## Archive for the 'Occasional' Category

### Divergent Series Yield Valuable Results

Mathematicians have traditionally dealt with convergent series and shunned divergent ones. But, long ago, astronomers found that divergent expansions yield valuable results. If these so-called asymptotic expansions are truncated, the error is bounded by the first term omitted. Thus, by stopping just before the smallest term, excellent approximations may be obtained.

### The Intermediate Axis Theorem

In 1985, cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov commanded a mission to repair the space station Salyut-7. During the operation, he flicked a wing-nut to remove it. As it left the end of the bolt, the nut continued to spin in space, but every few seconds, it turned over through ${180^\circ}$. Although the angular momentum did not change, the rotation axis moved in the body frame. The nut continued to flip back and forth, although there were no forces or torques acting on it.

Flipping nut [image from Veritasium].

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### Archimedes and the Volume of a Sphere

One of the most remarkable and important mathematical results obtained by Archimedes was the determination of the volume of a sphere. Archimedes used a technique of sub-dividing the volume into slices of known cross-sectional area and adding up, or integrating, the volumes of the slices. This was essentially an application of a technique that was — close to two thousand years later — formulated as integral calculus.

Cone, sphere and cylinder on the same base. The volumes are in the ratios  1 : 2 : 3 [image from mathigon.org].

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### Elliptic Trigonometry: Fun with “sun”, “cun” and “dun”

Introduction

The circular functions arise from ratios of lengths in a circle. In a similar manner, the elliptic functions can be defined by means of ratios of lengths in an ellipse. Many of the key properties of the elliptic functions follow from simple geometric properties of the ellipse.

Originally, Carl Gustav Jacobi defined the elliptic functions ${\mathop\mathrm{sn} u}$, ${\mathop\mathrm{cn} u}$, ${\mathop\mathrm{dn} u}$ using the integral

$\displaystyle u = \int_0^{\phi} \frac{\mathrm{d}\phi}{\sqrt{1-k^2\sin^2\phi}} \,.$

He called ${\phi}$ the amplitude and wrote ${\phi = \mathop\mathrm{am} u}$. It can be difficult to understand what motivated his definitions. We will define the elliptic functions ${\mathop\mathrm{sn} u}$, ${\mathop\mathrm{cn} u}$, ${\mathop\mathrm{dn} u}$ in a more intuitive way, as simple ratios associated with an ellipse.

### An Attractive Spinning Toy: the Phi-TOP

It is fascinating to watch a top spinning. It seems to defy gravity: while it would topple over if not spinning, it remains in a vertical position as long as it is spinning rapidly.

There are many variations on the simple top. The gyroscope has played a vital role in navigation and in guidance and control systems. Many similar rotating toys have been devised. These include rattlebacks, tippe-tops and the Euler disk. The figure below shows four examples.

(a) Simple top, (b) Rising egg, (c) Tippe-top, (d) Euler disk. [Image from website of Rod Cross.]

### Some Fundamental Theorems of Maths

Every branch of mathematics has key results that are so
important that they are dubbed fundamental theorems.

The customary view of mathematical research is that of establishing the truth of propositions or theorems by rigorous deduction from axioms and definitions. Mathematics is founded upon axioms, basic assumptions that are taken as true. Logical reasoning is then used to deduce the consequences of those axioms with each major result designated as a theorem.

As each new theorem is proved, it provides a basis for the establishment of further results. The most important and fruitful theorem in each area of maths is often named as the fundamental theorem of that area. Thus, we have the fundamental theorems of arithmetic, algebra and so on. For example, the fundamental theorem of calculus gives the relationship between differential calculus and integral calculus.

### The Wonders of Complex Analysis

Augustin-Louis Cauchy (1789–1857)

If you love mathematics and have never studied complex function theory, then you are missing something wonderful. It is one of the most beautiful branches of maths, with many amazing results. Don’t be put off by the name: complex does not mean complicated. With elementary calculus and a basic knowledge of imaginary numbers, a whole world of wonder is within your grasp.

In the early nineteenth century, Augustin-Louis Cauchy (1789–1857) constructed the foundations of what became a major new branch of mathematics, the theory of functions of a complex variable.