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VOLUME

OF A CONE-SIMPLE DERIVATION
without using calculus

SRINIVASAN NENMELI
Introdcution
school students to arrive at the formula for
"volume of a right circular cone " V = (1/3) r2 h
where r is the radius and h, the height
without using the method of calculus of integration.
I am presenting a simple "numerical method" or numerical
approximation to get this formula.
By following this method, you will also learn about
numerical approach to such problems ,under the title
"numerical analysis." This method can be easily extended
for volume of a square pyramid and volume of a rerular
tetrahedron and other geometric figures.

The Approach
Consider a cone placed on a table with flat

,circular bottom resting on the table.. Let us

slice the cone into discs of certain height from
the bottom. Let r be the radius of the cone.and
h be the height.
Each disc is approximated to be a cylinder with
radius r' and height (h/n) where n is the no of
discs we have created by slicing.
being made.The height of each disc is h/10.
Now the lateral side of the disc is sloping, but
we make the simplification that it is vertical
and therefore each disc is a cylinder;
Then the total volume of the cone is the sum of
the volumes of ten cylindrical discs.

Method 1
The volume of the disc is just (r')2 h'.
We can take the radius r' for each disc as

follows:
r, 0.9r, 0.8 r ------0.1r
h'= h/10
Then the volume of the cone:
V = (pi) (h/10)r2 [1 + 0.9x0.9 + 0.8 x 0.8 +
..........0.1 x0.1] -------------------(1)
If we do the simple computation involved for the
terms inside the brackets , we get:
V = (h/10) r2 [3.85]
= 0.385 r2 h ------------(2)
Note that V= 0.3333 r2 h -----------(3)
Our result is pretty close to the expected
formula, but not close enough.
Method 2
One 'obvious'technique to improve the accuracy
of the result would be to increase the number of
discs from 10 to 20 ; then each disc would be of
height h/20 and the error in calculating the

volume of the discs could be reduced. You can

derive with 20 discs as before, as an exercise.
The result would be ': V = 0.3587 r2 h.
This result is close to the actual one with
0.358 replacing (1/3) or 0.3333. The error is:
[0.358-0.333]/0.333=0.025/0.333= 7.5%
I am not satisfied by this level of
approximation!

Method 3 Midpoint method
Since each disc has a sloping side, the better
method is to take the middle value of the radius
for each disc. For the first disc,r' varies from
r to 0.9r. therefore let us take r' = 0.95 r,
instead of r. For the second disc, r'= 0.85 r,
instead of 0.9 r and so on.
Therefore, V= r2 (h/10)[0.952 + 0.852 +
0.752

+0.652 ------ 0.052 ]

V = r2 ( h /10) [3.325]
This result is excellent: V = 0.3325 r2 h
----------(4)
The midpoint method gives a value of 0.3325,
close to 0.33333 or 1/3 found in the formula.
The error is 0.0008/0.3333= 0.0024 or 0.24%!!
[The midpoint method is similar to midpoint
formula used in 'numerical integration'
originally given by John G Kemeny [ Former Prof
of Math and President of Dartmouth College.]

Exercises
1Repeat the midpoint method using 20 discs
2 Write a computer program for this method with
no of discs as a variable.Run the program with

n=100 and find the result.

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How did the Greek mathematicians find this
formula? It is a moot point whether they used a
numerical approximation as given above.
Archimedes did a numerical procedure to find a
value of pi by approximating a circle to
several triangles. So, it is possible that some
Greek mathematician cranked out a numerical
scheme like the one given here.
Hey! Most probably they found the volume of a
cone by by filling a model cone with water and
then measuring the volume of water with a
measuring jar or cylinder!

Volume of a square pyramid
The volume of a square pyramid:
V = (1/3)a2 h

where a is the size of square base and h is the

height.
As before, let us slice the pyramid into 10
slabs of height h/10.
Each slab has a square top and bottom side with
sloping sides.
The side of the slabs are a,0.9a, 0.8a and so
on.
The area of each slab is taken at the midpoint:
a'=0.95a
Therefore, as before,
V = a2 (h/10) [0.952 +0.852 ------ 0.052 ]
The terms within the bracket are the same as
Therefore V = (1/3)a2 h.

Volume of a regular tetrahedron can also be
derived using the method 3 as V =(1/3) Ah

where A is the area of an equilateral triangle

[base]A= sqrt(3)/4 a2 where a is the side of the
tetrahedron.
Therefore we have shown how the number (1/3)
arises in the formulas of volume of all these
solids by the same method.
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