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The Mordell Equation [Fermat’s proof]

Let’s have a look at a special case of the Mordell Equation, which looks at the difference between an integer cube and an integer square.  In this case we want to find all the integers x,y such that the difference between the cube and the square gives 2.  These sorts of problems are called Diophantine problems and have been studied by mathematicians for around 2000 years.  We want to find integer solution to:

First we can rearrange and factorise, using the property of imaginary numbers.

Next we define alpha and beta such that:

For completeness we can say that alpha and beta are part of an algebraic number field:

Next we use an extension of the Coprime Power Trick, which ensures that the following 2 equations have solutions (if our original equation also has a solution). Therefore we define:

We can then substitute our definition for alpha into the first equation directly above and expand:

Next we equate real and imaginary coefficients to give:

This last equation therefore requires that either one of the following equations must be true:

If we take the case when b = 1 we get:

Therefore:

If we take the case when b = -1 we get

Therefore our solution set is (a,b): (1,1), (1,-1), (-1,1), (-1,-1.  We substitute these possible answers into our definition for y to give the following:

We can then substitute these 2 values for y into the definition for x to get:

These therefore are the only solutions to our original equation.  We can check they both work:

We can see this result illustrated graphically by plotting the graph:

and then seeing that we have our integer solutions (3,5) and (3,-5) as coordinate on this curve.

This curve also clearly illustrates why we have a symmetrical set of solutions, as our graph is symmetrical about the x axis.

This particular proof was first derived by Fermat (of Fermat’s Last Theorem fame) in the 1600s and is an elegant example of a proof in number theory.  You can read more about the Mordell Equation in this paper (the proof above is based on that given in the paper, but there is a small mistake in factorization so that y = 7 and y = -7 is erroneously obtained).

Essential resources for IB students:

Revision Village has been put together to help IB students with topic revision both for during the course and for the end of Year 12 school exams and Year 13 final exams.  I would strongly recommend students use this as a resource during the course (not just for final revision in Y13!) There are specific resources for HL and SL students for both Analysis and Applications.

There is a comprehensive Questionbank takes you to a breakdown of each main subject area (e.g. Algebra, Calculus etc) and then provides a large bank 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!

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I’ve put together four comprehensive pdf guides to help students prepare for their exploration coursework and Paper 3 investigations. The exploration guides talk through the marking criteria, common student mistakes, excellent ideas for explorations, technology advice, modeling methods and a variety of statistical techniques with detailed explanations. I’ve also made 17 full investigation questions which are also excellent starting points for explorations.  The Exploration Guides can be downloaded here and the Paper 3 Questions can be downloaded here.

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All content on this site has been written by Andrew Chambers (MSc. Mathematics, IB Mathematics Examiner).

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