Category Archives: applications of maths

Maths and the Bomb: Sir Michael Atiyah at 80

Just paying yet another tribute to Sir Michael Atiyah (re-sharing one of the articles I have collected about him):


Maths and the bomb Sir Michael Atiyah at 80

The Times

April 21 2009

When, five years ago, he shared the £480,000 Abel Prize, the equivalent of a Nobel prize in the world of mathematics, Sir Michael Atiyah might have listened to his wife’s urgings to put his feet up and settle into a comfortable life. But that would not have been his style. “Some mathematicians retire,” he concedes with a smile. “I don’t think I have.”

This week, Sir Michael’s 80th birthday and a life dedicated to science and political activism is celebrated in a series of events. A three-day conference celebrating his contribution to geometry and physics, at the University of Edinburgh Informatics Forum, ends today, his birthday. Tomorrow and on Friday his Sir Michael’s role in promoting disarmament is recognised with readings and lectures dedicated to exposing the folly of nuclear weapons.

Much has been achieved at an age when contemporaries might have settled for a quiet life. In 1995, as president of the Royal Society and aged 67, Sir Michael made a stinging attack on Britain’s nuclear weapons policy.

Subsequently he accepted the presidency of the influential Pugwash disarmament conferences, which unite scientists in opposition to the arms race.

He still believes passionately in the cause, which, he says, is more important to the world than maths, “because if we blow ourselves up, there will be no mathematics anyway”.

Sir Michael discovered his aptitude for mathematics during his boyhood in the Sudan. His Lebanese father was an Oxford graduate and a civil servant, his mother was Scottish and he grew up regarding himself as British, studying at Manchester Grammar School and Cambridge University.

The key professional encounters in his life came in the United States in the 1950s, when he joined the Institute for Advanced Study, at Princeton University, a gathering place for the world’s most brilliant mathematical minds. Here he forged relationships which have endured, and much of his greatest work has come from what he calls the “dialogues of ideas” established there.

His greatest achievement has been the Atiyah-Singer theorem, which secured his fame and prize money, shared with his collaborator, Isadore Singer, of the US. At the time, he said he couldn’t think what to do with his share; the sporty red Lexus parked outside the Informatics building suggests he has since given it more thought.

In simple terms, the theorem provided a kind of analytical bridge which could be shifted between disciplines. “The theorem technique enables you to get to an answer by-passing all the intervening calculations,” he says. The idea “was something where you could calculate numbers of solutions by very indirect methods which applied in a very wide range of situations: geometry, algebra, physics…”

Maths, he says, is something he plays out in his mind as he walks around his flat and his garden, and he jots things down – “the dull stuff” – only when he has to check something.

“Walking helps the physiological process. You have to maintain a very high pitch of concentration when you do mathematics. It’s illumination – shining the mind’s eye on a problem and really seeing through it.

“The old clichés about the beauty of maths are true. It has beauty within it, but not all parts are equally beautiful. Beauty in mathematics is the thing that helps you in the search for truth.”

Some people, he believes, are born with mathematical brains, although they might choose other careers. One former student won the Nobel Prize for Economics, another is the best-paid hedge fund manager in the US. So was Sir Michael never tempted to use his mathematical skill in a wider world? Could he have solved the global financial crisis?

“Economics is a combination of gambling, psychology and who knows what,” he says. “The current crisis? I think people made a bloody mess. You can foretell that the bubble will burst – the question is when. If you gambled on it you might win or lose a lot of money. I just didn’t gamble.”



Nalin Pithwa.


Sir Michael Atiyah passes away; tribute by The New York Times

Permutations and Combinations: A primer only

Math moments: uses of mathematics in today’s world

Mathematics versus Physics

The object of pure Physics is the unfolding of the laws of the intelligible world; the object of pure Mathematic that of unfolding the laws of human intelligence. — J. J. Sylvester.

In my opinion, for example, Boole’s Laws of (Human) Thought. 

Applications of Derivatives IITJEE Maths tutorial: practice problems part IV

Question 1.

If the point on y = x \tan {\alpha} - \frac{ax^{2}}{2u^{2}\cos^{2}{\alpha}}, where \alpha>0, where the tangent is parallel to y=x has an ordinate \frac{u^{2}}{4a}, then what is the value of \alpha?

Question 2:

Prove that the segment of the tangent to the curve y=c/x, which is contained between the coordinate axes is bisected at the point of tangency.

Question 3:

Find all the tangents to the curve y = \cos{(x+y)} for -\pi \leq x \leq \pi that are parallel to the line x+2y=0.

Question 4:

Prove that the curves y=f(x), where f(x)>0, and y=f(x)\sin{x}, where f(x) is a differentiable function have common tangents at common points.

Question 5:

Find the condition that the lines x \cos{\alpha} + y \sin{\alpha} = p may touch the curve (\frac{x}{a})^{m} + (\frac{y}{b})^{m}=1.

Question 6:

Find the equation of a straight line which is tangent to one point and normal to the point on the curve y=8t^{3}-1, and x=4t^{2}+3.

Question 7:

Three normals are drawn from the point (c,0) to the curve y^{2}=x. Show that c must be greater than 1/2. One normal is always the x-axis. Find c for which the two other normals are perpendicular to each other.

Question 8:

If p_{1} and p_{2} are lengths of the perpendiculars from origin on the tangent and normal to the curve x^{2/3} + y^{2/3}=a^{2/3} respectively, prove that 4p_{1}^{2} + p_{2}^{2}=a^{2}.

Question 9:

Show that the curve x=1-3t^{2}, and y=t-3t^{3} is symmetrical about x-axis and has no real points for x>1. If the tangent at the point t is inclined at an angle \psi to OX, prove that 3t= \tan {\psi} +\sec {\psi}. If the tangent at P(-2,2) meets the curve again at Q, prove that the tangents at P and Q are at right angles.

Question 10:

Find the condition that the curves ax^{2}+by^{2}=1 and a^{'}x^{2} + b^{'}y^{2}=1 intersect orthogonality and hence show that the curves \frac{x^{2}}{(a^{2}+b_{1})} + \frac{y^{2}}{(b^{2}+b_{1})} = 1 and \frac{x^{2}}{a^{2}+b_{2}} + \frac{y^{2}}{(b^{2}+b_{2})} =1 also intersect orthogonally.

More later,

Nalin Pithwa.

Applications of Derivatives: Tutorial: IITJEE Maths: Part II

Another set of “easy to moderately difficult” questions:

  1. The function y = \frac{}x{1+x^{2}} decreases in the interval (a) (-1,1) (b) [1, \infty) (c) (-\infty, -1] (d) (-\infty, \infty). There are more than one correct choices. Which are those?
  2. The function f(x) = \arctan (x) - x decreases in the interval (a) (1,\infty) (b) (-1, \infty) (c) (-\infty, -\infty) (d) (0, \infty). There is more than one correct choice. Which are those?
  3. For x>1, y = \log(x) satisfies the inequality: (a) x-1>y (b) x^{2}-1>y (c) y>x-1 (d) \frac{x-1}{x}<y. There is more than one correct choice. Which are those?
  4. Suppose f^{'}(x) exists for each x and h(x) = f(x) - (f(x))^{2} + (f(x))^{3} for every real number x. Then, (a) h is increasing whenever f is increasing (b) h is increasing whenever f is decreasing (c) h is decreasing whenever f is decreasing (d) nothing can be said in general. Find the correct choice(s).
  5. If f(x)=3x^{2}+12x-1, when -1 \leq x \leq 2, and f(x)=37-x, when 2<x\leq 3. Then, (a) f(x) is increasing on [-1,2] (b) f(x) is continuous on [-1,3] (c) f^{'}(2) doesn’t exist (d) f(x) has the maximum value at x=2. Find all the correct choice(s).
  6. In which interval does the function y=\frac{x}{\log(x)} increase?
  7. Which is the larger of the functions \sin(x) + \tan(x) and f(x)=2x in the interval (0<x<\pi/2)?
  8. Find the set of all x for which \log {(1+x)} \leq x.
  9. Let f(x) = |x-1| + a, if x \leq 1; and, f(x)=2x+3, if x>1. If f(x) has local minimum at x=1, then a \leq ?
  10. There are exactly two distinct linear functions (find them), such that they map [-1,1] and [0,2].

more later, cheers,

Nalin Pithwa.

Applications of Derivatives: Tutorial Set 1: IITJEE Mains Maths

“Easy” questions:

Question 1:

Find the slope of the tangent to the curve represented by the curve x=t^{2}+3t-8 and y=2t^{2}-2t-5 at the point (2,-1).

Question 2:

Find the co-ordinates of the point P on the curve y^{2}=2x^{3}, the tangent at which is perpendicular to the line 4x-3y+2=0.

Question 3:

Find the co-ordinates of the point P(x,y) lying in the first quadrant on the ellipse x^{2}/8 + y^{2}/18=1 so that the area of the triangle formed by the tangent at P and the co-ordinate axes is the smallest.

Question 4:

The function f(x) = \frac{\log (\pi+x)}{\log (e+x)}, where x \geq 0 is

(a) increasing on (-\infty, \infty)

(b) decreasing on [0, \infty)

(c) increasing on [0, \pi/e) and decreasing on [\pi/e, \infty)

(d) decreasing on [0, \pi/e) and increasing on [\pi/e, \infty).

Fill in the correct multiple choice. Only one of the choices is correct.

Question 5:

Find the length of a longest interval in which the function 3\sin(x) -4\sin^{3}(x) is increasing.

Question 6:

Let f(x)=x e^{x(1-x)}, then f(x) is

(a) increasing on [-1/2, 1]

(b) decreasing on \Re

(c) increasing on \Re

(d) decreasing on [-1/2, 1].

Fill in the correct choice above. Only one choice holds true.

Question 7:

Consider the following statements S and R:

S: Both \sin(x) and \cos (x) are decreasing functions in the interval (\pi/2, \pi).

R: If a differentiable function decreases in the interval (a,b), then its derivative also decreases in (a,b).

Which of the following is true?

(i) Both S and R are wrong.

(ii) Both S and R are correct, but R is not the correct explanation for S.

(iii) S is correct and R is the correct explanation for S.

(iv) S is correct and R is wrong.

Indicate the correct choice. Only one choice is correct.

Question 8:

For which of the following functions on [0,1], the Lagrange’s Mean Value theorem is not applicable:

(i) f(x) = 1/2 -x, when x<1/2; and f(x) = (1/2-x)^{2}, when x \geq 1/2.

(ii) f(x) = \frac{\sin(x)}{x}, when x \neq 0; and f(x)=1, when x=0.

(iii) f(x)=x |x|

(iv) f(x)=|x|.

Only one choice is correct. Which one?

Question 9:

How many real roots does the equation e^{x-1}+x-2=0 have?

Question 10:

What is the difference between the greatest and least values of the function f(x) = \cos(x) + \frac{1}{2}\cos(2x) -\frac{1}{3}\cos(3x)?

More later,

Nalin Pithwa.

Applications of Derivatives: A Quick Review

Section I:

The Derivative as a Rate of Change

In case of a linear function y=mx+c, the graph is a straight line and the slope m measures the steepness of the line by giving the rate of climb of the line, the rate of change of y with respect to x.

As x changes from x_{0} to x_{1}, y changes m times as much:


Thus, the slope m=(y_{1}-y_{0})(x_{1}-x_{0}) gives the change in y per unit change in x.

In more general case of differentiable function y=f(x), the difference quotient

\frac{f(x+h)-f(x)}{x+h-x} = \frac{f(x+h)-f(x)}{h}, where h \neq 0

give the average rate of change of y (or f) with respect to x. The limit as h approaches zero is the derivative dy/dx = f^{'}(x), which can be interpreted as the instantaneous rate of change of f with respect to x. Since, the graph is a curve, the rate of change of y can vary from point to point.

Velocity and Acceleration:

Suppose that an object is moving along a straight line and that, for each time t during a certain time interval, the object has location/position x(t). Then, at time t+h the position of the object is x(t+h) and x(t+h)-x(t) is the change in position that the object experienced during the time period t to t+h. The ratio

\frac{x(t+h)-x(t)}{t+h-t} = \frac{x(t+h)-x(t)}{h}

gives the average velocity of the object during this time period. If

\lim_{h \rightarrow 0} \frac{x(t+h)-x(t)}{h}=x^{'}(t)

exists, then x^{'}(t) gives the instantaneous rate of change of position with respect to time. This rate of change of position is called the velocity of the object. If the velocity function is itself differentiable, then its rate of change with respect to time is called the acceleration; in symbols,

a(t) = v^{'}(t) = x^{''}(t)

The speed is by definition the absolute value of the velocity: speed at time t is |v(t)|

If the velocity and acceleration have the same sign, then the object is speeding up, but if the velocity and acceleration have opposite signs, then the object is slowing down.

A sudden change in acceleration is called a jerk. Jerk is the derivative of acceleration. If a body’s position at the time t is x(t), the body’s jerk at time t is

j = \frac{da}{dt} = \frac{d^{3}x}{dt^{3}}


Let y = f(x) be a differentiable function. Let h \neq 0. The difference f(x+h) - f(x) is called the increment of f from x to x+h, and is denoted by \Delta f.

\Delta f = f(x+h) - f(x)

The product f^{'}(x)h is called the differential of f at x with increment h, and is denoted by df

df = f^{'}(x)h

The change in f from x to x+h can be approximated by f^{'}(x)h:

f(x+h) - f(x) = f^{'}(x)h

Tangent and Normal

Let y = f(x) be the equation of a curve, and let P(x_{0}, y_{0}) be a point on it. Let PT be the tangent, PN the normal and PM the perpendicular to the x-axis.

The slope of the tangent to the curve y = f(x) at P is given by (\frac{dy}{dx})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}

Thus, the equation of the tangent to the curve y = f(x) at (x_{0}, y_{0}) is y - y_{0} = (\frac{dy}{dx})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}(x-x_{0})

Since PM is perpendicular to PT, it follows that if (\frac{dy}{dx})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})} \neq 0, the slope of PN is

- \frac{1}{(\frac{dy}{dx})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}} = - (\frac{dx}{dy})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}

Hence, the equation of the normal to the curve y = f(x) at (x_{0}, y_{0}) is

y - y_{0} = - (\frac{dx}{dy})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}(x-x_{0})

The equation of the normal parallel to the x-axis is y = y_{0}, that is, when (\frac{dy}{dx})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})} = 0. The length of the tangent at (x_{0}, y_{0}) is PT, and it is equal to

y_{0}\csc{\theta} = y_{0}\sqrt{1+\cot^{2}{\theta}} = y_{0}\sqrt{1+[(\frac{dx}{dy})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}]^{2}}

The length of the normal is PN and it is equal to y_{0}\sec {\theta} = y_{0}\sqrt{1 + [(\frac{dy}{dx})_{(x_{0}, y_{0})}]^{2}}

If the curve is represented by x = f(t) and y = g(t), that is, parametric equations in t, then

\frac{dy}{dx} = \frac{g^{'}(t)}{f^{'}(t)} where g^{'}(t)= \frac{dy}{dt} and f^{'}(t) = \frac{dx}{dt}. In this case, the equations of the tangent and the normal are given by

y - g(t) = \frac{g^{'}(t)}{f^{'}(t)}[x - f(t)] and [y-g(t)] g^{'}(t) + [x-f(t)]f^{'}(t) = 0 respectively.

The Angle between Two Curves

The angle of intersection of two curves is defined as the angle between the two tangents at the point of intersection. Let y = f(x) and y=g(x) be two curves, and let P(x_{0}, y_{0}) be their point of intersection. Also, let \psi and \phi be the angles of inclination of the two tangents with the x-axis, and let \theta be the angle between the two tangents. Then,

\tan {\theta} = \frac{\tan{\phi}-\tan{\psi}}{1+\tan{\phi}\tan{\psi}} = \frac{g^{'}(x) - f^{'}(x)}{1+f^{'}(x)g^{'}(x)}

Example 1:

Write down the equations of the tangent and the normal to the curve y = x^{3} - 3x + 2 at the point (2,4).

Solution 1:

\frac{dy}{dx} = 3x^{2}-3 \Longrightarrow \frac{dy}{dx}_{(2,4)} = 3.4 - 3 = 9.

Hence, the equation of the tangent at (2,4) is given by y-4 = 9(x-2) \Longrightarrow 9x-y-14=0 and the equation of the normal is y - 4 = (-1/9)(x-2) \Longrightarrow x+9y -38=0.

Rolle’s Theorem and Lagrange’s Theorem:

Rolle’s Theorem:

Let f(x) be a function defined on a closed interval [a,b] such that (i) f(x) is continuous on [a,b], (ii) f(x) is derivable on (a,b), and (iii) f(a) = f(b). Then, there exists a c \in (a,b) such that f^{'}(x)=0.

For details, the very beautiful, lucid, accessible explanation in Wikipedia:

Lagrange’s theorem:

Let f(x) be a function defined on a closed interval [a,b] such that (i) f(x) is continuous on [a,b], and (ii) f(x) is derivable on (a,b). Then, there exists a c \in [a,b] such that

f^{'}(c) = \frac{f(b)-f(a)}{b-a}

Example 2:

The function f(x) = \log {\sin(x)} satisfies the conditions of Rolle’s theorem on the interval [\frac{\pi}{6}, \frac{5\pi}{6}], as the logarithmic function and \sin (x) are continuous and differentiable functions and \log {\sin (\frac{5\pi}{6})} = \log {\sin (\pi - \frac{\pi}{6})} = \log{\sin{(\frac{\pi}{6})}}.

The conclusion of Rolle’s theorem is given at c=\frac{\pi}{2}, for which f^{'}(c) = \cot (c) = \cot (\pi/2) =0.

Rolle’s theorem for polynomials:

If \phi(x) is any polynomial, then between any pair of roots of \phi(x)=0 lies a root of \phi^{'}(x)=0.


A function f(x) defined on a set D is said to be non-decreasing, increasing, non-increasing and decreasing respectively, if for any x_{1}, x_{2} \in D and x_{1} < x_{2}, we have f(x_{1}) \leq f(x_{2}), f(x_{1}) < f(x_{2}), f(x_{1}) \geq f(x_{2}) and f(x_{1}) > f(x_{2}) respectively. The function f(x) is said to be monotonic if it possesses any of these properties.

For example, f(x) = e^{x} is an increasing function, and f(x)=\frac{1}{x} is a decreasing function.

Testing monotonicity:

Let f(x) be continuous on [a,b] and differentiable on (a,b). Then,

(i) for f(x) to be non-decreasing (non-increasing) on [a,b] it is necessary and sufficient that f^{'}(x) \geq 0 (f^{'}(x) \leq 0) for all x \in (a,b).

(ii) for f(x) to be increasing (decreasing) on [a,b] it is sufficient that f^{'}(x)>0 (f^{'}(x)<0) for all x \in (a,b).

(iii) If f^{'}(x)=0 for all x in (a,b), then f is constant on [a,b].

Example 3:

Determine the intervals of increase and decrease for the function f(x)=x^{3}+2x-5.

Solution 3:

We have f^{'}(x) = 3x^{2}+2, and for any value of x, 3x^{2}+2>0. Hence, f is increasing on (-\infty, -\infty). QED.

The following is a simple criterion for determining the sign of f^{'}(x):

If a,b \geq 0, then (x-a)(x-b)>0 iff x > \max (a,b) or x < \min(a,b);

(x-a)(x-b)<0 if and only if \min(a,b) < x < \max(a,b)

Maxima and Minima:

A function has a local maximum at the point x_{0} if the value of the function f(x) at that point is greater than its values at all points other than x_{0} of a certain interval containing the point x_{0}. In other words, a function f(x) has a maximum at x_{0} if it is possible to find an interval (\alpha, \beta) containing x_{0}, that is, with \alpha < x_{0} < \beta, such that for all points different from x_{0} in (\alpha, \beta), we have f(x) < f(x_{0}).

A function f(x) has a local minimum at x_{0} if there exists an interval (\alpha, \beta) containing x_{0} such that f(x) > f(x_{0}) for x \in (\alpha, \beta) and x \neq x_{0}.

One should not confuse the local maximum and local minimum of a function with its largest and smallest values over a given interval. The local maximum of a function is the largest value only in comparison to the values it has at all points sufficiently close to the point of local maximum. Similarly, the local minimum is the smallest value only in comparison to the values of the function at all points sufficiently close to the local minimum point.

The general term for the maximum and minimum of a function is extremum, or the extreme values of the function. A necessary condition for the existence of an extremum at the point x_{0} of the function f(x) is that f^{'}(x_{0})=0, or f^{'}(x_{0}) does not exist. The points at which f^{'}(x)=0 or f^{'}(x) does not exist, are called critical points.

First Derivative Test:

(i) If f^{'}(x) changes sign from positive to negative at x_{0}, that is, f^{'}(x)>0 for x < x_{0} and f^{'}(x)<0 for x > x_{0}, then the function attains a local maximum at x_{0}.

(ii) If f^{'}(x) changes sign from negative to positive at x_{0}, that is, f^{'}(x)<0 for x<x_{0}, and f^{'}(x)>0 for x > x_{0}, then the function attains a local minimum at x_{0}.

(iii) If the derivative does not change sign in moving through the point x_{0}, there is no extremum at that point.

Second Derivative Test:

Let f be twice differentiable, and let c be a root of the equation f^{'}(x)=0. Then,

(i) c is a local maximum point if f^{''}(c)<0.

(ii) c is a local minimum point if f^{''}(c)>0.

However, if f^{''}(c)=0, then the following result is applicable. Let f^{'}(c) = f^{''}(c) = \ldots = f^{n-1}(c)=0 (where f^{r} denotes the rth derivative), but f^{(n)}(c) \neq 0.

(i) If n is even and f^{(n)}(c)<0, there is a local maximum at c, while if f^{(n)}(c)>0, there is a local minimum at c.

(ii) If n is odd, there is no extremum at the point c.

Greatest/Least Value (Absolute Maximum/Absolute Minimum):

Let f be a function with domain D. Then, f has a greatest value (or absolute maximum) at a point c \in D if f^(x) \leq f(c) for all x in D and a least value (or absolute minimum) at c, if f(x) \geq f(c) for all x in D.

If f is continuous at every point of D, and D=[a,b], a closed interval, the f assumes both a greatest value M and a least value m, that is, there are x_{1}, x_{2} \in [a,b] such that f(x_{1})=M and f(x_{2})=m, and m \leq f(x) \leq M for every x \in [a,b].

Example 4:

a) y=x^{2}, with domain (-\infty, \infty). This has no greatest value; least value at x=0

b) y=x^{2} with domain [0,2]. This has greatest value at x=2 and least value at x=0.

c) y=x^{2} with domain (0,2]. This has greatest value at x=2 and no least value.

d) y=x^{2} with domain (0,2). This has no greatest value and no least value.

Some other remarks:

The greatest (least) value of continuous function f(x) on the interval [a,b] is attained either at the critical points or at the end points of the interval. To find the greatest (least) value of the function, we have to compute its values at all the critical points on the interval (a,b), and the values f(a), f(b) of the function at the end-points of the interval, and choose the greatest (least) out of the values so obtained.

We will continue with problems on applications of derivatives later,

Nalin Pithwa.

B.S. in Mathematics: IIT Bombay program:

Note that the admission is through IITJEE Advanced only.

Nalin Pithwa.