Integration by Parts – Lightbulb Education

Integration by Parts

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By | August 10th, 2016|Advertising, Courses, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|0 Comments

Integration By Substitution – Lightbulb Education

Integration By Substitution

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By | August 8th, 2016|Advertising, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|0 Comments

Does knowledge of past years affect the Keynesian Beauty Contest result?

Last year I played the 2/3 numbers game, also called the Keynesian Beauty Contest with my first year maths class. The discussion can be found here: I wanted to know if, telling my class the results from last year (including sketching for them the histogram of results), would change how they chose their numbers this year. Of course I can’t tell if it changed them, but what is fascinating is that either:

  1. Their guesses (if I didn’t tell them about the results from last year) would have been very different from those last year, or:
  2. They were completely unaffected by knowing what people did last year, which really means that they believed that the rest of the class would have been unaffected.

I plot here the results from the last three years and you can see how similar the results are, year on year.

gametheoryYou can see that the distributions are relatively similar, and the means are extremely close.…

By | August 6th, 2016|Courses, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|0 Comments

Picturing volumes of revolution

One of the homework questions this week was the following:

Let R=\{(x,y)\in \mathbb{R}^2:y\ge 0, \cos x\le y\le \sin x\,\,and\,\,0\le x\le\pi\}.

a) Sketch the region R and find its area.
b) Find the volume of the solid obtained by rotating the region R around the y-axis.

The first thing to do is to sketch the graphs of y=\cos x and y=\sin x. Once you’ve done that, the other parts of the inequalities should be clear. It should look like the red region in the following plot:


pic1Now we have to imagine bringing out a third axis, perpendicular to the picture above, ie. coming out towards us. We then want to rotate the red form here about the vertical axis. This we can imagine doing in the following animation:


trialGiven this form we can then think about either taking horizontal cross-sections through it, which will give us thin annuli, or we can take vertical, circular slices to give us thin shells. Adding these together and integrating should give us the same answer whichever way we choose to slice it, but one way will be considerably easier.…

By | August 4th, 2016|Courses, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|1 Comment

An integral expression for n!

I gave a challenge question at the end of class a week or so ago. Here I will give the solution and show that it gives us something rather strange and surprisingly useful.

I wrote down the following, and asked you to prove it:


\int_0^\infty e^{-t} t^N dt=N!


For N\ge 0, N\in \mathbb{Z}. Now, N! can be thought of as the number of different orderings of pulling N objects out of a bag (without replacement) when they are all different. If you have N things in a bag, then there are N possible things that you can pull out first. There are then N-1 ways of pulling out the next object, N-2 ways of pulling out the next, etc. and finally, when you’ve pulled out N-1 objects there’s only a single possibility of pulling out the last. So:




And the number of ways of pulling no objects out of a bag is 1, because you just don’t pull anything out.…

A general formula for partial fractions

Out of the blue I wrote down a rather confusing mass of indices and summations on the board a few days ago. Writing this down at the last minute was perhaps a bad idea, but I wanted to show what the general form for expanding a fraction into partial fractions was. Here I’m just motivating it a little more. It’s not something that you will need to use, but it’s often good to write things down in as general a form as you can.

Let’s say that we have an expression of the form:




Where P(x) is some polynomial of degree less than 3 (because the denominator is degree 3). We can write this as:




To find A,  B and C, you cross-multiply, and then match coefficients of powers of x with those in P(x).  If you have an irreducible quadratic in the denominator you will have terms of the form:




in your partial fraction, and of course if it’s an irreducible quadratic to an integer power greater than one, you will have multiple terms, just as you do for the (x-2) expression in the example above.…

By | July 30th, 2016|Courses, First year, MAM1000, Uncategorized, Undergraduate|1 Comment

Where did that substitution come from?

If you want to understand maths, you really have to do it. I recommend going through these examples and using the substitutions given here as hints. Get a blank piece of paper, put your notes away and try to do these examples and see if you get the same answers as in class. If you don’t, write in the comments, and we can see where things may have gone astray.


I’ve been teaching integration by substitution, including by trig substitutions over the last few days, and a frequent question which a newbie substituter will ask is “how did you know to make that substitution?”. It’s a very reasonable question, and one that takes practice to build the correct intuition, but I’ll do my best to give some motivation now as to why we made some of the substitutions we made. We won’t solve the integrals, but we will motivate here why we make particular choices for substitutions.…

By | July 22nd, 2016|Courses, English, First year, MAM1000, Undergraduate|2 Comments

The confusion about discontinuity

Whilst reading Mícheál Ó Searcóid’s book Metric Spaces, I found out about a nuance in the definition of continuity that I was not previously aware of, and something which may be taught incorrectly at high schools. M. Searcóid states that a function such as tan(x) is continuous (read the page here). The definition of continuity at a point is based on the fact that the function has a value at that point (if a function is continuous at x = a, then f(a) has a value in the expression |f(x)-f(a)|<ϵ). However, following M. Searcóid’s line of thought about continuous functions, it does not make sense to consider points at which a function is not defined. If we were asked to prove that the function is ‘discontinuous’ at a point, we would need to show that the condition for continuity at that point is false. And the negation* of the condition for continuity would not make sense at a point where the function value is not defined.…

By | July 21st, 2016|Courses, Level: intermediate|2 Comments

Down the rabbit hole

The following has been a rather interesting journey – from a test question which seemed fine, to a subtlety which seemed easy, to a discussion with a number of different mathematicians about the nature of distributions, measure theory and regularisation. I will try and make it as clear as possible in the post below. Note, as mentioned in the comments, we have actually only found the solution to this problem for a constrained range of x, and not x \in \mathbb{R}. I didn’t want to complicate things any more than necessary here for first year students, but the comments are very important too.


In a recent class test, there was a question, written by me, which was not quite the question that I wanted to ask. It turns out that it does have an answer, but it’s not an answer that can yet be found by the means at the class’s disposal.…

The Newton-Raphson Method

How would you go about finding the value of \sqrt{3} if you didn’t have a square root button on your calculator? Well, the most obvious thing might be to try some values, based on your knowledge of the square root function. You are being asked to find that x for which:




or, in other words, that x, which, when squared  gives 3. We have to be a little careful here because we know that there will actually be two numbers which satisfy this (one positive, one negative), and we are interested in the positive one only.


So, we try some values, but we don’t do it randomly, we can see that because 1^2=1 and 2^2=4 that whatever number squared gives 3 must be between 1 and 2. We can try something called a binary intersection. This just means taking the values which we know bound the right answer (ie. we know that 1<x<2), and trying the number in the middle.…