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The Mathematics 11 Competency Test Roots or Radicals 2 Because 3 = 9, we say that 3 is the square root of 9, written 9 3 2 Thus 9 is defined to the be the number whose square is 9. Now, you may recall that (-3) = 9 as well. Thus, it would appear that every positive number has two square roots – a positive number and the same number with a minus sign. By convention, the square root symbol, , without an explicit sign is reserved for the positive square root. To indicate the negative square root, you need to write an explicit minus sign, as in 9 3 but 9 3 In symbols, then, for any positive number b, the symbol b has the meaning b b 2 2 b and b Remarks (i) Some numbers, such as 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc., are the squares of whole numbers, so their square roots are whole numbers: 1 1, 4 2, 9 3, 16 4 , etc For this reason, the numbers 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc., are said to be perfect squares. Numbers which are not perfect squares still have square roots, but their square roots are not whole numbers. In fact (to the horror of those ancient Greeks who first discovered this), all simple whole numbers which aren’t perfect squares not only don’t have whole number square roots, but their decimal parts go on for an infinite number of digits without coming to any end. They are an example of what mathematicians call irrational numbers. So, for example, your calculator will tell you that 2 1.414213562 But, if you were to carefully multiply 2 (1.414213562) = 1.414213562 x 1.414213562 without any error, you would get an answer which is not exactly 2. (When I tried this, I got 1.999999998944727844 – close, but not exactly 2.) That’s because 1.414213562 gives only the first 9 decimal places of the actual value of2 , and so is only just quite a good approximation to the exact value of the square root of 2. We will use the symbol 2 to represent the exact value of the square root of 2, even if we can never write this number down exactly in decimal form. (ii) Recall the rules for multiplying two signed numbers. If both numbers have the same sign, then the result is positive. This means that we can never find an ordinary (“real”) number which David W. Sabo (2003) Roots or Radicals Page 1 of 4 can be multiplied by itself or squared to give a negative result. But this means that negative numbers have no square roots. So, for the number system we ordinarily use in basic technical applications (the so-called real number system), quantities such as 9 , 2 , etc. must be considered to be undefined or non-existent. A common error is to assume that square roots of negative numbers are just negative square roots. That is, for example, that ? 9 3 But you can easily see that this cannot be correct by simply checking: 3 2 9 9 Since squaring –3 gives +9, then –3 cannot be the square root of –9. The same sort of thing will be true for all negative numbers. Mathematicians have developed the so-called complex number system in which negative numbers do have meaningful square roots, but that very useful topic is far beyond the scope of the BCIT Math 11 Competency Test. For now, if you are solving a problem and in the process, the square root of a negative number arises, you must first check to ensure you haven’t made an arithmetic error someplace. If no error can be found, then the occurrence of the square root of a negative number must mean that the problem actually has no real solution. Higher Roots Just as any positive number can be considered to be the square of other numbers (its square roots), so it is possible to express numbers as the third power, the fourth power, etc., of other numbers. So, for example, 64 43 In this case, we would say that 4 is the cube root of 64, written 4 3 64 n The notation b stands for the number that satisfies n n b b n That is, what we mean by b is the number that, when multiplied by itself n times, give the result b. So, as above, 3 64 3 64 (by definition) and since David W. Sabo (2003) Roots or Radicals Page 2 of 4 43 64 we conclude that 3 64 4 . Examples: 4 16 2 because 4 2 = 16 5 243 3 because 5 3 = 243 3 64 4 because 3 (-4) = -64 and so on. n The small number n in b is called the order of the root (some books also call it the index of the root). Notice that when n = 2 (square roots), this label is usually omitted, so b is the same 2 thing as b . Even order roots only exist for positive numbers, but odd order roots exist for both positive and negative numbers, as illustrated in the examples above. Terminology When n = 2, 2 b b is called the square root of b. 3 When n = 3, b is called the cube root of b. For values of n greater than 3, we just use the ordinal name for the root: 4 b is the fourth root of b 5 b is the fifth root of b 6 b is the sixth root of b, and so on. What Are Roots Good For? s Low order roots occur commonly in technical applications. For example, the formula for the area, A, of a square with sides of s length s, is 2 A=s But, this means that the length of the side, s, is equal to the square root of the area, A: David W. Sabo (2003) Roots or Radicals Page 3 of 4 s A A second similar example – the volume, V, of a cube which has edges of length s is 3 V=s . s Thus, s s V 3 s Because roots arise in solving important technical problems, we will explore their basic properties in the next few documents in these notes. Radicals 3 The word radical is used to refer to roots or expressions involving roots. Thus 2 , 17 , 5 28 , etc., are all called “radicals.” David W. Sabo (2003) Roots or Radicals Page 4 of 4