Category Archives: Personal Experiences

My mathematics related experiences

Four Examples

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Following are the four examples of sequences (along with their properties) which can be helpful to gain a better understanding of theorems about sequences (real analysis):

  • \langle n\rangle_{n=1}^{\infty} : unbounded, strictly increasing, diverging
  • \langle \frac{1}{n}\rangle_{n=1}^{\infty} : bounded, strictly decreasing, converging
  • \langle \frac{n}{1+n}\rangle_{n=1}^{\infty} : bounded, strictly increasing, converging
  • \langle (-1)^{n+1}\rangle_{n=1}^{\infty} : bounded, not converging (oscillating)

I was really amazed to found that x_n=\frac{n}{n+1} is a strictly increasing sequence, and in general, the function f(x)=\frac{x}{1+x} defined for all positive real numbers is an increasing function bounded by 1:

 

Thre graph of x/(1+x) for x>0. Plotted using SageMath 7.5.1

The graph of x/(1+x) for x>0, plotted using SageMath 7.5.1

 

Also, just a passing remark, since \log(x)< x+1 for all x>0, and as seen in prime number theorem we get an unbounded increasing function \frac{x}{\log(x)} for x>1

dort

The plot of x/log(x) for x>2. The dashed line is y=x for the comparison of growth rate. Plotted using SageMath 7.5.1

 

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Magic Cubes

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Last week I attended a talk (by a student) about Magic Squares. I learned a bunch of cool facts about them (like how to devise an algorithm to construct them). Towards the end of the talk, one student from the audience suggested the possibility of Magic Cubes. I got very excited about this idea since it pointed towards the stereotypical mathematical ideology of generalizing the examples in order to see the deeper connections.

I myself don’t know much about Magic Cubes (or even Magic Squares) but would like to quote W. W. Rouse Ball & H. S. M. Coxeter from pp. 217 the book “Mathematical Recreations and Essays” (11th Ed.) :

A Magic Cube of the n^{th} order consists of the consecutive numbers from 1 to n^3, arranged in the form of a cube, so that the sum of the numbers in every row, every column, every file, and in each of the four diagonals (or “diameters “), is the same-namely, \frac{1}{2}(n^3 + 1). This sum occurs in 3n^2 + 4 ways. I do not know of any rule for constructing magic cubes of singly-even order. But such cubes of any odd or doubly-even order can be constructed by a natural extension of the methods already used for squares.

I would like to read about these magic hyper-cubes in future. And if you know something interesting about them, let me know in the comments below.

Intra-mathematical Dependencies

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Recently I completed all of my undergraduate level maths courses, so wanted to sum up my understanding of mathematics in the following dependency diagram:

mat-dependency (1)

I imagine this like a wall, where each topic is a brick. You can bake different bricks at different times (i.e. follow your curriculum to learn these topics), but finally, this is how they should be arranged (in my opinion) to get the best possible understanding of mathematics.

As of now, I have an “elementary” knowledge of Set Theory, Algebra, Analysis, Topology, Geometry, Probability Theory, Combinatorics and Arithmetic. Unfortunately, in India, there are no undergraduate level courses in Mathematical Logic and Category Theory.

This post can be seen as a sequel of my “Mathematical Relations” post.

Teaching Mathematics

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One of the most challenging and rewarding thing associated with being a math enthusiast (a.k.a. mathematician) is an opportunity to share your knowledge about the not so obvious truths of mathematics. A couple of years ago, I tried to communicate that feeling through an article for high school students.

When I joined college, I tried to teach mathematics to some kids from financially not-so strong family. Since they had no exposure to mathematics, I had to start with  concepts like addition and multiplication of numbers. My experience can be summarized as the following stand-up comedy performance by Naveen Richard:

After trying for about a couple of months to teach elementary mathematics, I gave up and now I discuss mathematics only above the high school level. Last week I delivered a lecture discussing the proof of Poncelet’s Closure Theorem:

Whenever a polygon is inscribed in one conic section and circumscribes another one, the polygon must be part of an infinite family of polygons that are all inscribed in and circumscribe the same two conics.

I had spent sufficient time preparing the lecture, and believed that I was aware of all possible consequences of this theorem. But, almost half way through the lecture one person (Haresh) from the audience of 10 people, pointed out following fascinating consequence of the theorem:

If an n-sided polygon is inscribed in one conic section and circumscribed by the other one, then it must be a convex polygon and no other m-sided polygon (with m≠n) can be inscribed and circumscribed by this pair of conic sections.

This kind of insights by audience motivates me to discuss mathematics with others!

Division algorithm for reals

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You must have seen long-division method to compute decimal representation for fractions. Astonishingly, I never pondered about how one would divide an irrational number to get decimal representation. Firstly, this representation will be approximate. Secondly, we have been doing this in name of “rationalizing the denominator” stating the reason that division by irrationals is not allowed. But, in fact, this is the same problem as faced while analysing division algorithm for Gaussian integers.

Bottom line: Numbers are just symbols. We tend to assign meaning to them as we grow up. Since the set of real numbers, rational numbers and integers  form an Euclidean domain, we can write a division algorithm for them. For example, we don’t have special set of symbols for 3 divided by π, but 3 divided by 2 is denoted by 1.5 in decimals.

Borsuk-Ulam Theorem

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Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture delivered by Dr. Ritwik Mukherjee, one of my professors, to motivate the study of algebraic topology. Instead of using the “soft targets” like Möbius strip etc. he used the following profound theorem for motivation:

If f: S^n \to \mathbb{R}^n is continuous then there exists an x\in S^n such that:  f(-x)=f(x).

This is known as Borsuk-Ulam Theorem. To appreciate this theorem, one need to know a fundamental theorem about continuous functions known as Intermediate Value Theorem:

If a continuous function, f, with an interval, [a, b], as its domain, takes values f(a) and f(b) at each end of the interval, then it also takes any value between f(a) and f(b) at some point within the interval.

Here is a video by James Grime illustrating Borsuk-Ulam Theorem in 3D:

Though the implications of the theorem itself are beautiful, following corollary known as Ham sandwich theorem is even more interesting. Here is a video by Marc Chamberland explaining this theorem:

Also, yesterday Grant Sanderson uploaded a video exploring the relation of Borsuk-Ulam Theorem with a fair division problem known as Necklace splitting problem:

But, to my amazement, this theorem is related to one of the other most astonishing theorem of algebraic topology called Brouwer fixed-point theorem:

Every continuous function from a closed ball of a Euclidean space into itself has a fixed point.

Here is a video by Michael Stevens illustrating Brouwer fixed-point theorem in some interesting cases:

 

Now the applications of this theorem are numerous, and there is a book dedicated to this theorem: “Fixed Points” by Yu. A. Shashkin. But my favourite application of this fixed point theorem is to the board game called Hex, explained by Marc Chamberland here:

If you come across some other video/article discussing the coolness of “Borsuk-Ulam Theorem” please let me know.

Geometry of Virus

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This semester I am taking a course about protein structures. Here is a quick intro to proteins:

Though I have taken some other biology courses in past years, I found this course very much relatable to mathematics. Proteins are made up of “amino acids”. Though, chemistry allows large number of possible structures for amino acids (considering steric hindrance etc.), nature uses only 20 unique amino acids to make billions of different proteins. In my opinion, these 20 amino acids are “axioms” of protein building just like the 5 axioms of euclidean geometry.

Using just 20 amino acids we can get a large variety of protein structures, just like creating any kind of shape in euclidean space using just 5 axioms. Even more fascinating is the existence of “Quasisymmetry in Icosahedral Viruses”. An awesome article explaining this is available here. Note that, the term “triangulation number” stated in that article was not borrowed from mathematics. It’s a term used to study symmetries in icosahedral viruses and refers to “the square of the distance between 2 adjacent 5-fold vertices.”

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200 Icosahedral Viruses from the PDB (source: http://pdb101.rcsb.org/learn/resource/200-icosahedral-viruses-poster)

Moreover, the structures which don’t conform to classic quasisymmetry are similar to Escher print and Penrose tiling, as visible in following picture:

If you are interested in doing a fun activity, you may refer to: http://pdb101.rcsb.org/learn/resource/quasisymmetry-in-icosahedral-viruses-activity-page