Friday, June 13, 2008

Discriminating determinant

So far we have found that we can use the determinant to find area and volume, and that they can also help us reform the concept of proportion. Determinants can provide a way to calculate this quantity in some cases where other methods could be much more difficult. We have seen that the determinant is a generalization of proportion. What more?

One of the most important properties of determinants is that if two rows (or columns) are the same then the determinant is zero. This can be easily seen from the area interpretation of the determinant, because if two columns are the same then the area defined is degenerate for that dimension. The box has been flattened.

This is very similar to another way in which we discriminate things in math. In algebra we often see the quantity (x-a). This comes up in factoring or even in creating polynomials that have specific quantities, such as Lagrange Interpolation.

Using determinants to discriminate

Just like the expression (x-a) has the ability to test if the value of the variable x is equal to a, Discriminant will allow us to test if many variables have desired quantities simultaneously.

Example: Finding the equation of a line

In this example uses the multi-linearity of the determinant to find the equation of a line through two points. For example let’s try to find an equation of a line through (3, 5) and (-2, 3). To do this with determinants we set up the following 3x3 determinant equation.

Clearly, the points (3, 5) and (-2, 3) satisfy this equation, so that solution set does go through those two points. Is it a line? Well from any method that you choose to evaluate the determinant you can see that the coefficient of x and y will be numbers. Therefore it is a line.

Why are the in the third column? Well we need to make sure that we have a square matrix to take the determinant of, and we need to make sure that the three rows have the same number. So that we can get the determinant to evaluate to zero when we insert the points we know.

Example: Equations for other curves

One problem that we often ask students in Algebra 2 is to find the equation through three points. Let’s do one now, for instance find an equation through the points (3, 5), (-2, 3), and (6, 9). Then we set up the following determinant equation.

The numbers in the first column are the squares of the numbers in the second column. In fact, we can find an equation for a circle through those three points by the following equation.


Determinants may have more use and meaning that we have given them credit for in the standard high school curriculum. Can we bring them to the students in a meaningful way? Can we show them their usefulness and their beauty? I encourage you to explore this with students, friends

1 comment:

dersu said...

In the context of vectors, determinants seem to have an intuitive and visual appearance, however. However, in the algebraic context Gaussian elimination seems sooooooooooo much more attractive!