Tag Archives: geometry

Geometry & Arithmetic

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A couple of weeks ago I discussed a geometric solution to an arithmetic problem. In this post, I will discuss an arithmetical solution to a geometry problem. Consider the following question:

Given a square whose sides are reflecting mirrors. A ray of light leaves a point inside the square and is reflected repeatedly in the mirrors. What is the nature of its paths?

It may happen that the ray passes through a corner of the square. In that case, we assume that it returns along its former path.

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In figure, the parallels to the axis are the lines, x = m + \frac{1}{2} and y = n + \frac{1}{2}, where m and n are integers. The thick square, of side 1, around the origin is the square of the problem and E\equiv(a,b) is the starting point. We construct all images of E in the mirrors, for direct or repeated reflection. One can observe that they are of four types, the coordinates of the images of the different types being

  1. (a+2n, b+2m)
  2. (a+2n, -b+2m+1)
  3. (-a+2n+1, b+2m)
  4. (-a+2n+1, -b+2m+1)

where m and n are arbitrary integers. Further, if the velocity at E has direction cosines, \lambda, \mu, then the corresponding images of the velocity have direction cosines

  1. (\lambda, \mu)
  2. (\lambda, -\mu)
  3. (-\lambda, \mu)
  4. (-\lambda, -\mu)

where we suppose (on the grounds of symmetry) that \mu is positive. If we think of the plane as divided into squares of unit side, then interior of a typical square being

\displaystyle{n -\frac{1}{2} < x < n+\frac{1}{2}, \qquad m-\frac{1}{2}<y<m+\frac{1}{2}}

then each squares contains just one image of every point in the original sqaure, given by n=m=0 (shown by the bold points in the figure). And if the image in any of the above squares of any point in the original sqaure is of type (1.), (2.), (3.) or (4.), then the image in any of the above squares of any other point in the original square is of the same type.

We can now imagine E moving with the ray (shown by dotted lines in the figure). When the point E meets the mirror, it coincides with an image and the image of E which momentarily coincides with E continues the motion of E, in its original direction, in one of the squares adjacent to the fundamental square (the thick square). We follow the motion of the image, in this square, until it in its turn it meets a side of the square. Clearly, the original path of E will be continued indefinitely in the same line L (dotted line in the figure), by a series of different images.

The segment of L in any square (for a given n and m) is the image of a straight portion of the path of E in the original square. There is one-to-one correspondence between the segments of L, in different squares, and the portions of the path of E between successive reflections, each segment of L being an image of the corresponding portion of the path of E.

The path of E in the original square will be periodic if E returns to its original position moving in the same direction; and this will happen if and only if L passes through an image of type (1.) of the original E. The coordinates of an arbitrary point of L are x=a+\lambda t, \quad y = b+\mu tf.

Hence the path will be periodic if and only if \lambda t = 2n, \quad \mu t = 2m, for some t and integral n,m, i.e. if  \frac{\lambda}{\mu} is rational.

When \frac{\lambda}{\mu} is irrational, then the path of E approaches arbitrarily near to every point (c,d) of the sqaure. This follows directly from Kronecker’s Theorem in one dimension (see § 23.3 of G H. Hardy and E. M. Wright’s An Introduction to the Theory of Numbers.):

[Kronecker’s Theorem in one dimension] If \theta is irrational, \alpha is arbitrary, and N and \epsilon are positive, then there are integers p and q such that p>N and |p\theta - q-\alpha|<\epsilon.

Here, we have \theta = \frac{\lambda}{\mu} and \alpha = (b-d)\frac{\lambda}{2\mu} - \frac{1}{2}(a-c), with large enough integers p=m and q=n. Hence we can conclude that

[König-Szücs Theorem]Given a square whose sides are reflecting mirrors. A ray of light leaves a point inside the square and is reflected repeatedly in the mirrors. Either the path is closed and periodic or it is dense in the square, passing arbitrarily near to every point of the square. A necessary and sufficient condition for the periodicity is that the angle between a side of the square and the initial direction of the ray should have a rational tangent.

Another way of stating the above Kronecker’s theorem is

[Kronecker’s Theorem in one dimension] If \theta is irrational, then the set of points n\theta - \lfloor n\theta\rfloor is dense in the interval (0,1).

Then with some knowledge of Fourier series, we can try to answer a more general question

Given an irrational number \theta, what can be said about the distribution of the fractional parts of the sequence of numbers n\theta, for n=1,2,3,\ldots?

The answer to this question is called Weyl’s Equidistribution Theorem (see §4.2 of  Elias M. Stein & Rami Shakarchi’s Fourier Analysis: An Introduction)

[Weyl’s Equidistribution Theorem] If \theta is irrational, then the sequence of fractional parts \{n\theta - \lfloor n\theta\rfloor\}_{n=1}^{\infty} is equidistributed in [0,1).

I really enjoyed reading about this unexpected link between geometry and arithmetic (and Fourier analysis). Most of the material has been taken/copied from Hardy’s book. The solution to the geometry problem reminds me of the solution to the Cross Diagonal Cover  Problem.

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Arithmetic & Geometry

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After a month of the unexpected break from mathematics, I will resume the regular weekly blog posts. It’s a kind of relaunch of this blog, and I  will begin with the discussion of an arithmetic problem with a geometric solution.  This is problem 103 from  The USSR Olympiad Problem Book:

Prove that
\displaystyle{t_1+t_2+\ldots + t_n = \left\lfloor\frac{n}{1}\right\rfloor + \left\lfloor\frac{n}{2}\right\rfloor + \left\lfloor\frac{n}{3}\right\rfloor + \ldots + \left\lfloor\frac{n}{n}\right\rfloor}
where t_k is the number of divisors of the natural number k.

One can solve this problem by using the principle of mathematical induction or using the fact that the number of integers of the sequence 1,2,3,\ldots , n which are divisible by any chosen integer k is equal to \left\lfloor \frac{n}{k}\right\rfloor. The second approach of counting suggests an elegant geometric solution.

Consider the equilateral hyperbola \displaystyle{y = \frac{k}{x}} , (of which we shall take only the branches in the first quadrant):
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We note all the points in the first quadrant which have integer coordinates as the intersection point of the dotted lines. Now, if an integer x is a divisor of the integer k, then the point (x,y) is a point on the graph of the hyperbola xy=k. Conversely, if the hyperbola xy=k contains an integer point, then the x-coordinate is a divisor of k. Hence the number of integers t_k is  equal to the number of the integer points lying on the hyperbola xy=k. The number t_k is thus equal to the number of absciassas of integer points lying on the hyperbola xy=k. Now, we make use of the fact that the hyperbola xy=n lies “farther out” in the quadrant than do xy=1, xy=2, xy=3, \ldots, xy=n-1. The following implication hold:

The sum t_1+t_2\ldots + t_n is equal to the number of integer points lying under or on the hyperbola xy=n. Each such point will lie on a hyperbola xy=k, where k\leq n. The number of integer points with abscissa k located under the hyperbola is equal to the integer part of the length of the segment \overline{AB} [in figure above k=3]. That is \left\lfloor\frac{n}{k}\right\rfloor, since \displaystyle{|\overline{AB}|=\frac{n}{k}}, i.e. ordinate of point A on hyperbola xy=n for abscissa k. Thus, we obtain

\displaystyle{t_1+t_2+\ldots + t_n = \left\lfloor\frac{n}{1}\right\rfloor + \left\lfloor\frac{n}{2}\right\rfloor + \left\lfloor\frac{n}{3}\right\rfloor + \ldots + \left\lfloor\frac{n}{n}\right\rfloor}

Caution: Excess of anything is harmful, even mathematics. 

Triangles and Rectangles

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Consider the following question by Bill Sands (asked in 1995):

Are there right triangles with integer sides and area, associated with rectangles having the same perimeter and area?

Try to test your intuition. The solution to this problem is NOT so simple. The solution was published by Richard K. Guy in 1995: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2974502 

If you have a simpler solution, please write it in a comment below. Even I don’t understand much of the solution.

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.

Understanding Geometry – 3

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In some of my past posts, I have mentioned “hyperbolic curvature“,”hyperbolic trigonometry” and “hyperbolic ideal points“. In this post I will share some artworks, based on hyperbolic geometry, by contemporary artists (from Tumblr):

To explain the mathematics behind the construction of these pictures I will quote Roger Penrose from pp. 34 of  “The Road to Reality“:

Think of any circle in a Euclidean plane. The set of points lying in the interior of this circle is to represent the set of points in the entire hyperbolic plane. Straight lines, according to the hyperbolic geometry are to be represented as segments of Euclidean circles which meet the bounding circle orthogonally — which means at right angles. Now, it turns out that the hyperbolic notion of an angle between any two curves, at their point of intersection, is precisely the same as the Euclidean measure of the angle between the two curves at the intersection point. A representation of this nature is called conformal. For this reason, the particular representation of hyperbolic geometry that Escher used is sometimes referred to as the conformal model of hyperbolic plane.

In the above-quoted paragraph, Penrose refers to Escher’s “Circle Limit” works, explained in detail by Bill Casselman in this article.

Understanding Geometry – 2

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If you want to brush up your high school geometry knowledge, then KhanAcademy is a good place to start. For example, I learned a new proof of Pythagoras Theorem (there are 4 different proofs on KhanAcademy) which uses scissors-congruence:

In this post, I will share with you few theorems from L. I. Golovina and I. M. Yaglom’s “Induction in Geometry ”  which I learned while trying to prove Midpoint-Polygon Conjecture.

Theorem 1: The sum of interior angles of an n-gon is 2\pi (n-2).

Theorem 2: The number of ways in which a convex n-gon can be divided into triangles by non-intersecting diagonals is given by

\displaystyle{\frac{2(2n-5)!}{(n-1)!(n-3)!}}

Theorem 3: Given a \triangle ABC, with n-1 straight lines CM_1, CM_2, \ldots CM_{n-1} drawn through its vertex C, cutting the triangle into n smaller triangles \triangle ACM_1, \triangle M_1CM_2, \ldots, \triangle M_{n-1}CB. Denote by r_1, r_2, \ldots r_n and \rho_1, \rho_2, \ldots, \rho_n respectively the radii of the inscribed and circumscribed circles of these triangles (all the circumscribed circles are inscribed within the angle C of the triangle) and let r and \rho be the radii of the inscribed and circumscribed circles (respectively) of the \triangle ABC itself. Then

\displaystyle{\frac{r_1}{\rho_1} \cdot\frac{r_2}{\rho_2} \cdots\frac{r_n}{\rho_n} =\frac{r}{\rho} }

Theorem 4: Any convex n-gon which is not a parallelogram can be enclosed by a triangle whose sides lie along three sides of the given n-gon.

Theorem 5 (Levi’s Theorem): Any convex polygon which is not a parallelogram can be covered with three homothetic polygons smaller than the given one.

The above theorem gives a good idea of what “combinatorial geometry” is all about. In this subject, the method of mathematical induction is widely used for proving various theorems. Combinatorial geometry deals with problems, connected with finite configurations of points or figures. In these problems, values are estimated connected with configurations of figures (or points) which are optimal in some sense.

Theorem 6 (Newton’s Theorem): The midpoints of the diagonals of a quadrilateral circumscribed about a circle lie on one straight line passing through the centre of the circle.

Theorem 7 (Simson’s Theorem): Given a \triangle ABC inscribed in the circle S with an arbitrary point P on this circle. Then then feet of the perpendiculars dropped from the point P to the sides of the \triangle ABC are collinear.

We can extend the above idea of Simson’s line to any n-gon inscribed in a circle.

Theorem 8: A 3-dimensional space is divided into \frac{(n+1)(n^2-n+6)}{6} parts by n planes, each three of which intersect and no four of which have a common point.

Theorem 9: Given n spheres in 3-dimesnional space, each four of which intersect. Then all these spheres intersect, i. e. there exists a point belonging to all the spheres.

Theorem 10 (Young’s Theorem): Given n points in the plane such that each pair of them are at a distance of at most 1 from each other. Then all these points can be enclosed in a circle of radius 1/\sqrt{3}.

I won’t be discussing their proofs since the booklet containing the proofs and the detailed discussion is freely available at Mir Books.

Also, I would like to make a passing remark about the existence of a different kind of geometry system, called “finite geometry“. A finite geometry is any geometric system that has only a finite number of points. The familiar Euclidean geometry is not finite because a Euclidean line contains infinitely many points. A geometry based on the graphics displayed on a computer screen, where the pixels are considered to be the points, would be a finite geometry. While there are many systems that could be called finite geometries, attention is mostly paid to the finite projective and affine spaces because of their regularity and simplicity. You can learn more about it here: http://www.ams.org/samplings/feature-column/fcarc-finitegeometries

Understanding Geometry – 1

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When we think about mathematics, what comes to our mind are the numbers and figures. The  study of numbers is called arithmetic and the study of figures is called geometry (in very crude sense!). In our high school (including olympiad level) and college curriculum we cover various aspects of arithmetic. I am very much satisfied with that treatment, and this is the primary reason for my research interests in arithmetic (a.k.a. number theory).

But, I was always unsatisfied with the treatment given to geometry in our high school curriculum. We were taught some plane Euclidean geometry (with the mention of the existence of non-euclidean geometries), ruler and compass constructions, plane trigonometry (luckily, law of cosines was taught), surface area & volume of 3D objects, 2D coordinate geometry, conic sections and 3D coordinate geometry.  In the name of Euclidean geometry some simple theorems for triangles, quadrilaterals and circles are discussed, like triangle congruence criterias, triangle similarity criterias, Pythagoras theorem, Mid-Point Theorem, Basic Proportionality Theorem, Thales’ Theorem, Ptolemy’s theorem, Brahmagupta theorem etc. are discussed. Ruler-compass constructions are taught as “practical geometry”. Students are asked to cram the formulas of area (including Brahmagupta’s formula and Heron’s formula) and volume without giving any logic (though in earlier curriculum teacher used to give the reasoning). Once coordinate geometry is introduced, students are asked to forget the idea of Euclidean geometry or visualizing 3D space. And to emphasize this, conic sections are introduced only as equations of curves in two dimensional euclidean plane.

The interesting theorems from Euclidean geometry like Ceva’s theorem,  Stewart’s Theorem,  Butterfly theorem, Morley’s theorem (I discussed this last year with high school students), Menelaus’ theorem, Pappus’s theorem,  etc. are never discussed in classroom (I came to know about them while preparing for olympiads). Ruler-compass constructions are taught without mentioning the three fundamental impossibilities of angle trisection, squaring a circle and doubling a cube. The conic sections are taught without discussing the classical treatment of the subject by Apollonius.

In the classic “Geometry and Imagination“, the first chapter on conic sections is followed by discussion of crystallographic groups (Character tables for point groups),  projective geometry (recently I discussed an exciting theorem related to this) and differential geometry (currently I am doing an introductory course on it). So over the next few months I will be posting mostly about geometry (I don’t know how many posts in total…), in an attempt to fill the gap between high-school geometry and college geometry.

I agree with the belief that algebraic and analytic methods make the handling of geometry problems much easier, but in my opinion these methods suppress the visualization of geometric objects. I will end this introductory post with a way to classify geometry by counting the number of ideal points in projective plane:

  • Hyperbolic Geometry (a.k.a. Lobachevsky-Bolyai-Gauss type non-euclidean geometry) which has two ideal points [angle-sum of a triangle is less than 180°].
  • Elliptic Geometry (a.k.a. Riemann type non-euclidean geometry) which has no ideal points. [angle-sum of a triangle is more than 180°]
  • Parabolic Geometry (a.k.a. euclidean geometry)  which has one ideal point. [angle-sum of a triangle is 180°]