I did try writing a new Equation of the Day, but my schedule has been quite packed. I would like to get that rolling again after the end of the semester, since I greatly enjoy writing those entries.
A wave, in general, is any function that obeys the wave equation. To simplify things, though, let’s look at repeating wave patterns.
The image above depicts a sine wave. This is the shape of string and air vibration at a pure frequency; as such, sinusoidal waveforms are also known as “pure tones.” If you want to hear what a pure tone sounds like, YouTube is happy to oblige. But sine waves are not the only shapes that a vibrating string could make. For instance, I could make a repeating pattern of triangles (a triangle wave),
or rectangles (a square wave),
Now, making a string take on these shapes may seem rather difficult, but synthesizing these shapes to be played on speakers is not. In fact, old computers and video game systems had synthesizers that could produce these waveforms, among others. But let’s say you only know how to produce pure tones. How would you go about making a square wave? It seems ridiculous; pure tones are curvy sine waves, and square waves are choppy with sharp corners. And yet a square wave does produce a tone when synthesized, and that tone has a pitch that corresponds to how tightly its pattern repeats — its frequency — just like sine waves.
As it turns out, you can produce a complex waveform by adding only pure tones. This was discovered by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier, an 18th century scientist. What he discovered was that sine waves form a complete basis of functions, or a set of functions that can be used to construct other well-behaved, arbitrary functions. However, these sine waves are special. The frequencies of these sine waves must be harmonics of the lowest frequency sine wave.
The image above shows a harmonic series of a string with two ends fixed (like those of a guitar or violin). Each frequency is an integer multiple of the lowest frequency (that of the top string, which I will call ν1 = 1/T, where ν is the Greek letter "nu."), which means that the wavelength of each harmonic is an integer fraction of the longest wavelength. The lowest frequency sine wave, or the fundamental, is given by the frequency of the arbitrary wave that’s being synthesized, and all other sine waves that contribute to the model will have harmonic frequencies of the fundamental. So, the tone of a trumpet playing the note A4 (440 Hz frequency) will be composed of pure tones whose lowest frequency is 440 Hz, with all other pure tones being integer multiples of 440 Hz (880, 1320, 1760, 2200, etc.). As an example, here’s a cool animation showing the pure tones that make up a square wave:
As you can see in the animation, these sine waves will not add up equally; typically, instrument tones have louder low frequency contributions than high frequency ones, so the amplitude of each sine wave will be different. How do we determine the strengths of these individual frequencies? This is what Fourier was trying to determine, albeit for a slightly different problem. I mentioned earlier that sine waves form a complete basis of functions to describe any arbitrary function (in this case, periodic waveforms). This means that, when you integrate the product of two sine waves within a harmonic series over the period corresponding to the fundamental frequency (T = 1/ν1), the integral will be zero unless the two sine waves are the same. More specifically,
Because of this trick, we can extract the amplitudes of each sine wave contributing to an arbitrary waveform. Calling the arbitrary waveform f(t) and the fundamental frequency 1/T,
This is how we extract the amplitudes of each pure tone that makes up the tone we want to synthesize. The trick was subtle, so I’ll describe what happened there line by line. The first line shows that we’re breaking up the arbitrary periodic waveform f(t) into pure tones, a sum over sine waves with frequencies m/T, with m running over the natural numbers. The second line multiplies both sides of line one by a sine wave with frequency n/T, with n being a particular natural number, and integrating over one period of the fundamental frequency, T. It’s important to be clear that we’re only summing over m and not n; m is an index that takes on multiple values, but n is one specific value! The third line is just swapping the order of taking the sum vs. taking the integral, which is allowed since integration is a linear operator. The fourth line is where the magic happens; because we’ve integrated the product of two sine waves, we get a whole bunch of integrals on the right hand side of the equation that are zero, since m and n are different for all terms in the sum except when m = n. This integration trick has effectively selected out one term in the sum, in doing so giving us the formula to calculate the amplitude of a given harmonic in the pure tone sum resulting in f(t).
This formula that I’ve shown here is how synthesizers reproduce instrument sounds without having to record the instrument first. If you know all the amplitudes bn for a given instrument, you can store that information on the synthesizer and produce pure tones that, when combined, sound like that instrument. To be completely general, though, this sequence of pure tones, also known as a Fourier series, also includes cosine waves as well. This allows the function to be displaced by any arbitrary amount, or, to put it another way, accounts for phase shifts in the waveform. In general,
or, using Euler’s identity,
The collection of these coefficients is known as the waveform’s frequency spectrum. To show this in practice, here’s a waveform I recorded of me playing an A (440 Hz) on my trumpet and its Fourier series amplitudes,
Each bar in the cn graph is a harmonic of 440 Hz, and the amplitudes are on the same scale for the waveform and its frequency spectrum. For a trumpet, all harmonics are present (even if they’re really weak). I admittedly did clean up the Fourier spectrum to get rid of noise around the main peaks to simplify the image a little bit, but know that for real waveforms the Fourier spectrum does have “leakage” outside of the harmonics (though the contribution is much smaller than the main peaks). The first peak is the fundamental, or 440 Hz, followed by an 880 Hz peak, then a 1320 Hz peak, a 1760 Hz peak, and so on. The majority of the spectrum is concentrated in these four harmonics, with the higher harmonics barely contributing. I also made images of the Fourier series of a square wave and a triangle wave for the curious. Note the difference in these spectra from each other and from the trumpet series. The square wave and triangle wave only possess odd harmonics, which is why their spectra look more sparse.
One of the best analogies I’ve seen for the Fourier series is that it is a recipe, and the "meal" that it helps you cook up is the waveform you want to produce. The ingredients are pure tones — sine waves — and the instructions are to do the integrals shown above. More importantly, the Fourier coefficients give us a means to extract the recipe from the meal, something that, in the realm of food, is rather difficult to do, but in signal processing is quite elegant. This is one of the coolest mathematical operations I’ve ever learned about, and I keep revisiting it over and over again because it’s so enticing!
Now, this is all awesome math that has wide applications to many areas of physics and engineering, but it has all been a setup for what I really wanted to showcase. Suppose I have a function that isn’t periodic. I want to produce that function, but I still can only produce pure tones. How do we achieve that goal?
Let’s say we’re trying to produce a square pulse.
One thing we could do is start with a square wave, but make the valleys larger to space out the peaks.
As we do this, the peaks become more isolated, but we still have a repeating waveform, so our Fourier series trick still works. Effectively, we’re lengthening the period T of the waveform without stretching it. Lengthening T causes the fundamental frequency ν1 to approach 0, which adds more harmonics to the Fourier series. We don’t want ν1 to be zero, though, because then nν1 will always be zero, and our Fourier series will no longer work. What we want is to take the limit as T approaches infinity and look at what happens to our Fourier series equations. To make things a bit less complicated, let’s look at what happens to the cn treatment. Let’s reassign some values,
Here, νn are the harmonic frequencies in our Fourier series, and Δν is the spacing between harmonics, which is equal for the whole series. Substituting the integral definition of cn into the sum for f(t) yields
The reason for the t' variable is to distinguish the dummy integration variable from the time variable in f(t). Now all that’s left to do is take the limit of the two expressions as T goes to infinity. In this limit, the νn smear into a continuum of frequencies rather than a discrete set of harmonics, the sum over frequencies becomes an integral, and Δν becomes an infinitesimal, dν . Putting this together, we arrive at the equations
These equations are the Fourier transform and its inverse. The first takes a waveform in the time domain and breaks it down into a continuum of frequencies, and the second returns us to the time domain from the frequency spectrum. Giving the square pulse a width equal to a, a height of unity, and plugging it into the Fourier transform, we find that
This is one of the first Fourier transform pairs that students encounter, since the integral is both doable and relatively straightforward (if you’re comfortable with complex functions). This pair is quite important in signal processing since, if you reverse the domains of each function, the square pulse represents a low pass frequency filter. Thus, you want an electrical component whose output voltage reflects the sinc function on the right. (I swapped them here for the purposes of doing the easier transform first, but the process is perfectly reversible).
Let’s look at the triangular pulse and its Fourier transform,
If you think the frequency domain looks similar to that of the square pulse, you’re on the right track! The frequency spectrum of the triangular pulse is actually the sinc function squared, but the integral is not so straightforward to do.
And now, for probably the most enlightening example, the Gaussian bell-shaped curve,
The Fourier transform of a Gaussian function is itself, albeit with a different width and height. In fact, the Gaussian function is part of a family of functions which have themselves as their Fourier transform. But that’s not the coolest thing here. What is shown above is that a broad Gaussian function has a narrow range of frequencies composing it. The inverse is also true; a narrow Gaussian peak is made up of a broad range of frequencies. This has applications to laser operation, the limit of Internet download speeds, and even instrument tuning, and is also true of the other Fourier transform pairs I’ve shown here. More importantly, though, this relationship is connected to a much deeper aspect of physics. That a localized signal has a broad frequency makeup and vice versa is at the heart of the Uncertainty Principle, which I’ve discussed previously. As I mentioned before, the Uncertainty Principle is, at its core, a consequence of wave physics, so it should be no surprise that it shows up here as well. However, this made the Uncertainty Principle visceral for me; it’s built into the Fourier transform relations! It also turns out that, in the same way that time and frequency are domains related by the Fourier transform, so too are position and momentum:
Here, ψ(x) is the spatial wavefunction, and ϕ(p) is the momentum-domain wavefunction.
Whew! That was a long one, but I hope I’ve done justice to one of the coolest — and my personal favorite — equations in mathematics.
P.S. I wanted to announce that Equation of the Day has its own website! Hop on over to eqnoftheday.com and check it out! All the entries over there are also over here on BZPower, but I figured I'd make a site where non-LEGO fans might more likely frequent. Let me know what you think of the layout/formatting/whatever!
Ah, the pentagram, a shape associated with a variety of different ideas, some holy, some less savory. But to me, it's a golden figure, and not just because of how I chose to render it here. The pentagram has a connection with the golden ratio, which is defined as
This number is tied to the Fibonacci sequence and the Lucas numbers and seems to crop up a lot in nature (although how much it crops up is disputed). It turns out that the various line segments present in the pentagram are in golden ratio with one another.
In the image above, the ratio of red:green = green:blue = blue:black is the golden ratio. The reason for this is not immediately obvious and requires a bit of digging, but the proof is fairly straightforward and boils down to a simple statement.
First, let's consider the pentagon at the center of the pentagram. What is the angle at each corner of a pentagon? There's a clever way to deduce this. It's not quite clear what the interior angle is (that is, the angle on the inside of the shape at an individual corner), but it's quite easy to get the exterior angle.
The exterior angle of the pentagon (which is the angle of the base of the triangles that form the points of the pentagram) is equal to 1/5 of a complete revolution around the circle, or 72°. For the moment, let's call this angle 2θ. To get the angle that forms the points of the pentagram, we need to invoke the fact that the sum of all angles in a triangle must equal 180°. Thus, the angle at the top is 180° – 72° – 72° = 36°. This angle I will call θ. While I'm at it, I'm going to label the sides of the triangle x and s (the blue and black line segments from earlier, respectively).
We're nearly there! We just have one more angle to determine, and that's the first angle I mentioned – the interior angle of the pentagon. Well, we know that the interior angle added to the exterior angle must be 180°, since the angles both lie on a straight line, so the interior angle is 180° – 72° = 108° = 3θ. Combining the pentagon and the triangle, we obtain the following picture.
Now you can probably tell why I labeled the angles the way I did; they are all multiples of 36°. What we want to show is that the ratio x/s is the golden ratio. By invoking the Law of sines on the two isosceles triangles in the image above, we can show that
This equation just simplifies to sin 2θ = sin 3θ. With some useful trigonometric identities, we get a quadratic equation which we can solve for cos θ.
Solving this quadratic equation yields
which, when taken together with the equation for x/s, shows that x/s is indeed the golden ratio! Huzzah!
The reason the pentagram and pentagon are so closely tied to the golden ratio has to do with the fact that the angles they contain are multiples of the same angle, 36°, or one-tenth of a full rotation of the circle. Additionally, since the regular dodecahedron (d12) and regular icosahedron (d20) contain pentagons, the golden ratio is abound in them as well.
As a fun bonus fact, the two isosceles triangles are known as the golden triangle (all acute angles) and the golden gnomon (obtuse triangle), and are the two unique isosceles triangles whose sides are in golden ratio with one another.
So the next time you see the star on a Christmas tree, the rank of a military officer, or the geocentric orbit of Venus, think of the number that lurks within those five-pointed shapes.
Yesterday I stumbled across this image (which I recreated and cleaned up a bit). It's a beautiful image. Arranged around the edge is the circle of fifths, which in music is a geometric representation of the twelve tones of the Western scale arranged so the next note is seven semitones up (going clockwise in this figure). The notes are all connected in six different ways to the other notes in the "circle," known as intervals, which are color-coded at the bottom. I thought, "Wow, this is a really cool way to represent this geometrically. How neat!" However, I found the original website that the image came from, and it's a pseudoscience site that talks about the fractal holographic nature of the universe. While fractals do show up in Nature a lot, and there are legitimate theories proposing that the Universe may indeed be a hologram, what their site is proposing is, to put it lightly, utter nonsense. But instead of tearing their website apart (which would be rather cathartic), I instead want to point out the cool math going on here, because that sounds more fun!
Looking at the bottom of the graphic, you'll notice six figures. The first (in red) is a regular dodecagon, a polygon with twelve equal sides and angles. This shape is what forms the circle of fifths. The rest of the shapes in the sequence are dodecagrams, or twelve-pointed stars. The first three are stars made up of simpler regular polygons; the orange star is made up of two hexagons, the yellow is made up of three squares, and the green one is made up of four triangles. The final dodecagram (in purple) can be thought of as made up of six straight-sided digons, or line segments. These shapes point to the fact that twelve is divisible by five unique factors (not including itself): one set of twelve, two sets of six, three sets of four, four sets of three, and six sets of two! You could say that the vertices of the dodecagon finalize the set as twelve sets of one, but they're not illustrated in this image. So really, this image has less to do with musical intervals and more to do with the number 12, which is a rather special number. It is a superior highly composite number, which makes it a good choice as a number base (a reason why feet are divided into twelve inches, for instance, or why our clocks have twelve hours on their faces).
The final dodecagram in cyan is not made up of any simpler regular polygons because the number 12 is not divisible by five. If you pick a note in the circle of fifths to start on, you'll notice that the two cyan lines that emanate from it connect to notes that are five places away on the "circle," hence the connection to the number 5. In fact, it would be far more appropriate to redraw this figure with a clock face.
This new image should shed some more light on what's really going on. The dodecagrams each indicate a different map from one number to another, modulo 12. The only reason this is connected to music at all is due to the fact that a Western scale has twelve tones in it! If we used a different scale, such as a pentatonic scale (with five tones, as the name would suggest), we'd get a pentagon enclosing a pentagram. Really, this diagram can be used to connect any two elements in a set of twelve. The total number of connecting lines in this diagram, then, are
where the notation in parentheses is "n choose 2," and Tn is a triangular number. This figure is known in math as K12, the complete graph with twelve nodes. And it's gorgeous.
So while this doesn't really have anything to do with music or some pseudoscientific argument for some fancy-sounding, but ultimately meaningless, view on the universe, it does exemplify the beauty of the number 12, and has a cool application to the circle of fifths.
where ħ is the reduced Planck constant, μ is the reduced mass of the electron-nucleus system, Z is the number of positive charges in the nucleus that the electron is orbiting, e is the charge of a proton, τ is the circle constant, ε0 is the vacuum permittivity, and ψ is the wavefunction. Solving this equation (which is nontrivial and is usually done after a semester of Advanced Quantum Mechanics) yields a surprisingly simple formula for the energies of the atom,
where h is Planck's constant, c is the speed of light, me is the rest mass of the electron, and n is any integer larger than or equal to 1. The constant R∞ is known as the Rydberg constant, named after Swedish physicist Johannes Rydberg, the scientist who discovered a formula to predict the specific colors of light hydrogen (or any hydrogen-like atom) would absorb or emit. Indeed, the formula I gave, En/hc, is equivalent to the inverse wavelength, or spatial frequency, of light that it takes for the atom in its nth energy state to free the electron of its atomic bond. Indeed, this was a puzzle in the early 20th century. Why was it that hydrogen (and other atoms) only absorbed and emitted specific colors of light? White light, as Isaac Newton showed, is comprised of all visible colors of light, and when you split up that light using a prism or similar device, you get a continuous rainbow. This was not the case for light emitted or absorbed by atoms.
The equation above was first derived by Niels Bohr, who approached solving this problem not from using the Schrödinger equation, but from looking at the electron's angular momentum. If electrons could be considered wavelike, as quantum mechanics treats them, then he figured that the orbits of the electron must be such that an integer number of electron wavelengths fit along the orbit.
Left: Allowed orbit. Right: Disallowed orbit. Image: Wikimedia commons
This condition requires that
The wavelength of the electron is inversely related to its momentum, p = mv, via Planck's constant, λ = h/p. The other relation we need is from the physics of circular motion, which says that the centripetal force on an object moving in a circular path of radius r is mv2/r. Equating this to the Coulomb force holding the proton and electron together, we get
Plugging this into the quantization condition, along with some algebra, yields the energy equation.
What's incredible is that hydrogen's energy spectrum has a closed-form solution, since most problems in physics can't be solved to produce such solutions, and while this equation only works exactly for one-electron atoms, it can be modified to work for so-called Rydberg atoms and molecules, where a single electron is highly excited (large n) and orbits a positive core, which need not be a nucleus, but a non-pointlike structure. In my lab, we consider two types of Rydberg molecules.
The example on the left is an electronic Rydberg molecule, while the one on the right is called an ion-pair Rydberg state, where a negative ion acts as a "heavy electron" co-orbiting a positive ion. To model the energies of these kinds of states, we use a modified energy equation.
where I.P. represents the ionization energy of the electron, and the new quantity δ is known as the quantum defect. It's a number that, for electronic Rydberg states, has a magnitude that's usually less than 1, while for ion-pair states can be quite large (around –60 or so in some cases); it in some sense contains information of how the core ion, e.g. H2+, is oriented, how the electron is spread over space, how its polarized, and so on. It's a vessel into which we funnel our ignorance in using the approximation that the molecule is behaving in a hydrogen-like manner, and it is surprisingly useful in predicting experiments. Currently my research involves studying electronic Rydberg states of molecular nitrogen, N2, and looking at heavy Rydberg states of the hydrogen molecule, H2 to gain a better understanding of the physics of certain states that have been experimentally observed in both systems.
The above image is known as the Pentagram of Venus; it is the shape of Venus' orbit as viewed from a geocentric perspective. This animation shows the orbit unfold, while this one shows the same process from a heliocentric perspective. There are five places in Venus' orbit where it comes closest to the Earth (known as perigee), and this is due to the coincidence that
When two orbital periods can be expressed as a ratio of integers it is known as an orbital resonance (similar to how a string has resonances equal to integer multiples of its fundamental frequency). The reason that there are five lobes in Venus' geocentric orbit is that 13–8=5. Coincidentally, these numbers are all part of the Fibonacci sequence, and as a result many people associate the Earth-Venus resonance with the golden ratio. (Indeed, pentagrams themselves harbor the golden ratio in spades.) However, Venus and Earth do not exhibit a true resonance, as the ratio of their orbital periods is about 0.032% off of the nice fraction 8/13. This causes the above pattern to precess, or drift in alignment. Using the slightly more accurate fraction of orbital periods, 243/395, we can see this precession.
This is the precession after five cycles (40 Earth years). As you can see, the pattern slowly slides around without the curve closing itself, but the original 13:8 resonance pattern is still visible. If we assume that 243/395 is indeed the perfect relationship between Venus and Earth's orbital periods (it's not; it precesses 0.8° per cycle), the resulting pattern after one full cycle (1944 years) is
Which is beautiful. The parametric formulas I used to plot these beauties are
Where t is time in years, r is the ratio of orbital periods (less than one), and τ = 2π is the circle constant.
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