Everyone learns (and some readers maybe still remember) the quadratic formula. It’s a pillar of algebra and allows you to solve equations like Ax2+Bx+C=0. But just because you’ve used it doesn’t mean you know how to come up with the formula itself. It’s a bear to derive so the vast majority of us simply memorize the formula. A Carnegie Mellon mathematician named Po-Shen Loh didn’t expect to find a new way to derive the solution when he was reviewing math materials for middle school use to make them easier to understand. After all, people have been solving that equation for about 4,000 years. But that’s exactly what he did.
Before we look at the new solution, let’s talk about why you want to solve quadratic equations. They are used in many contexts. In ancient times you might use them to determine how much more crop to grow to cover pay tax payments without eating in to the crop you needed to subsist. In physics, it can describe motion. There’s seemingly no end to how many things you can describe with a quadratic equation.
Babylonians, in particular, would solve simultaneous equations to find the roots of a quadratic. Egyptians, Grecians, Indians, and Chinese peoples used graphical methods to solve the equations. The entire history is a bit much to get into, but still a great read. For this article, let’s dig into how the new derivation was discovered.
Continue reading “The Quadratic Equation Solution A Few Thousand Years In The Making”