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Continued Fractions

and the Man Who Knew Infinity

Kesha King

In partial fulfillment of the requirement for the Master of Arts in Teaching with a Specialization in the

Teaching Middle Level Mathematics in the Department of Mathematics

Jim Lewis, Advisor

June 2011

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 2

Continued Fractions and the Man Who

Knew Infinity

By Kesha King

"The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple.

~S. Gudder

This paper scans the beauty of continued fractions; an area of mathematics with a distinguished

history contained in number theory. Consideration is given to the findings of renowned

mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujans and his contributions to the understanding of continued

fractions. Ultimately this paper is an accessible though limited exploration of some of the

interesting aspects of continued fractions.

The Man Who Knew Infinity

There are different ways of looking at numbers. Remarkably Srinivasa Ramanujan, an

Indian mathematician, had an uncanny instinct about numbers. As stated in the skillfully written

biography The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan, Someone once said of

Ramanujan: as with friends, he liked numbers, enjoyed being in their company (Kanigel, 63).

Ramanujan needed no quirky worded story problems to entice his interest in math. He naturally

loved exploring the equations and rationale for their working. He compiled massive notebooks

and penned in green ink theorems of hyper geometric series along with continued fractions that

Ramanujan later treated as his resume to seek employment. In his notebooks or orally to all who

would listen, he presented results that were unrecognizable yet identical to the excepted,

established equations, just in an unorthodox means. Ramanujan spent incredulous hours

expressing every emotion from angst to joy stemming from his detested mistakes or his

celebrated discoveries. He worked tirelessly on his mathematical thinking; yet, he was a two-

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 3

time flunked out college student and could not become gainfully employed in a mathematical

field. J ust as his notebooks were organized haphazardly after great efforts to keep them

organized, his personality was reported as eccentric and made him a hard sell. Opportunities

changed once his parents negotiated an arranged marriage with a 10-year old girl. While she

learned the necessary customs to be a wife, Ramanujan hit the pavement and eventually sent

letters that intrigued G. H. Hardy, a renowned English mathematician. After several

correspondences and an inevitable meeting and later collaboration, Hardy stated, Here was a

man who could work out modular equations and theorems of complex multiplication to orders

unheard of whose mastery of continued fractions was beyond that of any mathematician in the

world (216). Extraordinarily, Ramanujan would express accurate approximations and had an

extreme fondness of continued fractions. He knew the properties of continued fractions inside

and out. He discovered an irrational number with a large quotient for the first few terms of its

continued fraction would eventually approach an extremely accurate approximation of the

irrational number. For example Ramanujan approximated as

2143

22

1

4

. . . Ramanujans aptitude will be revisited after

continued fractions are explored.

The Big Picture of Continued Fractions An Introduction

If one conducted a survey about peoples feelings concerning fractions, more often than

not an expression of fear or shallow understanding would be expressed rather than a profound

reverence for them as Ramanujan possessed. In that same sampling, a minute, almost

nonexistent, number of individuals would have comprehension of fractions inside of fractions

inside of fractions or what is referred to as continued or repeating fractions.

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 4

If one wants better clarity of what a continued fraction is, simply think of a jigsaw puzzle

which has the shape of a rectangle. Let the rectangle have the dimensions 51 by 19 units. By

splitting the rectangle into squares we will explore the functionality of continued fractions

pictorially.

The rectangle has the dimensions

51

19

=2

13

19

or

19

51

.

We can divide the rectangle into two squares of

dimensions 19 x 19 and leaving a rectangular

section with dimensions 13 x 19 showing

pictorially the same mixed number we have

computed above:

51

19

=

19+19+13

19

= 2 +

13

19

We can rewrite this fraction as:

2 +

1

19

13

Similarly splitting the 19 x 13 rectangle, there is just one 13 x 13 square to cut off with a 6 x 13

rectangle left over. We can express 13/6 as

a whole number plus fraction:

51

19

=

19 +19 +13

19

= 2 +

13

19

= 2 +

1

19

13

= 2 +

1

1 +

6

13

51

19

19 19 13

19 19 13

6

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 5

Look at the 6 x 13 rectangle as a 13 x 6 rectangle

and repeat the same process as above. There will be

two squares of side 6 with a rectangle 1 x 6 left

over (imagine my illustration had 6 squares within the 1 by 6 rectangle):

51

19

=

19 +19 +13

19

= 2 +

13

19

= 2 +

1

19

13

= 2 +

1

1 +

6

13

= 2 +

1

1 +

1

13

6

= 2 +

1

1 +

1

2 +

1

6

Now there is no way to continue breaking up the rectangle in the same way because the six 1 x 1

rectangles cannot be split down any more. Thus, the rational 51/19 equals as a finite continued

fraction:

2 +

1

1 +

1

2 +

1

6

This expression relates directly to the geometry of the rectangle as squares with the jigsaw pieces

as follows:

2 large squares (19x19)

1 medium square (13x13)

2 small squares (6x6)

6 tiny squares (1x1)

Since the process always reduces the size of the remaining rectangle left over, it will always have

one side smaller than the starting rectangle. The process will always stop with a final n x 1

rectangle, i.e. the continued fraction is finite. Thus, every fraction is equal to a finite continued

fraction and, of course, each finite continued fraction is equal to a fraction. Notice that the

19 19 13

6 6

1

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 6

geometry results in the leading terms of the continued fraction, or what is known as the

denominator of the partial quotients of the continued fraction.

Notation and Converting Continued Fractions

There are more efficient ways to convert a rational number into a continued fraction than

splitting up rectangles. It should be understood that a continued fraction is a representation in

general form of a given real number using the structure, P/Q (P and Q are whole, positive

numbers and Q0), and there are multiple ways to write a continued fraction, for example:

= +

1

+

1

+

1

+

= +1/( +1/( +1/( +))) = +

1

+

1

+

1

+

where a, b, c, d, etc. are whole numbers and if P/Q is less than 1, then the first number, a, will be

0. There are benefits to each format. The first extended form shows each quotient clearly, the

second may cause confusion with all the parentheses yet it condenses the space used, and the last

notation is convenient for both computation and penning. J ust as we can define finite continued

fractions, we can define infinite continued fractions. It is a remarkable fact that all infinite

continued fractions converge and are thus equal to irrational numbers. The infinite expansions of

continued fractions can either be periodic or irregular. When they are periodic, simple patterns

emerge and notable irrational numbers are present; however, irregular values in infinite

expansions result in transcendental values like , , . On the other hand, every square root

has a continued fraction that eventually repeats.

Note that if a fraction is less than 1, we use its reciprocal and then split it into a whole

number part plus another fraction, which will be less than 1 and repeat. Once the numerator or

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 7

denominator equals 1, the simple finite continued fraction is complete. Observe the general form

in action. Take 7/8; it is less than 1, so start off by writing it as its reciprocal:

7

8

= 0 + 1/(8/7)

7

8

= 0 +1/(1 +

1

7

)

7/8 = 0 +1/(1 + 1/(7/1))

We could stop here since there is a 1 in the denominator, or we could take it one step further:

7

8

= 0 +1/(1 +1/(6 +

1

1

))

In addition to the three forms noted for continued fractions, there is an abbreviated form

referred to as list notation where we write a continued fraction as a bracketed list of the whole

numbers in the denominators in the different levels, or partial quotients, of the continued

fraction, in order of appearance. The first number, which we denote a, is therefore special as it is

the whole number part of the value. The other numbers are written as a list with comma

separators where no values will be zero, except the first when the fraction < 1. We would write:

= [, , , , ]

The list notation can only be used when all numerators are 1. To put this notation into action, we

will revisit the two examples we have computed with the general format:

Remember 51/19 in general form is: 2 +

1

1+

1

2+

1

6

. Thus in list notation:

51

19

= [2, 1, 2, 6]

Similarly, 7/8 in general form is: 7/8 = 0 +

1

1+

1

7

1

or 0 +

1

1+

1

6+

1

1

.

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 8

Therefore in list notation:

7

8

= [0, 1, 7] = [0, 1, 6, 1]. Again either term is correct since every

finite continued fraction ending with n greater than 1 has two forms. One form will end with n

greater than 1, the other form will end with 1, where you replace the final n by (n-1) +1/1, so the

last term is 1.

Continually gaining confidence with our notation, we examine 2/5. Again it is less than 1,

so:

2

5

= 0 + 1/(5/2)

2

5

= 0 +1/(2 +

1

2

)

2/5 = 0 +1/(2 +1/(2/1))

Thus 2/5 =[0, 2, 2] =[0, 2, 1, 1].

Take 5/12 for example:

5

12

= 0 +

1

12

5

= 0 +

1

2 +

2

5

= 0 +

1

2 +

1

5

2

= 0 +

1

2 +

1

2 +

1

2

= 0 +

1

2 +

1

2 +

1

2

1

Or

5

12

= 0 +

1

2 +

1

2 +

1

1 +

1

1

Thus 5/12 =[0, 2, 2, 2] or [0, 2, 2, 1, 1].

Lastly we will examine 12/19:

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 9

12

19

= 0 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

2 +

1

2

Thus 12/19 =[0, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2]. Notice that the denominators of this format are the values in the

list notation with the exception of the first term.

J ust as simply as we converted the rational number to the continued fraction, we can

convert the continued fraction to a single fraction. In visual terms, we can unfold the continued

fraction starting from the right hand side:

[1, 2, 3] = 1 +

1

2 +

1

3

= 1 +

1

7

3

= 1 +

3

7

=

10

7

An even more effortless means to convert continued fractions to a single fraction requires one to

notice that the list notation has the following relationship present:

[. , , ] = . , +

1

and use this rule repeatedly to reduce the continued fraction all the way to a single fraction.

Notice the shortcut with the previous continued fraction:

[1, 2, 3] = 1, 2 +

1

3

= 1,

7

3

= 1 +

3

7

=

10

7

Another example:

[1, 1, 1, 1] = 1, 1, 1 +

1

1

= [1, 1, 2] = 1, 1 +

1

2

= 1,

3

2

= 1 +

2

3

=

5

3

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 10

The final example to solidify the ease of converting continued fractions is:

[2, 1, 2, 1, 1] = 2, 1, 2, 1 +

1

1

= [2, 1, 2, 2] = 2, 1, 2 +

1

2

= 2, 1 +

2

5

= 2,

7

5

= 2 +

5

7

=

19

7

Reciprocals of Continued Fractions

Note when the continued fraction is in list notation the reciprocal of a continued fraction

is easily acquired. For example, the reciprocal of any fraction is that fraction inverted, for

example the reciprocal of 2/5 is 5/2. The reciprocal of the continued fraction [0, 2, 1, 1] is [2, 1,

1]. In general, if the list form has a zero as the first term (meaning the fraction <1) simply omit

the zero to gain the reciprocal. On the other hand, if the list-form doesnt start with zero

(meaning the fraction >1) then insert a zero as the first term to find the reciprocal.

To observe the construction of another reciprocal, 5/12 =[0, 2, 2, 2], notice that the zero

term is omitted and 12/5 =[2, 2, 2]. Observe the confirmation in general form for 12/5:

5

12

= 0 +

1

2 +

1

2 +

1

2

12

5

= 2 +

1

2 +

1

2

To solidify the ease of constructing the reciprocal of a continued fraction view the table:

Fraction Continued Fraction Reciprocal Fraction Reciprocal Continued Fraction

[0,2] 2/1 [2]

1/3 [0, 3] 3/1 [3]

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 11

7/8 [0, 1, 7] 8/7 [1, 7]

Similarly, any finite continued fractions reciprocal can be easily obtained in list form by

inserting or omitting a leading zero.

Convergence of Continued Fractions

We have hammered out the basics of working with finite continued fractions as

representations of rational numbers. To further our exploration, we want to consider some

infinite continued fractions and offer evidence that continued fractions provide, in some sense,

the best approximation for any given real number. It is true that any real number can be

expressed as a continued fraction. If we start with an infinite continued fraction, a convergent is

the sequence of values we get if we truncate the infinite continued fraction to compute

corresponding finite continued fractions, i.e. if our infinite continued fraction is [a

0,

a

1,

a2, ],

then in general, the n

th

convergent or approximant is the value obtained by evaluating the finite

continued fraction, [a

0,

a

1,

a

2

, , a

n

]. These values will limit to the real number represented by

the infinite continued fraction. Evaluating the convergent to n decimal places adds a level of

exactness. Consider the example 5 2.236067977. The corresponding continued fraction is:

2 +

1

4+

1

4+

1

4+

=[2, 4, 4, 4, ]. Within the first four terms the convergents are 2 =2; 9/4 =2.25;

38/17 =2.2352941176; 161/72 =2.2361111 we are rapidly approaching 5 2.236067977. As

is seen by this example, using the convergents is one of the fastest ways to approximate irrational

numbers.

Consequently, there are well-known constants that mathematicians have explored through

continued fractions, for example , e, and . Each of those values and any other irrational

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 12

number, have infinitely many rational approximations. We can think of the corresponding finite

continued fractions as the best rational estimates for the irrational number in the sense that

expressing the irrational number as a continued fraction finds a much better approximation for

the number with the same number of terms than the 11 to 13 digits a calculator. The continued

fractions provide more accurate estimation depending upon which convergent the value is

computed. As you move from left to right in the continued fraction the estimates get better. In

the above example of 5, 161/72 is a better approximation than 38/17 which is a better

approximation than 9/4. It is interesting to note that the convergents of a rational number

alternate between being larger and smaller values than the exact value of the irrational number.

The convergent will never equal the exact value of the irrational number but they do limit to the

exact value. Think of convergents as the behavior the finite continued fractions produce as terms

are added.

Infinite Continued Fractions through Special Numbers: , ,

Recall that is a numerical constant that represents the ratio of a circles circumference

to its diameter. It is constant because the value is the same regardless of the size of the circle.

It is an irrational number because it cannot be represented in an exact ratio of two whole

numbers. Mathematicians have labored over developing good rational approximations of the

irrational number . It turns out that the best approximations can be achieved by beginning with

the decimal estimate for , Subtract the integer portion leaving a value just under 0.15. Invert it

by dividing 1 by this remaining decimal portion. Record the integer part of the quotient and

subtract it from the remaining value. Invert again and repeat the process to get the continued

fraction for . In this case will generate the following continued fraction for the first 12 terms:

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 13

[3, 7, 15, 1, 292, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 3, 1]

The actual decimal representation of truncated to the ninth decimal place is

3.141592654. We can compare this to approximations derived from truncating the continued

fraction after the first, second, and third terms:

[3, 7] =

22

7

3.142857142

[3, 7, 15] =

333

106

3.141509434

[3, 7, 15, 1] =

355

113

3.14159292

The best rational approximation of a real number is a ratio of two integers, P/Q, which

has the minimum error of all possible quotients generated by integers less than Q. As the number

of terms in the continued fraction of increases, the precision of the approximation grows.

Accordingly, it seems 355/113 is the best approximation for within these first few terms.

Before we explore whether the same is true of the transcendental number e we will revisit

es importance in mathematics. Across mathematics, e plays a significant function. J ust as is a

constant e is as well, with a decimal equivalent truncated to five decimal places of 2.71828.

Computing, the continued fraction for e as we did for , we get:

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 14

= 2 +

1

1 +

1

2 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

4 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

6 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

8 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

1 +

1

10 +

Again, to find continued fractions which approximate e, we truncated the infinite

continued fraction to obtain:

[2, 1, 2, 1, 1] =19/7 2.71428

e [2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 4] 87/32 2.71875

e [2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 4, 1] 106/39 2.71794

Within the first few calculations of the continued fractions that represent e, it seems [2, 1, 2, 1, 1,

4, 1] offers the best approximant to the decimal equivalent truncated to five decimal places.

Completing this exercise for e illustrates that the rate of convergence with continued fractions is

high. We can get very close to e without numerous iterations. For all of es complexities,

acquiring a decimal equivalent from continued fractions was done with ease.

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 15

Continuing with the exploration of well-known mathematical constants, is widely

considered to have the most beautiful continued fraction. It has a number of aliases such as the

golden mean or the golden ratio. Its continued fraction form is [1, 1, 1, 1 ] and its

truncated decimal representation is 1.6180339887. Working the first five convergences, best

rational approximations to real numbers, of results in:

0 =

1

1

= 1

1 =

2

1

= 2

2 =

3

2

= 1.5

4 =

5

3

= 1.666666

5 =

8

5

= 1.6

Note that the pattern shows the ratios of consecutive Fibonacci numbers where F

n

is the

numerator representing the n

th

Fibonacci term and F

n-1

is the denominator, the previous

Fibonacci number. The next convergent is F

n+1

/F

n

. Thus = [1,1, ] is honored as the slowest

converging continued fraction because all the values of the continued fraction are equal to 1. It

takes nine convergences before the first three decimal places of are all perfectly matched by

the finite continued fraction approximation.

When calculating the decimal representation of , its helpful to review its unique

properties. To square , add 1. So:

= +1

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 16

2

= +1

2

1 = 0

Use the quadratic formula to find values of . Since the equation is in standard quadratic

form, a=1, b=-1, and c=-1.

2

+ + = 0

=

2

4

2

=

(1)(1)4(1)(1)

2(1)

=

15

2

+ =

1 +5

2

= 1.61803398874989 and 1 =

1 5

2

= 0.61803398874989

Note that the decimal parts are identical. From now on we will say Phi for the larger

value =1.618 and phi for the smaller value = 0.618 . Since the quadratic

equation generated one positive solution 1.618, Phi, will be the golden ratio value.

Furthermore the absolute value of phi is the reciprocal of Phi. So it is apparent that Phi

multiplied by phi =1. Notice the algebraic verification:

= 1

5 +1

2

5 1

2

= 1

5 5 +5 5 1

4

= 1

5 1

4

= 1 =

4

4

Therefore Phi =1/phi. Now to calculate the decimal representation of , by noticing that

1+1/Phi =Phi notice that the setup is similar to a continued fractions:

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 17

= 1 +

1

= 1 +

1

5 +1

2

= 1 +

2

5 +1

The reciprocal of Phi is 1/Phi, which equals phi. Thus 1 +the absolute value of phi =

Phi =1 +0.6180339887 =1.6180339887. This is the case since we defined Phi as:

2

=

+1, which means dividing both sides by Phi results in:

= 1 +

1

Continually observing the unique properties of Phi shows that the golden ratio is the number that

satisfies the equation: 1 =

1

, = 1 +

1

. We can substitute 1 +

1

for every x

resulting in = 1 +

1

1

+

1

1

+ which will converge to the Phi value of 1.618 Since Phis

continued fraction notation contains infinite repeated digits, a unique relationship can be

witnessed for other continued fractions with infinitely repeated digits.

We now consider other infinite continuing fractions that involve repeating digits. First,

note that the list notation for continued fractions with infinitely repeating digits is to place

parentheses around the repeated digit. Working out the following terms x =[1, 2, 2, 2,], [1,

(2)], and x =[0, 2, 2, ], [0, (2)], it is not surprising that the decimal representation can be

acquired similarly as Phis and will have evidence of square roots in the solutions since the

continued fraction notation has repeating digits that were the outcome of the square root of Phis

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 18

computation from the quadratic equation. In fact, the terms of a continued fraction will repeat if

and only if it is the continued fraction representation of a quadratic irrational.

Using the same methods we used to discover the continued fraction for from its

property that is 1 more than its reciprocal treat a continued fraction with infinitely repeating

digits as T(n) =[n, (n)] so that T(n) = +

1

+

1

+ () = +

1

1

.

The method is referred to as the numerical values of the Silver Means (second to the Golden

Mean) and makes for easy, beautiful computing. Simply enter any positive integer on your

calculator. Invert the value by dividing 1 by the number. Add n and record. Continually repeat

the procedures until values are identical after each computation. The computations will converge

to T(n)= +1/().thus generating silver means with infinite repetition of the n digits. View

this method for T (2) where a random positive integer, 7, was inverted to begin the computing:

(2) = 7

1

7

+2;

= 2 +

1

7

7

15

+2;

= 2 +

7

15

15

37

+2;

= 2 +

15

37

37

89

+2;

= 2 +

37

89

89

215

+2;

These computations are converging to1 +2. Since 2 =[1, (2)], we can deduce that [2,

(2)] =1+2. Thus, our workings to determine the Golden Mean aided in generating the Silver

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 19

Mean of x =[2, (2)] =1 +2. Therefore, x=[1, (2)] =2 and x=[0, (2)] =

1

2

based on the

reciprocal of continued fraction property we reviewed earlier.

What has Ramanujan have to do with it?

Now, back to the most famous mathematician to work with continued fractions.

Ramanujans work with continued fractions and their use to approximate irrational numbers

closely impressed his counterparts of yesteryear and continue to inspire mathematicians today.

Born in Erode, Tamil Nadu, India, Ramanujan abandoned all other subjects of study in school

after reading a mathematical text that compiled thousands of math statements. During his tragic

33 years that were plagued by debilitating illnesses, Ramanujan impacted the world of

mathematics in the most unconventional ways. He was considered to have a romantic

introduction into the math world. He was known to seek guidance from a higher power to

generate more than 3,900 numerical claims. Although Ramanujan flunked out of college twice,

he impressed the mathematicians during his time with his amazing natural prowess. When

working with colleagues, Ramanujan would flood the room with his ideas that emptied like an

overflowing fountain. Hardy and Ramanujan shared a five-year collaboration. Hardy sang the

praises of Ramanujans genius and placed him along the greats like Euler or J acobi.

Some of Ramanujan most noted findings relate to the so-called Rogers-Ramanujan

Continued Fraction. The details are beyond the scope of this paper. However, to touch the

surface, Ramanujan assigned the function R (q) =

1

5

1+

1+

2

1+

3

1+

, < 1 to generalize the

continued fraction expansion for the golden ratio

1+5

2

= 1 +

1

1+

1

1+

1

1+

. Ramanujan

communicated several theorems about R (q) and denoted the more general continued fraction:

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 20

(, )

1

1

+

1

+

2

1

+

3

1

+, < 1.

In his letter to Hardy, Ramanujan gave modular equations, i.e. equations used to discover

converging formulas based on modular arithmetic where numbers wrap around the base value-

modulus, relating R (q) with R (-q), R (q

3

), and R (q

4

). Amazingly Ramanujan discovered

factoring of the function R (q) that gave four identities. Additionally he derived beautiful

theorems in his many notebooks that have been the topic of hundreds of studies.

To fully clinch the innate mathematical ability Ramanujan possessed we can tell a

famous story of how he solved a problem. Imagine there are a bunch of houses on a street, the

house numbers of which are 1, 2, 3 Now, your friend lives in a house where the sum of the

house numbers to the left of his house and to the right of his house is the same (his house is not

included in either sum). If there are fewer than 10 houses on the street, how many houses are

there and what is the house number of your friend? By simple arithmetic the house number of

your friend is 6 and there are 8 houses on the street. History reports that Ramanujan solved this

same problem with the boundaries between 50 and 500 houses on the street in a matter of

seconds. There must be a connection to continued fraction in his solution, so observe how

laboriously the common math mind would attempt this problem. Letting m =the number of

houses on the street and n =the particular house number, notice the connecting equation:

1 +2 ++( 1) = ( +1) +( +2) ++

Using the well-known finding that the sum of the first k natural numbers is

(+1)

2

, we can rewrite

the scenario using the appropriate variables as:

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 21

( 1)

2

=

(+1)

2

( +1)

2

The left-hand side reflects the number of house before the desired one multiplied by the desired

house number divided by 2 to get the sum of the house numbers up to but not including the

desired house number. The right-hand side reflects the sum of all the house numbers combined

minus the desired house number and the overlap to avoid double counting.

(+1)

2

= ( 1 + +1)/2

(+1)

2

=

2

8 :

8(+1)

2

= 8

2

The above equation can be written as, 1 8 1 4 4

2 2

= + + n m m or

(2+1)

2

2(2)

2

= 1

To put this equation into simpler terms of x and y, write 2m+1 =x and 2n =y resulting in:

2

2

2

= 1

By Lagranges method using continued fractions, in order to solve an equation in the format of

2

= 1, express D as a periodic infinite continued fraction. Our D =2. So:

2 = 1 +

1

2

+

1

2

+

1

2

+

1

2

+

Since the convergent period, a, a=1, all convergents are solutions. Since an infinite continued

fraction is an expression that represents the sum of its integer part and the reciprocal of another

number, written as a sum of its integer and another reciprocal, and so on, the convergents of the

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 22

2 continued fraction would represent the number of houses on the street, the numerator and the

house number, the denominator. The first 10 convergents of 2 are:

1) 1 =

1

1

, 2) 1 +

1

2

=

3

2

, 3) 1 +

1

2 +

1

2

=

7

5

, 4) 1 +

1

2 +

1

2 +

1

2

=

17

12

,

5) [1,2,2,2,2] =

41

29

, 6) [1,2,2,2,2,2] =

99

70

, 7) [1,2,2,2,2,22] =

239

169

,

8) [1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2] =

577

408

, 9) [1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2] =

1393

985

,

10)[1,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2,2] =

3363

2378

Every other convergent has an even denominator. To show the solution pairs that solve the

problem posed to Ramanujan, notice for the convergents

1

2

2

:

2:

3 1

2

= 1 &

2

2

= 1 (1, 1)

4:

17 1

2

= 8 &

12

2

= 6 2 (6,8)

6:

99 1

2

= 49 &

70

2

= 35 3 (35, 49)

8:

577 1

2

= 288 &

408

2

= 204 4 (204, 288)

10:

3363 1

2

= 1681 &

2378

2

= 1189 5 (1189, 1681)

Thus one could find the number of houses and the house number of the friend for a street that

was infinitely long with the stated stipulations.

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 23

To conjecture how Ramanujan knew his solution so quickly, I would venture that he

recognized the solutions would be gained by having terms that would be divisible by two.

Furthermore it seems he identified the only continued fraction that would provide infinite

denominators of two to halve the infinite solutions would be 2. Considering his thorough work

in the area of continued fractions, it is safe to assume he worked and potentially memorized an

impressive number of the convergents of2. Frankly, Hardy was right about Ramanujan; he

truly was a man who knew infinity.

This paper achieved an accessible introduction to continued fractions by exploring

approachable mathematics with a complex concept in continued fractions. Beginning with a

glimpse of the mathematician who is widely accredited for his mastery of continued fractions,

Ramanujan, we skimmed his contributions and analyzed repeating fractions by a geometric

means. Investigating the many notations and meanings of continued fractions aided in

understanding the significance of their structure resolving their purpose which is to provide a

best approximation of any real number. Clearly the best rational approximation is the ratio itself

since truncating a ratio at various places yields approximations that are usually rough

calculations. For example truncating 2/9 =.2222 at various places results in 1111/5000,

111/500, 11/50, and 1/5. Clearly 2/9 is the best rational approximation of itself, hence the value

of utilizing continued fractions especially for irrational numbers. Looking at infinite continued

fractions to explore recognized irrational values in e, , elevates ones thinking of the best

means to represent those values, which means examining their convergents, the limit the ratios

approach as the partial quotients are continually computed. Lastly Ramanujans brilliance was

revisited with an anecdote of his incredible solution to a challenging problem he solved with ease

utilizing continued fractions. The notion of continued fractions was just tapped in this paper.

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 24

There is a wealth of applications from chaos to computer algorithms. Beautifully intricate

continued fractions with complex numbers within the numerators and denominators are

innumerable for the exploring. Ultimately the goal was to make a seemingly complex

mathematical notion easier to absorb.

K i n g - MA T E x p o s i t o r y P a p e r P a g e | 25

References

Kanigel, R. (1991). The Man Who Knew Infinity. New York

Web sites

http://www.maths.surrey.ac.uk/hosted-sites/R.Knott/Fibonacci/cfINTRO.html

http://www.math.vt.edu/people/brown/doc/cfrax.pdf

http://faculty.evansville.edu/ck6/integer/contfr.html

http://www.math.auckland.ac.nz/~butcher/miniature/miniature2.pdf

http://www.math.temple.edu/~pasha/contfrac.pdf

http://www-math.mit.edu/phase2/UJM/vol1/COLLIN~1.PDF

http://www.math.ups.edu/~mspivey/CF.pdf

http://www.jcu.edu/math/vignettes/continued.htm

http://www.phy6.org/outreach/edu/contfrac.htm

http://www.mathpath.org/concepts/cont.frac.htm

http://www.maths.surrey.ac.uk/hosted-sites/R.Knott/Fibonacci/phi.html#simpledef

http://www.vashti.net/mceinc/derivphi.htm

http://www.usvishakh.net/documents/problems.pdf

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