Sunday, 9 January 2011

Mathematical Problems, 3D - Pi from infinite polygon

In this final post on π (for the time being at least), I'm going to look at another way of calculating π, based on the principle I first used for calculating a minimum value for it.  Back then, I used a square inside a circle to give a minimum value, but it occurred to me later that it's possible to use a hexagon inside a circle (and we can show that the perimeter of a hexagon inside a circle is 6r) and that the figure would become more accurate if I could use a polygon with more sides.

What about a polygon with 8 sides, or 12, or 20, or n sides?  Consider the following diagram, where the line EF  is a side of a regular polygon ABCDEF which has all its corners on the circumference of a circle of radius r.  In this case, the diagram shows a regular hexagon, but the theory applies to any polygon which has n sides.

Since this is a regular n-sided polygon, the angle EOF is 360/n and the angle EOG is 180/n. Additionally, EGO is a right-angled triangle, so we can use trigonometry to solve this triangle. If we call the length of one side l, this is the line EF, and EG is l/2. Using trigonometry, we can see that sin 180/n = l/2 /r

This rearranges to give l, the length of one side, as l = 2r sin 180/n

And the total perimeter, P, of the polygon which has n sides of length l, is P = n 2r sin 180/n

Now, 2r =d, the diameter of the circle, so P = n d sin 180/n

And for a circle, π is the ratio P/d and for this polygon, P/d = n sin 180/n
The advantage of this is that we can immediately plug in a large value of n to give an approximation of π. Here are some values of n and π based on this formula (and one day I'll work out how to put a table into this blog).

n - π
100 - 3.141076
200 - 3.141463
300 - 3.141535
1000 - 3.141587
2000 - 3.141591
3000 - 3.1415920
10,000 - 3.14159260191
100,000 - 3.14159265307

I must say I like this method; it's simple trigonometry (not calculus, and not sampling either) and I was very surprised at how easy it was to obtain a reasonable value of π from a polygon with just 100 sides.

One of my regular readers has asked me to calculate the value of π for a polygon on the outside of a circle; I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader, and point you toArchimedes' method for calculating π - it's got a nice flash display for the calculation of the internal and external polygon. Another benefit of this method over the previous sampling method is that this is a one-off calculation - we can calculate π from a large number of sides without having to take a large number of measurements. No chance of crashing the spreadsheet then!

Next time, something different - geostationary satellites - what they are, and why they have to orbit at a specific height - and what that height is!

1 comment:

  1. Very cool! There is a method involving nested radicals to compute pi without the trig functions but it's not as neat as your post.