible that we simply haven’t the accuracy to test this yet.

Universal acceleration with a time dependent gravitational force

Warning: This section is going to touch on some seriously complicated maths – not for the faint hearted!  We’re going to explore whether having a gravitational force which decreases over time still allows us to have an accelerating expansion of the universe.

We can start with the following equation:

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To work through an example:

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This would show that when t = 1 the universe had an expansion scale factor of 2.  Now, based on current data measured by astronomers we have evidence that the universe is both expanding and accelerating in its expansion.  If the universal scale factor is accelerating in expansion that requires that we have:

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Modelling our universe

We’re going to need 4 equations to model what happens when gravity is time dependent rather than just a constant.

Equation 1

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This equation models a relationship between pressure and density in our model universe.  We assume that our universe is homogenous (i.e the same) throughout.

Equation 2

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This is one of the Friedmann equations for governing the expansion of space.  We will take c =1 [i.e we will choose units such that we are in 1 light year etc]

Equation 3

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This is another one of the Friedmann equations for governing the expansion of space.  The original equation has P/(c squared) – but we we simplify again by taking c = 1.

Equation 4

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This is our time dependent version of gravity.

Finding alpha

We can separate variables to solve equation (3).

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We can use this result, along with the equations (1) and (4) to substitute into equation (2).

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Our result

Now, remember that if the second differential of r is positive then the universal expansion rate is accelerating.  If Lamba is negative then we will have the second differential of r positive.  However, all our constants G_0, a, B, t, r are greater than 0.  Therefore in order for lamda to be negative we need:

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What this shows is that even in a universe where gravity is time dependent (and decreasing), we would still be able to have an accelerating universe like we see today.  the only factor that determines whether the universal expansion is accelerating is the value of gamma, not our gravity function.

This means that a time dependent gravity function can still gives us a result consistent with our experimental measurements of the universe.

A specific case

Solving the equation for the second differential of r is extremely difficult, so let’s look at a very simple case where we choose some constants to make life as easy as possible:

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Substituting these into our equation (2) gives us:

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We can then solve this to give:

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So, finally we have arrived at our final equation.  This would give us the universal expansion scale factor at time t, for a universe in which gravity follows the the equation G(t) = 1/t.

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For this universe we can then see that when t = 5 for example, we would have a universal expansion scale factor of 28.5.

So, there we go – very complicated maths, way beyond IB level, so don’t worry if you didn’t follow that.  And that’s just a simplified introduction to some of the maths in cosmology!  You can read more about time dependent gravity here (also not for the faint hearted!)




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This carries on our exploration of projectile motion – this time we will explore what happens if gravity is not fixed, but is instead a function of time.  (This idea was suggested by and worked through by fellow IB teachers Daniel Hwang and Ferenc Beleznay).   In our universe we have a gravitational constant – i.e gravity is not dependent on time.  If gravity changed with respect to time then the gravitational force exerted by the Sun on Earth would lessen (or increase) over time with all other factors remaining the same.

Interestingly time-dependent gravity was first explored by Dirac and some physicists have tried to incorporate time dependent gravity into cosmological models.  As yet we have no proof that gravity is not constant, but let’s imagine a university where it is dependent on time.

Projectile motion when gravity is time dependent

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We can start off with the standard parametric equations for projectile motion. Here v is the initial velocity, theta is the angle of launch, t can be a time parameter and g is the gravitational constant (9.81 on Earth).  We can see that the value for the vertical acceleration is the negative of the gravitational constant.  So the question to explore is, what if the gravitational constant was time dependent?  Another way to think about this is that gravity varies with respect to time.

Linear relationship

If we have the simplest time dependent relationship we can say that:

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where a is a constant.  If a is greater than 0 then gravity linearly increases as time increases, if a is less than 0 than gravity linearly decreases as time increases.  For matters of slight convenience I’ll define gravity (or the vertical acceleration) as -3at.  The following can then be arrived at by integration:

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This will produce the following graph when we fix v = 10, a = 2 and vary theta:

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Now we can use the same method as in our Projectile Motion Investigation II to explore whether these maximum points lie in a curve.  (You might wish to read that post first for a step by step approach to the method).

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therefore we can substitute back into our original parametric equations for x and y to get:

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We can plot this with theta as a parameter.  If we fix v = 4 and a =2 we get the following graph:

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Compare this to the graph from Projectile Motion Investigation II, where we did this with gravity constant (and with v fixed as 10):

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The Projectile Motion Investigation II formed a perfect ellipse, but this time it’s more of a kind of egg shaped elliptical curve – with a flat base.  But it’s interesting to see that even with time dependent gravity we still have a similar relationship to before!

Inverse relationship

Let’s also look at what would happen if gravity was inversely related to time.  (This is what has been explored by some physicists).

In this case we get the following results when we launch projectiles (Notice here we had to use the integration by parts trick to integrate ln(t)).  As the velocity function doesn’t exist when t = 0, we can define v and theta in this case as the velocity and theta value when t = 1.

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Now we use the same trick as earlier to find when the gradient is 0:

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Substituting this back into the parametric equations gives:

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The ratio v/a will therefore have the greatest effect on the maximum points.

v/a ratio negative and close to zero:

v = 40, a = -2000, v/a = -0.02

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This gives us close to a circle, radius v, centred at (0,a).

v = 1, a = -10, v/a = -0.1

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Here we can also see that the boundary condition for the maximum horizontal distance thrown is given by x = v(e).

v/a ratio negative and large:

v = 40, a = -2, v/a = -20.

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We can see that we get an egg shape back – but this time with a flatter bulge at the top and the point at the bottom.  Also notice how quickly the scale of the shape has increased.

v/a ratio n/a (i.e a = 0)

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Here there is no gravitational force, and so projectiles travel in linear motion – with no maximum.

Envelope of projectiles for the inverse relationship

This is just included for completeness, don’t worry if you don’t follow the maths behind this bit!

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Therefore when we plot the parametric equations for x and y in terms of theta we get the envelope of projectile motion when we are in a universe where gravity varies inversely to time.  The following graph is generated when we take v = 300 and a = -10.  The red line is the envelope of projectiles.

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A generalized power relationship

Lastly, let’s look at what happens when we have a general power relationship i.e gravity is related to (a)tn.  Again for matters of slight convenience I’ll look at the similar relationship -0.5(n+1)(n+2)atn.

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This gives (following the same method as above:

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As we vary n we will find the plot of the maximum points.  Let’s take the velocity as 4 and a as 2.  Then we get the following:

When n = 0:

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When n = 1:

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When n =2:

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When n = 10:

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We can see the general elliptical shape remains at the top, but we have a flattening at the bottom of the curve.

When n approaches infinity:

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We get this beautiful result when we let n tend towards infinity – now we will have all the maximum points bounded on a circle (with the radius the same as the value chosen as the initial velocity.  In the graph above we have a radius of 4 as the initial velocity is 4. Notice too we have projectiles traveling in straight lines – and then seemingly “bouncing” off the boundary!

If we want to understand this, there is only going to be a very short window (t less than 1) when the particle can upwards – when t is between 0 and 1 the effect of gravity is effectively 0 and so the particle would travel in a straight line (i.e if the initial velocity is 5 m/s it will travel 5 meters. Then as soon as t = 1, the gravity becomes crushingly heavy and the particle falls effectively vertically down.

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Projectile Motion III: Varying gravity

We can also do some interesting things with projectile motion if we vary the gravitational pull when we look at projectile motion.  The following graphs are all plotted in parametric form.

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Here t is the parameter, v is the initial velocity which we will keep constant, theta is the angle of launch which we will vary, and g is the gravitational constant which on Earth we will take as 9.81 m/s2.


Say we take a projectile and launch it with a velocity of 10 m/s.  When we vary the angle of launch we get the folowing graphs:

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On the y axis we have the vertical height, and on the x axis the horizontal distance.  Therefore we can see that the maximum height that we achieve is around 5m and the maximum horizontal distance is around 10m.

Other planets and universal objects

We have the following values for the gravitational pull of various objects:

Enceladus (Moon of Saturn): 0.111 m/s2, The Moon: 1.62 m/s2,  Jupiter: 24.8 m/s2, The Sun: 274 m/s2, White dwarf black hole surface gravity: 7×1012m/s2.

So for each one let’s see what would happen if we launched a projectile with a velocity of 10 m/s.  Note that the mass of the projectile is not relevant (though it would require more force to achieve the required velocity).


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The Moon:

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The Sun:

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Black hole surface gravity:

This causes some issues graphically!  I’ll use the equations derived in the last post to find the coordinates of the maximum point for a given launch angle theta:

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Here we have v = 10 and g = 7×1012m/s2.  For example if we take our launch angle (theta) as 45 degrees this will give the coordinates of the maximum point at:

(7.14×10-12, 3.57×10-12).


We can see how dramatically life would be on each surface!  Whilst on Earth you may be able to throw to a height of around 5m with a launch velocity of 10 m/s., Enceladus  would see you achieve an incredible 450m.  If you were on the surface of the Sun then probably the least of your worries would be how hight to throw an object, nevertheless you’d be struggling to throw it 20cm high.  And as for the gravity at the surface of a black hole you wouldn’t get anywhere close to throwing it a nanometer high (1 billionth of a meter).


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Projectile Motion Investigation II

Another example for investigating projectile motion has been provided by fellow IB teacher Ferenc Beleznay.  Here we fix the velocity and then vary the angle, then to plot the maximum points of the parabolas.  He has created a Geogebra app to show this (shown above).  The locus of these maximum points then form an ellipse.

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We can see that the maximum points of the projectiles all go through the dotted elliptical line.  So let’s see if we can derive this equation.

Let’s start with the equations for projectile motion, usually given in parametric form:

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Here v is the initial velocity which we will keep constant, theta is the angle of launch which we will vary, and g is the gravitational constant which we will take as 9.81.

We can plot these curves parametrically, and for each given value of theta (the angle of launch) we will create a projectile motion graph.  If we plot lots of these graphs for different thetas together we get something like this:

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We now want to see if the maximum points are in any sort of pattern.  In order to find the maximum point we want to find when the gradient of dy/dx is 0.  It’s going to be easier to keep things in parametric form, and use partial differentiation.  We have:

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Therefore we find the partial differentiation of both x and y with respect to t.  (This simply means we can pretend theta is a constant).

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We can then say that:

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We then find when this has a gradient of 0:

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We can then substitute this value of t back into the original parametric equations for x:

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and also for y:

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We now have the parametric equations in terms of theta for the locus of points of the maximum points.  For example, with g= 9.81 and v =1 we have the following parametric equations:

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This generates an ellipse (dotted line), which shows the maximum points generated by the parametric equations below (as we vary theta):

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And here is the graph:

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We can vary the velocity to create a new ellipse.  For example the ellipse generated when v =4 creates the following graph:

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So, there we go, we have shown that different ellipses will be created by different velocities.  If you feel like a challenge, see if you can algebraically manipulate the parametric equations for the ellipse into the Cartesian form!

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Envelope of projectile motion

For any given launch angle and for a fixed initial velocity we will get projectile motion. In the graph above I have changed the launch angle to generate different quadratics.  The black dotted line is then called the envelope of all these lines, and is the boundary line formed when I plot quadratics for every possible angle between 0 and pi.

Finding the equation of an envelope for projectile motion 

Let’s start with the equations for projectile motion, usually given in parametric form:

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Here v is the initial velocity which we will keep constant, theta is the angle of launch which we will vary, and g is the gravitational constant which we will take as 9.81.

First let’s rearrange these equations to eliminate the parameter t.

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Next, we use the fact that the envelope of a curve is given by the points which satisfy the following 2 equations:

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F(x,y,theta)=0 simply means we have rearranged an equation so that we have 3 variables on one side and have made this equal to 0.  The second of these equations means the partial derivative of F with respect to theta.  This means that we differentiate as usual with regards to theta, but treat x and y like constants.

Therefore we can rearrange our equation for y to give:

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and in order to help find the partial differential of F we can write:

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We can then rearrange this to get x in terms of theta:

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We can then substitute this into the equation for F(x,y,theta)=0 to eliminate theta:

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We then have the difficulty of simplifying the second denominator, but luckily we have a trig equation to help:

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Therefore we can simplify as follows:

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and so:

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And we have our equation for the envelope of projectile motion!  As we can see it is itself a quadratic equation.  Let’s look at some of the envelopes it will create.  For example, if I launch a projectile with a velocity of 1, and taking g = 9.81, I get the following equation:

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This is the envelope of projectile motion when I take the following projectiles in parametric form and vary theta from 0 to pi:

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This gives the following graph:

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If I was to take an initial velocity of 2 then I would have the following:

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And an initial velocity of 4 would generate the following graph:

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So, there we have it, we can now create the equation of the envelope of curves created by projectile motion for any given initial velocity!

Other ideas for projectile motion

There are lots of other things we can investigate with projectile motion.  One example provided by fellow IB teacher Ferenc Beleznay is to fix the velocity and then vary the angle, then to plot the maximum points of the parabolas.  He has created a Geogebra app to show this:

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You can then find that the maximum points of the parabolas lie on an ellipse (as shown below).

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See if you can find the equation of this ellipse!

Rational Approximations to Irrational Numbers

This year two mathematicians (James Maynard and Dimitris Koukoulopoulos) managed to prove a long-standing Number Theory problem called the Duffin Schaeffer Conjecture.  The problem is concerned with the ability to obtain rational approximations to irrational numbers.  For example, a rational approximation to pi is 22/7.  This gives 3.142857 and therefore approximates pi to 2 decimal places.  You can find ever more accurate rational approximations and the conjecture looks at how efficiently we can form these approximation, and to within what error bound.

Finding Rational Approximations for  pi

The general form of the inequality I want to solve is as follows:

Here alpha is an irrational number, p/q is the rational approximation, and f(q)/q can be thought of as the error bound that I need to keep my approximation within.

If I take f(q) = 1/q then I will get the following error bound:

So, the question is, can I find some values of q (where p and q are integers) such that the error bound is less than 1/(q squared)?

Let’s see if we can solve this for when our irrational number is pi, and when we choose q = 6.

We can see that this returns a rational approximation, 19/6 which only 0.02507… away from  pi. This is indeed a smaller error than 1/36.  We won’t be able to find such solutions to our inequality for every value of q that we choose, but we will be able to find an infinite number of solutions, each getting progressively better at approximating pi.

The General Case (Duffin Schaeffer Conjecture)

The general case of this problem states that there will be infinite solutions to the inequality for any given irrational number alpha if and only if the following condition holds:


We will have infinitely many solutions (with p and q as integers in their lowest terms) if and only if:

Here the new symbol represents the Euler totient.  You can read about this at the link if you’re interested, but for the purposes of the post we can transform into something else shortly!

Does f(q) = 1/q provide infinite solutions?

When f(q) = 1/q we have:

Therefore we need to investigate the following sum to infinity:

Now we can make use of an equivalence, which shows that:


Where the new symbol on the right is the Zeta function.  The Zeta function is defined as:

So, in our case we have s = 2.  This gives:

But we know the limit of both the top and the bottom sum to infinity.  The top limit is called the Harmonic series, and diverges to infinity. Therefore:

Whereas the bottom limit is a p-series with p=2, this is known to converge. In fact we have:

Therefore because we have a divergent series divided by a convergent one, we will have the following result:

This shows that our error bound 1/(q squared) will be satisfied by infinitely many values of q for any given irrational number.

Does f(q) = 1/(q squared) provide infinite solutions?

With f(q) = 1/(q squared) we follow the same method to get:

But this time we have:

Therefore we have a convergent series divided by a convergent series which means:

So we can conclude that f(q) = 1/(q squared) which generated an error bound of 1/(q cubed) was too ambitious as an error bound – i.e there will not be infinite solutions in p and q for a given irrational number.  There may be solutions out there but they will be rare.

Understanding mathematicians 

You can watch the Numberphile video where James Maynard talks through the background of his investigation and also get an idea what a mathematician feels like when they solve a problem like this!

Soap Bubbles and Catenoids

Soap bubbles form such that they create a shape with the minimum surface area for the given constraints.  For a fixed volume the minimum surface area is a sphere, which is why soap bubbles will form spheres where possible.  We can also investigate what happens when a soap film is formed between 2 parallel circular lines like in the picture below: [Credit Wikimedia Commons, Blinking spirit]

In this case the shape formed is a catenoid – which provides the minimum surface area (for a fixed volume) for a 3D shape connecting the two circles.  The catenoid can be defined in terms of parametric equations:

Where cosh() is the hyperbolic cosine function which can be defined as:

For our parametric equation, t and u are parameters which we vary, and c is a constant that we can change to create different catenoids.  We can use Geogebra to plot different catenoids.  Below is the code which will plot parametric curves when c =2 and t varies between -20pi and 20 pi.


We then need to create a slider for u, and turn on the trace button – and for every given value of u (between 0 and 2 pi) it will plot a curve.  When we trace through all the values of u it will create a 3D shape – our catenoid.

Individual curve (catenary)

Catenoid when c = 0.1

Catenoid when c = 0.5

Catenoid when c = 1

Catenoid when c = 2


For those of you who know your science fiction, the catenoids above may look similar to a wormhole.  That’s because the catenoid is a solution to the hypothesized mathematics of wormholes.  These can be thought of as a “bridge” either through curved space-time to another part of the universe (potentially therefore allowing for faster than light travel) or a bridge connecting 2 distinct universes.

Screen Shot 2019-09-29 at 7.03.34 PM

Above is the Morris-Thorne bridge wormhole [Credit The Image of a Wormhole].

Further exploration:

This is a topic with lots of interesting areas to explore – the individual curves (catenary) look similar to, but are distinct from parabola.  These curves appear in bridge building and in many other objects with free hanging cables.  Proving that catenoids form shapes with minimum surface areas requires some quite complicated undergraduate maths (variational calculus), but it would be interesting to explore some other features of catenoids or indeed to explore why the sphere is a minimum surface area for a given volume.

If you want to explore further you can generate your own Catenoids with the Geogebra animation I’ve made here.

Normal Numbers – and random number generators

Numberphile have a nice new video where Matt Parker discusses all different types of numbers – including “normal numbers”.  Normal numbers are defined as irrational numbers for which the probability of choosing any given 1 digit number is the same, the probability of choosing any given 2 digit number is the same etc.  For example in the normal number 0.12345678910111213141516… , if I choose any digit in the entire number at random P(1) = P(2) = P(3) = … P(9) = 1/10.  Equally if I choose any 2 digit number at random I have P(10) = P(11) = P(12) = P(99) = 1/100.

It is incredibly hard to find normal numbers, but there is a formula to find some of them.

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.28 PM

In base 10, we are restricted to choosing a value of c such that 10 and c are relatively prime (i.e share no common factors apart from 1).  So if we choose c = 3 this gives:

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.33 PM

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.38 PM

We can now put this into Wolfram Alpha and see what number this gives us:

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.29.29 PM.png

So we can put the first few digits into an online calculator to find the distributions

0.000333333444444444444448148148148148148148148148148148148148148149382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049382716049827160493827160493827160479423863312 7572016460905349794238683127572016460905349794238683127572016460 9053497942386831275720164609053497942386831275720164609053497942

4: 61
1: 41
8: 40
3: 38
0: 36
2: 33
7: 33
9: 33
6: 32
5: 10

We can see that we are already seeing a reasonably similar distribution of single digits, though with 4 and 5 outliers.  As the number progressed we would expect these distributions to even up (otherwise it would not be a normal number).

One of the potential uses of normal numbers is in random number generators – if you can use a normal number and specify a digit (or number of digits) at random then this should give an equal chance of returning each number.

To finish off this,  let’s prove that the infinite series:

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.33 PM

does indeed converge to a number (if it diverged then it could not be used to represent a real number).  To do that we can use the ratio test (only worry about this bit if you have already studied the Calculus Option for HL!):

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.43 PM

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.46 PM

Screen Shot 2019-03-13 at 8.24.50 PM

We can see that in the last limit 3 to the power n+1 will grow faster than 3 to the power n, therefore as n increases the limit will approach 0.  Therefore by the ratio test the series converges to a real number.

Is pi normal?

Interestingly we don’t know if numbers like e, pi and ln(2) are normal or not.  We can analyse large numbers of digits of pi – and it looks like it will be normal, but as yet there is no proof.  Here are the distribution of the first 100,000 digits of pi:

1: 10137
6: 10028
3: 10026
5: 10026
7: 10025
0: 9999
8: 9978
4: 9971
2: 9908
9: 9902

Which we can see are all very close to the expected value of 10,000 (+/- around 1%).

So, next I copied the first 1 million digits of pi into a character frequency counter which gives the following:

5: 100359
3: 100230
4: 100230
9: 100106
2: 100026
8: 99985
0: 99959
7: 99800
1: 99758
6: 99548

This is even closer to the expected values of 100,000 with most with +/- 0.25 %.

Proving that pi is normal would be an important result in number theory – perhaps you could be the one to do it!

 IB Revision

If you’re already thinking about your coursework then it’s probably also time to start planning some revision, either for the end of Year 12 school exams or Year 13 final exams. There’s a really great website that I would strongly recommend students use – you choose your subject (HL/SL/Studies if your exam is in 2020 or Applications/Analysis if your exam is in 2021), and then have the following resources:

Screen Shot 2018-03-19 at 4.42.05 PM.pngThe Questionbank takes you to a breakdown of each main subject area (e.g. Algebra, Calculus etc) and each area then has a number of graded questions. What I like about this is that you are given a difficulty rating, as well as a mark scheme and also a worked video tutorial.  Really useful!

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 10.02.40 AM

The Practice Exams section takes you to ready made exams on each topic – again with worked solutions.  This also has some harder exams for those students aiming for 6s and 7s and the Past IB Exams section takes you to full video worked solutions to every question on every past paper – and you can also get a prediction exam for the upcoming year.

I would really recommend everyone making use of this – there is a mixture of a lot of free content as well as premium content so have a look and see what you think.

Website Stats


IB Maths Exploration Guide

IB Maths Exploration Guide

A comprehensive 63 page pdf guide to help you get excellent marks on your maths investigation. Includes:

  1. Investigation essentials,
  2. Marking criteria guidance,
  3. 70 hand picked interesting topics
  4. Useful websites for use in the exploration,
  5. A student checklist for top marks
  6. Avoiding common student mistakes
  7. A selection of detailed exploration ideas
  8. Advice on using Geogebra, Desmos and Tracker.

Available to download here.

IB Revision Notes

IB Revision Notes

Full revision notes for SL Analysis (60 pages), HL Analysis (112 pages) and SL Applications (53 pages).  Beautifully written by an experienced IB Mathematics teacher, and of an exceptionally high quality.  Fully updated for the new syllabus.  A must for all Analysis and Applications students!

Available to download here.

IB HL Paper 3 Practice Questions (120 page pdf)

IB HL Paper 3 Practice Questions 

Seventeen full investigation questions – each one designed to last around 1 hour, and totaling around 40 pages and 600 marks worth of content.  There is also a fully typed up mark scheme.  Together this is around 120 pages of content.

Available to download here.

IB Exploration Modelling and Statistics Guide

IB Exploration Modelling and Statistics Guide

A 60 page pdf guide full of advice to help with modelling and statistics explorations – focusing in on non-calculator methods in order to show good understanding. Includes:

  1. Pearson’s Product: Height and arm span
  2. How to calculate standard deviation by hand
  3. Binomial investigation: ESP powers
  4. Paired t tests and 2 sample t tests: Reaction times
  5. Chi Squared: Efficiency of vaccines
  6. Spearman’s rank: Taste preference of cola
  7. Linear regression and log linearization.
  8. Quadratic regression and cubic regression.
  9. Exponential and trigonometric regression.

Available to download here.

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