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IntMath Newsletter: Runge-Kutta, March math, Webinar

By Murray Bourne, 11 Mar 2015

11 Mar 2015

In this Newsletter:

1. Runge-Kutta Method
2. Special math days in March
3. Webinar: math on the Web
4. Math puzzles
5. Final thought - Sitting is killing us

1. Runge-Kutta Method for solving Differential Equations

Spring interactive applet using Runge-Kutter RK4

I recently updated the spring applet on this page:

Work by a Variable Force using Integration

The applet allows you to play with the spring, changing the spring constant (the "stiffness" of the spring) and seeing the resulting work done.

"Work" in this context means the quantity arising from a constant force acting on a mass through a certain distance.

There is more work done when the spring is stiffer, and when you compress (or extend) the spring further.

In the javascript coding, I needed to use the Runge-Kutta Order 4 Method for obtaining the spring's position at a given time. This is a famous method for solving differential equations numerically. That is, we don't need to do any algebra to solve it - we use a numerical technique to find good approximations of the function values as time goes on.

I didn't have a section on Runge-Kutta in IntMath, so I wrote one. As an introduction, I wrote about Euler's Method, which is simpler than Runge-Kutta. Here are the new sections:

Euler's Method - a numerical solution for differential equations

Runge-Kutta RK4 numerical solution for differential equations

Numerical methods are very important in the field of computer solutions for calculus problems. In many cases, we can't solve the problem algebraically anyway, so we have to resort to numerical approaches.

Numerical methods are certainly worth knowing about as computer-based math becomes more the norm.

2. Special math days in March

(a) International Women's Day

International Women's Day was on 8th March. I wrote a story earlier about an interesting female math pioneer:

Maria's Story

Another story is the astronomer who had to fight sexism to conduct scientific research: Vera Cooper Rubin. She was discouraged by her high school physics teacher, and couldn't enroll in Princeton for her masters because they didn't accept women in the program.

I think it's appalling that in many countries, women were not even allowed to enroll in universities until around a century ago. Sadly, in some countries that is still the case now. Malala Yousafzai is inspiring for the work she is doing to influence change in this area.

(b) Pi Day 2015

pi t-shirt
Pi T-shirt [Image source: themetapicture]

There is usually a flurry of activity regarding "pi" on 14th March each year, since the first 3 digits of the decimal approximation for pi are 3.14.

This year is a bit more special, as the next 2 digits of pi are 15, so we have 3.1415, or 3/14/15 (as written in the USA).

Happy Pi Day!

3. Webinar: Mathematics on the Web

An IntMath reader recently asked if I could conduct a Webinar on how to write mathematics on the Web.

There are many times when students want to ask their teachers a math question via email, and resort to writing it on paper, then photographing it and attaching it to the mail. This is not the best way.

Similarly, in math help forums, it's difficult for those asking questions and those answering them to easily communicate math symbols, fractions, formulas and the like.

For math teachers it is troublesome to create lessons on the Web for the same reasons.

So I'm considering offering a Webinar on ways to solve these issues. It will include:

  1. How to easily write math on a Web page
  2. How to set up a forum so students can communicate math concepts easily
  3. Communicating math via email

If you would like to be part of this one-hour Webinar (date and time to be decided), let me know by responding to this mail, or here.

There'll be a nominal fee for the session.

4. Math puzzles

The puzzle in the last IntMath Newsletter asked about the value of n which gives a maximum in a certain sequence.

The correct answer with explanation was given by Tomas, Thomas, Dineth, Nicos, Hamid, Michael, Henry, Francis, Helena, and Francisco.

It was interesting to see the variety of approaches used - they were almost all unique.

Here's another way to attack that question - draw a graph! We can see there's a local minimum at the point (6,523) and so the integer just before this is n = 5.

maximum value

Of course, we would need to do some algebra (or calculus, or trial-and-error) to prove n = 6 is actually the local minimum and not a point which is "close by". (Arguably my graph shouldn't be a curve. Can you say why?)

New math puzzle: To celebrate Pi Day, here's an interesting conundrum I came across recently. It involves limiting processes, a key concept in mathematics.

This claims Pi = 4. How can it be so?

Pi = 4

Leave your responses here.

4. Final thought - Sitting is killing us

For the last 20 years, I've spent the majority of each day sitting in front of a computer (or tablet, or smart phone). My body is not happy with me, and it objects by giving me clear messages - like a sore back, numb legs, painful arms and RSI-affected fingers.

So reently I've been trying to move (or at least stand) more during each day. I now consume information (watching videos, reading articles, and clearing emails - where I don't need to use a keyboard) while standing as much as possible. It's helping, but not as much as I'd like.

Many of you will be involved in sedentary work now or in the future. Do yourself a favor and move around more. I wish I'd done so.

Sitting is killing you

In this animation from TED, we learn why we shouldn't spend our lives sitting.

Why sitting is bad for you

Until next time, enjoy whatever you learn.

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