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Proving Pythagoras Like Einstein?

There are many ways to prove Pythagoras’ theorem – Einstein reputedly used the sketch above to prove this using similar triangles.  To keep in the spirit of discovery I also just took this diagram as a starting point and tried to prove this myself, (though Einstein’s version turns out to be a bit more elegant)!

Step 1: Finding some links between triangles

We can see that our large right angled triangle has sides a,b,c with angles alpha and beta.  Hopefully it should also be clear that the two smaller right angled triangles will also have angles alpha and beta.  Therefore our triangles will all be similar.  It should also be clear that the area of the 2 small triangles will be the same as the area of the large triangle.

Step 2: Drawing a sketch to make things clearer:

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It always helps to clarify the situation with some diagrams.  So, let’s do that first.

Step 3:  Making some equations

As the area of the 2 small triangles will be the same as the area of the large triangle this gives the following equation:

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We also can make the following equation by considering that triangles 2 and 3 are similar

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We can now substitute our previous result for x into this new equation (remember our goal is to have an equation just in terms of a,b,c so we want to eliminate x and y from our equations).

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We can also make the following equation by considering that triangles 1 and 2 are similar:

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And as before, our goal is to remove everything except a,b,c from these equations, so let’s make the substitution for y using our previous result:

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And if by magic, Pythagoras’ theorem appears!  Remember that the original a,b,c  related to any right angled triangle with hypotenuse c, so we have proved that this equation must always be true for right angled triangles.

You can explore some other ways of proving Pythagoras here.  Which is the most elegant?

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