MATHS BITE: Heptadecagon

A heptadecagon (or a 17-gon) is a seventeen sided polygon.

File:Regular polygon 17 annotated.svg

Regular Heptadecagon | Wikipedia

Constructing the Heptadecagon

In 1796, Gauss proved, at the age of 19 (let that sink in…) that the heptadecagon is constructible with a compass and a straightedge, such as a ruler. His proof of the constructibility of an n-gon relies on two things:

  • the fact that “constructibility is equivalent to expressibility of the trigonometric functions of the common angle in terms of arithmetic operations and square root extractions“;
  • the odd prime factors of n are distinct Fermat primes.

Constructing the regular heptadecagon involves finding the expression for the cosine of  2\pi /17 in terms of square roots, which Gauss gave in his book Disquistiones Arithmeticae:

{\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}16\,\cos {\frac {2\pi }{17}}=&-1+{\sqrt {17}}+{\sqrt {34-2{\sqrt {17}}}}+\\&2{\sqrt {17+3{\sqrt {17}}-{\sqrt {34-2{\sqrt {17}}}}-2{\sqrt {34+2{\sqrt {17}}}}}}\\=&-1+{\sqrt {17}}+{\sqrt {34-2{\sqrt {17}}}}+\\&2{\sqrt {17+3{\sqrt {17}}-{\sqrt {170+38{\sqrt {17}}}}}}.\end{aligned}}}

Source: Wikipdia

An explicit construction was given by Herbert Willian Richmond in 1893.

Regular Heptadecagon Using Carlyle Circle.gif

Source: Wikipedia

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MATHS BITE: Ford Circles

A ford circle is a circle with centre (p/q,1/(2q^{2})), and radius 1/(2q^{2}), where p and q are coprime integers.

File:Ford circles colour.svg

Source: Wikipedia

Notice that each Ford Circle is tangent to to the horizontal axis and any two Ford circles are either tangent or disjoint. The latter statement can be proven by finding the squared distance d^2 between the centres of the circles with (p,q) and (p’,q’) as the pairs of coprime integers.


Let s be the sum of the radii:




However, we have that latex-image-4.png and so latex-image-5.png, thus the distance between circles is greater or equal to the sum of the radii of the circles. There is equality iff


In this case, the circles are tangent to one another.

Total area of Ford Circles

(taken from Wikipedia)

As no two ford circles intersect, it follows immediately that the total area of the Ford circles:

\left\{C[p,q]:0\leq {\frac  {p}{q}}\leq 1\right\}

is less than 1.

From the definition, the area is

A=\sum _{{q\geq 1}}\sum _{{(p,q)=1 \atop 1\leq p<q}}\pi \left({\frac  {1}{2q^{2}}}\right)^{2}.

Simplifying this expression gives us

A={\frac  {\pi }{4}}\sum _{{q\geq 1}}{\frac  {1}{q^{4}}}\sum _{{(p,q)=1 \atop 1\leq p<q}}1={\frac  {\pi }{4}}\sum _{{q\geq 1}}{\frac  {\varphi (q)}{q^{4}}}={\frac  {\pi }{4}}{\frac  {\zeta (3)}{\zeta (4)}},

noting that the last equality is given by considering the Dirichlet generating function for Euler’s totient function φ(q).

Given that ζ(4) = π^4/90, we get

A={\frac  {45}{2}}{\frac  {\zeta (3)}{\pi ^{3}}}\approx 0.872284041.

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Proof Without Words #3

Proof of the identity

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 5.34.22 PM.png



The figure for general n is similar, with n right pyramids, one with an (n-1)-cube of side length xk as its base and height xk for each k=1,….,n.

The derivative of sin is cosine.


From ‘Proof without words‘ by Roger Nelsen

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 5.47.56 PM.png

By Sidney H. Kung

Screen Shot 2017-07-30 at 5.48.12 PM.png

By Shirley Wakin

Previous ‘Proof Without Words‘: Part 1 | Part 2

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Kakeya Needle Problem

The Kakeya needle problem asks whether there is a minimum area of a region in the plane in which a line segment of width 1 can be freely rotated through 360°, where translation of the segment is allowed.

This question was first posed for convex regions in 1917 by mathematician Sōichi Kakeya. It was shown by Gyula Pál that the minimum area for convex regions is achieved by an equilateral triangle of height 1 and area 1/√3.

Kakeya suggested that the minimum area, without the convexity restriction, would be a three-pointed deltoid shape. However, this is false.

Needle rotating inside a deltoid | Source: Wikipedia

Besicovitch Sets

Besicovitch was able to show that there is no lower bound >0 for the area of a region in which a needle of unit length can be turned around. The proof of this relies on the construction of what is now known as a Besicovitch set, which is a set of measure zero in the plane which contains a unit line segment in every direction.

One can construct a set in which a unit line segment can be rotated continuously through 180 degrees from a Besicovitch set consisting of Perron trees.

Kakeya Needle Set constructed from Perron trees | Source: Wikipedia

However, although there are Kakeya needle sets of arbitrarily small positive measure and Besicovich sets of measure 0, there are no Kakeya needle sets of measure 0.

Video: Numberphile

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MATHS BITE: Dini’s Surface

Dini’s surface, named after Ulisse Dini, is a surface with constant negative curvature that can be created by twisting a pseudosphere (see picture below).


Dini’s surface is given by the following parametric equations:

{\displaystyle {\begin{aligned}x&=a\cos u\sin v\\y&=a\sin u\sin v\\z&=a\left(\cos v+\ln \tan {\frac {v}{2}}\right)+bu\end{aligned}}}



Dini’s Surface

Dini’s surface is pictured in the upper right-hand corner of a book by Alfred Gray (1997), as well as on the cover of volume 2, number 3 of La Gaceta de la Real Sociedad Matemática Española (1999).

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Nine-Point Circle

The nine-point circle is a circle that can be that can be constructed for any given triangle. It is named the nine-point circle as it passes through nine points defined from the triangle:

  • The midpoint of each side of the triangle (Ma, Mb, Mc);
  • The foot of each altitude (Ha, Hb, Hc);
  • The midpoint of the line segment from each vertex of the triangle to point where the three altitudes meet, i.e. the orthocentre H, (Ea, Eb, Ec).

Nine Point Circle | Source: Wolfram Mathworld

Note that for an acute triangle, six of the points – the midpoints and altitude feet – lie on the triangle itself. On the contrary, for an obtuse triangle two of the altitudes have feet outside the triangle, but these feet still belong to the nine-point triangle.

The nine-point circle is the complement to the circumcircle, which is the unique circle that passes through each of the triangle’s three vertices.


Circumcircle | Source: Wolfram Mathworld

Although credited for its discovery, Karl Wilhelm Feuerbach did not entirely discover the nine-point circle, but rather the six point circle, as he only recognised that the midpoints of the three sides of the triangle and the feet of the altitudes of that triangle lay on the circle. It was mathematician Olry Terquem who was the first to recognise the added significance of the three midpoints between the triangle’s vertices and the orthocenter.

Three Properties of the Nine-Point Triangle

  • The radius of a triangle’s circumcircle is twice the radius of the same triangle’s nine-point circle.

Source: Wikipedia

  • A nine-point circle bisects a line segment going from the corresponding triangle’s orthocenter to any point on its circumcircle.
9pcircle 04.png

Source: Wikipedia

  • All triangles inscribed in a given circle and having the same orthocenter have the same nine-point circle.

Want to know more?

Click here to find out to construct a nine-point circle and here to read a quick proof of its existence!

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Intrinsic Geometry

Today I wanted to discuss the geometry of curves and surfaces.

Curves, Curvature and Normals

First let us consider a curve r(s) which is parameterised by s, the arc length.

Now, t(s) = Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.05.47 AM.png is a unit tangent vector and so t2 = 1, thus t.t = 1. If we differentiate this, we get that t.t‘ = 0, which specifies a direction normal to the curve, provided t‘ is not equal to zero. This is because if the dot product of two vectors is zero, then those two vectors are perpendicular to each other.

Let us define t’ = Kwhere the unit vector n(s) is called the principal normal and K(s) is called the curvature. Note that we can always make K positive by choosing an appropriate direction for n.

Another interesting quantity is the radius of curvature, a, which is given by

a = 1/curvature

Now that we have n and t we can define a new vector x n, which is orthonormal to both t and n. This is called the binormal. Using this, we can then examine the torsion of the curve, which is given by

T(s) = –b’.n

Image result for binormal tangent

Intrinsic Geometry

As the plane is rotated about n we can find a range

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.16.01 AM.pngwhereScreen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.16.08 AM.png and Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.16.14 AM.png are the principal curvatures. Then

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.17.34 AM.png

is called the Gaussian curvature.

Gauss’ Theorema Egregium (which literally translates to ‘Remarkable Theorem’!) says that K is intrinsic to the surface. This means that it can be expressed in terms of lengths, angles, etc. which are measured entirely on the surface!

For example, consider a geodesic triangle on a surface S.

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.20.37 AM.png

Let θ1, θ2, θ3 be the interior angles. Then the Gauss-Bonnet theorem tells us that

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.22.10 AM.png

which generalises the angle sum of a triangle to curved space.

Let us check this when S is a sphere of radius a, for which the geodesics are great circles. We can see that Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.16.08 AM.png=Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.16.14 AM.png= 1/a, and so K = 1/a2, a constant. As shown below, we have a family of geodesic triangles D with θ1 = α, θ2 = θ3 = π/2.


Since K is constant over S,

Screen Shot 2017-02-14 at 8.27.09 AM.png

Then θ1 + θ2 + θ3 = π + α, agreeing with the prediction of the theorem.

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