# Tag Archives: roots

## Binomial Expansion Variation

Several years ago, I posed on this ‘blog a problem I learned from Natalie Jackucyn:

For some integers A, B, and n, one term of the expansion of $(Ax+By)^n$ is $27869184x^5y^3$.  What are the values of A, B, and n?

In this post, I reflect for a moment on what I’ve learned from the problem and outline a solution approach before sharing a clever alternative solution one of my students this year leveraged through her CAS-enabled investigation.

WHAT I LEARNED BEFORE THIS YEAR

Mostly, I’ve loved this problem for its “reversal” of traditional binomial expansion problems that typically give A, B, and n values and ask for either complete expansions or specific terms of the polynomial.  Both of these traditional tasks are easily managed via today’s technology.  In Natalie’s variation, neither the answer nor how you would proceed are immediately obvious.

The first great part of the problem is that it doesn’t seem to give enough information.  Second, it requires solvers to understand deeply the process of polynomial expansion.  Third, unlike traditional formulations, Natalie’s version doesn’t allow students to avoid deep thinking by using technology.

In the comments to my original post, Christopher Olah and a former student, Bryan Spellman, solved the problem via factoring and an Excel document, respectively.  Given my algebraic tendencies, I hadn’t considered Bryan’s Excel “search” approach, but one could relatively easily program Excel to provide an exhaustive search.  I now think of Bryan’s approach as a coding approach to a reasonably efficient search of the sample space of possible solutions.  Most of my students’ solutions over the years essentially approach the problem the same way, but less efficiently, by using one-case-at-a-time expansions via CAS commands until they stumble upon good values for A, B, and n.  Understandably, students taking this approach typically become the most frustrated.

Christopher’s approach paralleled my own.  The x and y exponents from the expanded term show that n=5+3=8.  Expanding a generic $(Ax+By)^8$ then gives a bit more information.  From my TI-Nspire CAS,

so there are 56 ways an $x^5y^3$ term appears in this expansion before combining like terms (explained here, if needed).  Dividing the original coefficient by 56 gives $a^5b^3=497,664$, the coefficient of $x^5y^3$.

The values of a and b are integers, so factoring 497,664 shows these coefficients are both co-multiples of 2 and 3, but which ones?  In essence, this defines a system of equations.  The 3 has an exponent of 5, so it can easily be attributed to a, but the 11 is not a multiple of either 5 or 3, so it must be a combination.  Quick experimentation with the exponents leads to $11=5*1+3*2$, so $2^1$ goes to a and $2^2$ goes to b.  This results in $a=3*2=6$ and $b=2^2=4$.

WHAT A STUDENT TAUGHT ME THIS YEAR

After my student, NB, arrived at $a^5b^3=497,664$ , she focused on roots–not factors–for her solution.  The exponents of a and b suggested using either a cubed or a fifth root.

The fifth root would extract only the value of a if b had only singleton factors–essentially isolating the a and b values–while the cubed root would extract a combination of a and b factors, leaving only excess a factors inside the radical.  Her investigation was simplified by the exact answers from her Nspire CAS software.

From the fifth root output, the irrational term had exponent 1/5, not the expected 3/5, so b must have had at least one prime factor with non-singular multiplicity.  But the cubed root played out perfectly.   The exponent–2/3–matched expectation, giving a=6, and the coefficient, 24, was the product of a and b, making b=4.  Clever.

EXTENSIONS & CONCLUSION

Admittedly, NB’s solution would have been complicated if the parameter was composed of something other than singleton prime factors, but it did present a fresh, alternative approach to what was becoming a comfortable problem for me.  I’m curious about exploring other arrangements of the parameters of $(Ax+By)^n$ to see how NB’s root-based reasoning could be extended and how it would compare to the factor solutions I used before.  I wonder which would be “easier” … whatever “easier” means.

As a ‘blog topic for another day, I’ve learned much by sharing this particular problem with several teachers over the years.  In particular, the initial “not enough information” feel of the problem statement actually indicates the presence of some variations that lead to multiple solutions.  If you think about it, NB’s root variation of the solution suggests some direct paths to such possible formulations.  As intriguing as the possibilities here are, I’ve never assigned such a variation of the problem to my students.

As I finish this post, I’m questioning why I haven’t yet taken advantage of these possibilities.  That will change. Until then, perhaps you can find some interesting or alternative approaches to the underlying systems of equations in this problem.  Can you create a variation that has multiple solutions?  Under what conditions would such a variation exist?  How many distinct solutions could a problem like this have?

## Roots of Complex Numbers without DeMoivre

Finding roots of complex numbers can be … complex.

This post describes a way to compute roots of any number–real or complex–via systems of equations without any conversions to polar form or use of DeMoivre’s Theorem.  Following a “traditional approach,” one non-technology example is followed by a CAS simplification of the process.

TRADITIONAL APPROACH:

Most sources describe the following procedure to compute the roots of complex numbers (obviously including the real number subset).

• Write the complex number whose root is sought in generic polar form.  If necessary, convert from Cartesian form.
• Invoke DeMoivre’s Theorem to get the polar form of all of the roots.
• If necessary, convert the numbers from polar form back to Cartesian.

As a very quick example,

Compute all square roots of -16.

Rephrased, this asks for all complex numbers, z, that satisfy  $z^2=-16$.  The Fundamental Theorem of Algebra guarantees two solutions to this quadratic equation.

The complex Cartesian number, $-16+0i$, converts to polar form, $16cis( \pi )$, where $cis(\theta ) = cos( \theta ) +i*sin( \theta )$.  Unlike Cartesian form, polar representations of numbers are not unique, so any full rotation from the initial representation would be coincident, and therefore equivalent if converted to Cartesian.  For any integer n, this means

$-16 = 16cis( \pi ) = 16 cis \left( \pi + 2 \pi n \right)$

Invoking DeMoivre’s Theorem,

$\sqrt{-16} = (-16)^{1/2} = \left( 16 cis \left( \pi + 2 \pi n \right) \right) ^{1/2}$
$= 16^{1/2} * cis \left( \frac{1}{2} \left( \pi + 2 \pi n \right) \right)$
$= 4 * cis \left( \frac{ \pi }{2} + \pi * n \right)$

For $n= \{ 0, 1 \}$, this gives polar solutions, $4cis \left( \frac{ \pi }{2} \right)$ and $4cis \left( \frac{ 3 \pi }{2} \right)$ .  Each can be converted back to Cartesian form, giving the two square roots of -16:  $4i$ and $-4i$.  Squaring either gives -16, confirming the result.

I’ve always found the rotational symmetry of the complex roots of any number beautiful, particularly for higher order roots.  This symmetry is perfectly captured by DeMoivre’s Theorem, but there is arguably a simpler way to compute them.

NEW(?) NON-TECH APPROACH:

Because the solution to every complex number computation can be written in $a+bi$ form, new possibilities open.  The original example can be rephrased:

Determine the simultaneous real values of x and y for which $-16=(x+yi)^2$.

Start by expanding and simplifying the right side back into $a+bi$ form.  (I wrote about a potentially easier approach to simplifying powers of i in my last post.)

$-16+0i = \left( x+yi \right)^2 = x^2 +2xyi+y^2 i^2=(x^2-y^2)+(2xy)i$

Notice that the two ends of the previous line are two different expressions for the same complex number(s).  Therefore, equating the real and imaginary coefficients gives a system of equations:

Solving the system gives the square roots of -16.

From the latter equation, either $x=0$ or $y=0$.  Substituting $y=0$ into the first equation gives $-16=x^2$, an impossible equation because x & y are both real numbers, as stated above.

Substituting $x=0$ into the first equation gives $-16=-y^2$, leading to $y= \pm 4$.  So, $x=0$ and $y=-4$ -OR- $x=0$ and $y=4$ are the only solutions–$x+yi=0-4i$ and $x+yi=0+4i$–the same solutions found earlier, but this time without using polar form or DeMoivre!  Notice, too, that the presence of TWO solutions emerged naturally.

Higher order roots could lead to much more complicated systems of equations, but a CAS can solve that problem.

CAS APPROACH:

Determine all fourth roots of $1+2i$.

That’s equivalent to finding all simultaneous x and y values that satisfy $1+2i=(x+yi)^4$.  Expanding the right side is quickly accomplished on a CAS.  From my TI-Nspire CAS:

Notice that the output is simplified to $a+bi$ form that, in the context of this particular example, gives the system of equations,

Using my CAS to solve the system,

First, note there are four solutions, as expected.  Rewriting the approximated numerical output gives the four complex fourth roots of $1+2i$$-1.176-0.334i$$-0.334+1.176i$$0.334-1.176i$, and $1.176+0.334i$.  Each can be quickly confirmed on the CAS:

CONCLUSION:

Given proper technology, finding the multiple roots of a complex number need not invoke polar representations or DeMoivre’s Theorem.  It really is as “simple” as expanding $(x+yi)^n$ where n is the given root, simplifying the expansion into $a+bi$ form, and solving the resulting 2×2 system of equations.

At the point when such problems would be introduced to students, their algebraic awareness should be such that using a CAS to do all the algebraic heavy lifting is entirely appropriate.

As one final glimpse at the beauty of complex roots, I entered the two equations from the last system into Desmos to take advantage of its very good implicit graphing capabilities.  You can see the four intersections corresponding to the four solutions of the system.  Solutions to systems of implicit equations are notoriously difficult to compute, so I wasn’t surprised when Desmos didn’t compute the coordinates of the points of intersection, even though the graph was pretty and surprisingly quick to generate.