Sequences and PatternsIntroduction
Many professions that use mathematics are interested in one specific aspect – finding patterns, and being able to predict the future. Here are two examples:
Geologists around the world want to predict earthquakes and volcano eruptions. They can try to find patterns in historical data of from seismographs, of the atmosphere, or even animal behaviour. One earthquake, for example, might trigger aftershocks later.
Bankers also look at historical data of stock prices, interest rates and currency exchange rates to estimate how financial markets might change in the future. Being able to predict if the value of a stock will go up or down can be extremely lucrative!
Professional mathematicians use highly complex algorithms to find and analyse all these patterns, but for now, let’s start with something much simpler.
In mathematics, a
Here are a few examples of sequences. Can you find their patterns and calculate the next two terms?
3, 6+3, 9 , 12 , 15 ,
The dots (…) at the end simply mean that the sequence can go on forever. When referring to sequences like this in mathematics, we often represent every term by a special
The small number after the x is called a subscript, and indicates the position of the term in the sequence. This means that we can represent the nth term in the sequence by
Triangle and Square Numbers
Sequences in mathematics don’t always have to be numbers. Here is a sequence that consists of geometric shapes – triangles of increasing size:
At every step, we’re adding one more row to the previous triangle. The length of these new rows also increases by one every time. Can you see the pattern?
1, 3+2, 6+3, 10+4, 15+5, 21+6
We can also describe this pattern using a special
To get the n-th triangle number, we take the
A formula that expresses
Another sequence which consists of geometric shapes are the square numbers. Every term is formed by increasingly large squares:
For the triangle numbers we found a recursive formula that tells you the next term of the sequence as a function of of its previous terms. For square numbers we can do even better: a formula that tells you the nth term directly, without first having to calculate all the previous ones:
This is called an
Let’s summarise all the definitions we have seen so far:
Action Sequence Photography
In the following sections you will learn about many different mathematical sequences, surprising patterns, and unexpected applications.
First, though, let’s look at something completely different: action sequence photography. A photographer takes many shots in quick succession, and then merges them into a single image:
Can you see how the skier forms a sequence? The pattern is not addition or multiplication, but a geometric
Here are a few more examples of action sequence photography for your enjoyment: