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TATSULOK Fourth Year Vol. 11 No. 5


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The Sierpinski Triangle
By Ma. Louise De Las Peas
T
he Sierpinski triangle (or gasket) (shown above) is a geometric pattern formed by connecting the
midpoints of the sides of a triangle. The Sierpinski triangle is named after the Polish mathematician
Waclaw, Sierpinski, who described some of the triangles interesting properties in 1916.
The Sierpinski triangle can be constructed by starting with a solid equilateral triangle.
This triangle is divided into four congruent equilateral triangles, and the middle triangle is
removed.
On the next step, each of the three remaining equilateral triangles is divided into four congruent
equilateral triangles, and the middle triangle in each of these triangles is removed. Three triangles are
removed in this step.
On the third step, nine triangles are removed.
If the process is continued indenitely, the Sierpinski triangle results.
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TATSULOK Fourth Year Vol. 11 No. 5
e-Pages
Now, as we continue the process, can we actually determine
the exact number of triangles removed after a certain number of
iterations? For instance, can we calculate the number of triangles
removed on the 20th step?
There are characteristics of the Sierpinski triangle that we
can investigate using the notion of geometric sequences.
Consider for instance the situation when triangles are removed
in each step. Note that in the rst iteration, one triangle was removed;
in the second iteration, three triangles were removed; in the third
iteration, nine triangles are removed, and so on. We have the geometric sequence representing the triangles
removed in the kth iteration as: 1, 3, 9, k, . . . Recall that the formula for the kth term a
k
of the geometric
sequence is a
k
= a
1
r
k-1
where a
1
is the rst term and r is the common ratio. In our given sequence, a
1
= 1
and r = 3 so that the kth term of the geometric sequence that gives the number of triangles removed on
the kth step is a
k
= 3
k-1
. Given this formula, we can calculate the number of triangles removed on the 20th
step: we have a
20
= 3
19
or 1 162 261 467 triangles!
Now, what is the total number of triangles removed in each step? The nth partial sum S
n
of a
geometric sequence with rst term a
1
and common ratio r 1 is S a
r
r
n
n

1
1
1
. So, at the kth iteration,
the total number of triangles removed is S
k
k k


1 3
1 3
3 1
2
.
Now, suppose the initial triangle given has side length of 1 unit. Can we nd a geometric sequence
that gives the area removed on the 1th step? How about the total area removed in every step?
Consider the following table that describes what is happening in each step. The area of an equilateral
triangle with side length a is a
2
3
4
.
Step
Triangles
Removed
Length
of Side
Area of
Triangle
Area Removed
in each Step
Total Area Removed
1 1
1
2
1
2
3
4
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
1
2
3
4
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
3
4
1
4
j
(
,
\
,
(
2 3
1
4
1
4
3
4
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
3
1
4
3
4
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
3
4
1
4
3
16
+
j
(
,
\
,
(
3 9
1
8
1
8
3
4
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
3
1
8
3
4
2
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
3
4
1
4
3
16
9
64
+ +
j
(
,
\
,
(
k 3
k-1
1
2
k
1
2
3
4
2
k
j
(
,
\
,
(
3
1
2
3
4
1
2
k
k

j
(
,
\
,
(
3
4
1
4
3
16
9
64
3
2
1
2
+ + + +
j
(
,
\
,
(

...
k
k
Thus the total area removed at the kth iteration is
S a
r
r
k
k
k

j
(
,
\
,
(

1
1
1
1
4
1
3
4
1
3
4
=
1
3
4

j
(
,
\
,
(
k
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TATSULOK Fourth Year Vol. 11 No. 5
e-Pages
If the process is to be continued indenitely, then the limiting value of
3
4
j
(
,
\
,
(
k
as k approaches
innity is 0. Then the total area removed becomes 1. Thus, the Sierpinski triangle has 0 area.
The total area removed can also be calculated using the formula for innite geometric series,
S
a
r

1
1
1
4
1
3
4
1.
The Sierpinski triangle has a very interesting property of having nite area but innite perimeter.
Step
Triangles
Formed
Length
of Side
Perimeter
at each Step
1 3
1
2
3
3
2
j
(
,
\
,
(
2 9
1
4
3
9
4
j
(
,
\
,
(
3 27
1
8
3
27
8
j
(
,
\
,
(
k 3
k
1
2
k
3
3
2
3
2
1
j
(
,
\
,
(

j
(
,
,
\
,
(
(
+
k
k
k
Note that each triangle has three sides, so that the perimeter is equal to the length multiplied by 3
multiplied by the number of triangles formed.
S a
r
r
k
k
k
k

j
(
,
\
,
(

j
(
,
,
\
,
(
(
1
1
1
9
2
1
3
2
1
3
2
9
3
2
1
( )
As k approaches innity, the total perimeter approaches innity.
Exercise
The Koch snowake was rst described by Helge von Koch in 1904. It was built by starting
with an equilateral triangle removing the inner third of each side, building another equilateral
triangle at the location where the side was removed, and then repeating the process indenitely.
The Koch snowake has also the property of having innite perimeter but nite area. Using a
similar process done earlier for the Sierpinski triangle, nd the total area of the triangles at the kth
iteration, calculate the area of the snowake, and show that its perimeter is innite.