Fun with Series

Two days ago, one of my students (P) wandered into my room after school to share a problem he had encountered at the 2013 Walton MathFest, but didn’t know how to crack.  We found one solution.  I’d love to hear if anyone discovers a different approach.  Here’s our answer.

PROBLEM:  What is the sum of \displaystyle \sum_{n=1}^{\infty} \left( \frac{n^2}{2^n} \right) = \frac{1^2}{2^1} + \frac{2^2}{2^2} + \frac{3^2}{3^3} + ... ?

Without the n^2, this would be a simple geometric series, but the quadratic and exponential terms can’t be combined in any way we knew, so the solution must require rewriting.  After some thought, we remembered that perfect squares can be found by adding odd integers.  I suggested rewriting the series as

Series1

where each column adds to the one of the terms in the original series.  Each row was now a geometric series which we knew how to sum.  That  meant we could rewrite the original series as

Series2

We had lost the quadratic term, but we still couldn’t sum the series with both a linear and an exponential term.  At this point, P asked if we could use the same approach to rewrite the series again.  Because the numerators were all odd numbers and each could be written as a sum of 1 and some number of 2s, we got

Series3

where each column now added to the one of the terms in our secondary series.  Each row was again a geometric series, allowing us to rewrite the secondary series as

Series4

Ignoring the first term, this was finally a single geometric series, and we had found the sum.

Series5

Does anyone have another way?

That was fun.  Thanks, P.

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