Monday, May 25, 2015

[OlymPri_20150524MSCR] Round and Round, Twice or Thrice?


     If you think the answer is  2 cm (since the wheel rotates two rounds), you are wrong!  This tricky question is taken from a previous year Asia Pacific Mathematical Olympiad for Primary Schools competition.  In the original question, there was no colouring.  I added colours just to make the distinction between the wheel and the track a bit clearer.

     There is some subtlety in this question.  It is something we often do not notice unless we really think hard about it.  To get a handle on what is really happening, let us imagine we made a mark on the wheel in its original position, indicated by a blue dot at a twelve o’clock position.  Let us imagine rolling the wheel clockwise.  Note that the centre of the wheel will move in a bigger circle in an anti-clockwise (American: counter-clockwise) direction within the orange circular track.  Actually it does not matter which way you roll, the centre of the wheel goes round the centre of the track in a direction opposite to that of the turning wheel, which always remains in contact with the track.

Since the blue dot on the wheel turns two rounds, by the time the wheel reaches the bottom half, the blue dot must again be on top or at a twelve o’clock position.  Note however, the point of contact between the wheel and the circular track (indicated by a green dot whenever possible) is not the same as the blue dot!  The green dot is actually a dynamic dot (it is not always the same point on the wheel) whereas the blue dot is always the same dot on the wheel but the wheel is being rotated.

Note that at the halfway point, the green dot is at the bottom of the wheel while the blue dot is on top of the wheel.  Notice also that, relative to the wheel, the green dot goes in the opposite direction as the blue dot and they actually crossed over somewhere along the way!  Actually the green dot has made one-and-a-half turns with respect to the wheel.  Remember that the green dot is not a fixed point on the wheel, but it measures how much the wheel and the track have been in contact.

As the wheel continues to roll back up, the green dot makes another  1½  rounds.  So altogether the green dot moves through  3  rounds while the blue dot rotates only  2  rounds around the centre of the wheel!  The green dot is the one that matters.

     circumference of track (measured by green dot) : circumference of wheel = 3 : 1
     Since radius is proportional to circumference,  the radius of the track is  3  cm.

     Yes, the solution is that short.  But the thinking behind it is profound.  But do we need to draw all the diagrams as in the visualisation above?  I did that to explain to you.  Actually I imagined it in my mind.  If imagination is difficult, you can act it out by drawing a big circle and then using a small coin to simulate the rotation around the track.  I actually drew a rough sketch by hand  to convince myself that my thinking was accurate.

     Notice that I used a proportionality argument.  If you know how to use the concept of proportion, you can make the working short and sweet.  There is nothing wrong in using the formula                     circumference = 2p ´ radius.
This formula just says that the circumference of a circle is proportional to its radius, and the constant of proportionality is  2p.  Your working would look like this
                                  circumference of track = 3 ´ circumference of wheel
                                      2p  ´ radius of track = 3 ´ 2p  ´ radius of wheel
After cancelling out the  2p,  you would get
                                       radius of track = 3 ´ radius of wheel = 3 cm
You get the same conclusion, but using the proportionality method, you do not need to bother about the  2p.

     By the way, the centre of wheel traces out the path of a circle of radius  2 cm.  See the red arrow in the first diagram on top.  The path traced out by the blue dot looks like an  epicycleIn the old days,people thought that the sun, moon and planets rotated around the earth in epicycles.  This also reminds me of Spirograph,which is a toy that allows you to use your coloured pencils to create very beautiful patterns.  [Click to search for images of Spirograph and patterns produced.]

H01. Act it out
H02. Use a diagram / model
H04. Look for pattern(s)
H05. Work backwards
H06. Use before-after concept
H09. Restate the problem in another way

Suitable Levels
Primary School Mathematics Olympiad
* anybody game for a challenge relating to imagination, circumference and lengths

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