Sierpinski Triangle

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Sierpinski Triangle

Attribution Non-Commercial (BY-NC)

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e-Pages

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.

3

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

4

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.

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