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Finding the volume of a rugby ball (prolate spheroid)

With the rugby union World Cup currently underway I thought I’d try and work out the volume of a rugby ball using some calculus.  This method works similarly for American football and Australian rules football.   The approach is to consider the rugby ball as an ellipse rotated 360 degrees around the x axis to create a volume of revolution.  We can find the equation of an ellipse centered at (0,0) by simply looking at the x and y intercepts.  An ellipse with y-intercept (0,b) and x intercept (a,0) will have equation:

Therefore for our rugby ball with a horizontal “radius” (vertex) of 14.2cm and a vertical “radius” (co-vertex) of 8.67cm will have equation:

We can see that when we plot this ellipse we get an equation which very closely resembles our rugby ball shape:

Therefore we can now find the volume of revolution by using the following formula:

But we can simplify matters by starting the rotation at x = 0 to find half the volume, before doubling our answer.  Therefore:

Rearranging our equation of the ellipse formula we get:

Therefore we have the following integration:

Therefore our rugby ball has a volume of around 4.5 litres.  We can compare this with the volume of a football (soccer ball) – which has a radius of around 10.5cm, therefore a volume of around 4800 cubic centimeters.

We can find the general volume of any rugby ball (mathematically defined as a prolate spheroid) by the following generalization:

We can see that this is very closely related to the formula for the volume of a sphere, which makes sense as the prolate spheroid behaves like a sphere deformed across its axes. Our prolate spheroid has “radii” b, b and a – therefore r cubed in the sphere formula becomes b squared a.

Prolate spheroids in nature

The image above [wiki image NASA] is of the Crab Nebula – a distant Supernova remnant around 6500 light years away.  The shape of Crab Nebula is described as a prolate spheroid.

Essential resources for IB students:

1) Revision Village

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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.

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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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The Practice Exams section takes you to a large number of ready made quizzes, exams and predicted papers.   These all have worked solutions and allow you to focus on specific topics or start general revision.  This also has some excellent challenging questions for those students aiming for 6s and 7s.

Essential Resources for IB Teachers


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If you are a teacher then please also visit my new site.  This has been designed specifically for teachers of mathematics at international schools.  The content now includes over 2000 pages of pdf content for the entire SL and HL Analysis syllabus and also the SL Applications syllabus.  Some of the content includes:

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Essential Resources for both IB teachers and IB students

1) Exploration Guides and Paper 3 Resources

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I’ve put together a 168 page Super Exploration Guide to talk students and teachers through all aspects of producing an excellent coursework submission.  Students always make the same mistakes when doing their coursework – get the inside track from an IB moderator!  I have also made Paper 3 packs for HL Analysis and also Applications students to help prepare for their Paper 3 exams.  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).

New website for International teachers

I’ve just launched a brand new maths site for international schools – over 2000 pdf pages of resources to support IB teachers.  If you are an IB teacher this could save you 200+ hours of preparation time.

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Free HL Paper 3 Questions

P3 investigation questions and fully typed mark scheme.  Packs for both Applications students and Analysis students.

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IB Maths Super Exploration Guide

A Super Exploration Guide with 168 pages of essential advice from a current IB examiner to ensure you get great marks on your coursework.

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