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The "Cubic Formula


Knowledge of the quadratic formula is older than the Pythagorean Theorem. Solving a cubic equation, on the other hand, was the first major success story of Renaissance mathematics in Italy. The solution was first published by Girolamo Cardano (1501-1576) in his Algebra book Ars Magna. Our objective is to find a real root of the cubic equation ax3+bx2+cx+d=0. The other two roots (real or complex) can then be found by polynomial division and the quadratic formula. The solution proceeds in two steps. First, the cubic equation is "depressed"; then one solves the depressed cubic.
Depressing the cubic equation.

This trick, which transforms the general cubic equation into a new cubic equation with missing x2-term is due to Nicolo Fontana Tartaglia (15001557). We apply the substitution

to the cubic equation, to obtain:

Multiplying out and simplifying, we obtain the "depressed" cubic


we obtain the depressed cubic equation y3+6y-20=0. How can we find s and t satisfying (1) and (2)? Solving the first equation for s and substituting into (2) yields: 2 . expanding and simplifying. We will find s and t so that 3st s -t 3 3 = = A B. We are left with solving a depressed cubic equation of the form y3+Ay=B. (1) (2) It turns out that y=s-t will be a solution of the depressed cubic. How to do this had been discovered earlier by Scipione dal Ferro (1465-1526). Our substitution will be x=y+5. B and y as indicated transforms our equation into (s-t)3+3st (s-t)=s3-t3. This is true since we can simplify the left side by using the binomial formula to: (s3-3s2t+3st2-t3)+(3s2t-3st2)=s3-t3.Let's try this for the example 2x3-30x2+162x-350=0. Solving the depressed cubic. Let's check that: Replacing A.

Simplifying. we obtain that 3 . then obtain t. (3) (4) Solving for s in (3) and substituting the result into (4) yields: which multiplied by t3 becomes t6+20t3-8=0. We need s and t to satisfy 3st s -t 3 3 = = 6 20. afterwards s and we're done. Using the quadratic formula. this turns into the "tri-quadratic" equation which using the substitution u=t3 becomes the quadratic equation From this. Let's do the computation for our example y3+6y=20. we can find a value for u by the quadratic formula.

4 .We will discard the negative root. What problem am I talking about? Shortly after the discovery of a method to solve the cubic equation. if you follow the route outlined. I will not discuss a slight problem you can encounter. Our solution y for the depressed cubic equation is the difference of s and t: The solution to our original cubic equation 2x3-30x2+162x-350=0 is given by Concluding remarks. Lodovico Ferraria (1522-1565). a student of Cardano. This section is loosely based on a chapter in the book Journey Through Genius by William Dunham. then take the cube root to obtain t: By Equation (4). found a similar method to solve the quartic equation. Show that y=2 is a solution of our depressed cubic y3+6y-20=0. Exercise 1.

Which of the roots equals our solution 5 .Then find the other two roots.