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Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Parcels of Pi
a curve-packing problem

Rachel Beckett, Bath Spa MEC, 2009

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Parcels of Pi
a curve-packing problem

Rachel Beckett, Bath Spa MEC, 2009

An artists algorithm 5
A square to get started 6
Tackling the rectangles 7
Meet the family! 10
Rival rectangles 15
Cousins once removed 16
Sorting the sections 19
Extended families 21
Heading for the hills 23
Concluding remarks 27
A note on sources 30

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Important Note
Throughout this paper all quadrilaterals illustrated
are rectangles. Therefore, to avoid cluttering the
diagrams, right angles are not marked.

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

awareness that the sun was a circle and the hills

An artists algorithm were probably trigonometric functions, I had no
mathematical algorithm, I just did it by eye.
I once painted a series of pictures in which I
explored ways of filling in curves with different For this project I have decided to look at the
types of shape. I became especially interested in mathematics of what was going on.
using rectangles. They had to be perpendicular (one
pair of matching sides was horizontal and the other I shall concentrate mainly on the unit circle, but
vertical), and they had to be fitted one at a time. will also consider another more complicated
Each one had to fill the largest possible area of the trigonometric function to model the hills. The aim
remaining region of the curve. The idea was one is to find out how to calculate the maximum area of
of economy: to use as few rectangles as possible to a rectangle inscribed in a given region enclosed by
occupy as much of the curve as possible. a given curve. Each successive rectangle will form
new limits for the regions occupied by subsequent
I found that in order to get the biggest rectangle rectangles.
each time I had to vary the proportions. Drawing a
rectangle of base a and height b, I had to adjust a This investigation will also lead me to consider:
and b to get the maximum area (ie. the maximum Is there is a pattern?
value for ab). Logically this meant that the first If so, is it to do with an angle or a series of angles?
rectangle would be large, within the constraints Are the rectangles members of a series?
of the curve, and then the sizes of the successive If so, can I define it in general terms?
rectangles would diminish fairly rapidly. What is the relationship between the number of rec-
tangles used and the proportion of the area under
In the painting shown above I filled the sun, and the curve that they fill?
some hills with rectangles. Other than having an Can I express this as a function?

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem
A square to
get started A G L H B

The circle seemed the best place

to start, because of its funda-
mental relationship with
and with the trigonometric
functions that we use when
we work with angles.
I decided to use a unit
circle, of radius 1, area
and circumference 2. J
I drew the circle (see
figure), and within it I
placed what I thought, by
eye, was the largest rectan-
gle that would fit. Within the
remaining gaps, again by eye,
I inscribed the largest rectangles
possible. I then repeated this a third
time. In theory I could go on and on C D
adding smaller rectangles in the gaps. To
cluttering the
Because of the circles symmetry I was sure diagrams, right
angles are not marked.
ABCD had to be a square. I needed to prove this first.

Being a rectangle, ABCD has opposite sides parallel. I drew in two lines of symmetry, (two diameters
perpendicular to each other), such that the circle is divided into four congruent quarter-circle sectors and
ABCD into four congruent rectangles. Now anything I prove for quarter-circle sector OIJ is reflected in the
other quadrants and anything I prove for rectangle OLBE is true for the other quarters of ABCD.

Proof that OLBE is a square K F
OLBE is the largest rectangle (ie. of maximum area)
that can be inscribed within sector OIJ.
Let its area be a(a + d), where d < a.
DOBE is a right-angled triangle and OB = 1. L H B
Let BOE = 1, so that a = Cos1 and a + d = Sin1.
I want the maximum value for Sin1Cos1.
My unit circle has a radius of 1, so if OLBE is a
square, 1 = /4 and Sin1 = Cos1 = 1/2. r=1
In that case, Sin1Cos1 = (1/2)2 = . a+d
Assuming then that OLBE is not a square:
a2 + (a + d)2 = 1
2a2 + 2ad + d2 = 1

2a2 + 2ad = 1 - d2
a (a + d) = - d2 a
Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Unless d = 0, d must be positive which
R would mean M F
a (a + d) < . K P
Therefore the largest possible area for OLBE is ,
which occurs when d = 0.
OLBE is a square with area a2 = Sin1Cos1 = .
Ill call this area A1. The angle 1 = /4 or 45.

What this proof tells me

Since OLBE is a quarter of ABCD, I now also know
that ABCD is a square with area {4A1} = 4 x = 2.
Hence the largest rectangle that can be inscribed in
the unit circle is square ABCD with area 2.

Square ABCD is bounded by four congruent

segments, each of area ( 2)/4. These can be 2
treated as eight congruent half-segments, each of J
area ( 2)/8. These are represented in the first O E
quadrant by sections LIB and EJB. I shall refer to A = (Sin2 2) Cos2
any such pieces of segments as sections. Anything = Sin2Cos2 2Cos2
that is true for LIB is also true for the other seven = 2Sin2Cos2 2Cos2
congruent sections. 2
By the double-angle formulae, this is equal to
Sin22 2Cos2.
Tackling the rectangles he first term of this rearranged expression,
LKFH represents the largest rectangle that can be Sin22, is a function within a function, but I can
inscribed in section LIB, and I now want to find differentiate it using the chain rule:
its maximum area. Ill work in radians in case any Let u = 22, so y = Sinu
pattern relating to emerges. Now du = 2
DBOE has angles /2, /4 and /4; square OLBE has and, because sine differentiates to cosine,
shorter sides of Sin(/4) and Cos(/4) = 1/2 = 2. dy = Cosu
Let my new angle be 2 = FOJ, which determines Thus dy = du x dy = 2 x Cosu = Cosu = Cos22.
the proportions and area of rectangle LKFH. d d du
The area A2 of LKFH = KF x FH.
FH = Sin2 2 and KF = Cos2. Since cosine differentiates to negative sine, the
Hence A2 = (Sin2 2)Cos2. second term of the rearranged expression,
I need to find the maximum value of A2. 2Cos2, differentiates to 2Sin2.

My first conjecture was that arc IF = arc FB and that Hence for A2 = Sin22 2Cos2,
2 = 3/8 = 1.178097c (3dp). dA2 = Cos22 + 2Sin2.
When 2 = 1.178097c , A2 = 0.08296 (5dp). d2
Taking values near to 1.178097c, on either side:
f(1.181c) = 0.08279 (5dp); At the maximum value of A2, dA2 = 0, hence
but f(1.175c) = 0.08312 (5dp). d2
Since 0.08312 > 0.08296, my conjecture was wrong. Cos22 + 2Sin2 = 0.
From the double-angle formula
I need to differentiate A2 in order to calculate its Cos2 Cos2 Sin2, my equation becomes:
maximum value, but first I must rearrange it. Cos22 Sin22 + 2Sin2 = 0.

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

I I need the positive value, as this is the sine of an

M N angle in the first quadrant:
K P 2(1 + 17) = 0.905645682.
So x = 0.905645682 = Sin2.
Hence 2 = 1.13289996c (9sf)
or 64.9103865 (9sf).
Substituting 2 = 1.13289996c into the original
function, A2 = (Sin2 2)Cos2 gives:
A2 = 0.0841875 (7sf) in a unit circle.

To check this result I compared it with my earlier

highest estimate for the area of LKFH:
2 f(1.175c) = 0.08312 (5dp),
whereas now f(1.13289996c) gives
O E A = 0.0841875 (7sf) which is higher.
Since Cos2 1 Sin2, we have
(1 Sin22) Sin22 + 2Sin2 = 0. I plotted the graph of y = Sin2x 2Cosx
Tidying up gives: 2Sin22 + 2Sin2 + 1 = 0 in Autograph, keeping the x axis in radians (in case
Now let x = Sin2. there is a pattern relating to ).
2x2 + 2x + 1 = 0 The graph confirmed that the maximum for
Applying the quadratic formula: y = Sin2x 2Cosx, when /4 < x < /2, is
x = 2 ((2)2 4(2)(1)) when x = 1.133c = 64.910 and y = 0.084 (3dp)
= 2 ( + 8) I was very interested to note the shape of this func-
4 tion, as it was similar to the shapes of my hills in
= 2 17 the painting that prompted this investigation.
8 42
= 2 217 The graph of y = Sin2x 2Cosx.
8 8 I was interested to note its similarity to the hills in my
2 217 = 0.55 (2dp), a negative value. painting which prompted this investigation (next page).
8 8




Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Finding the result in surd form

My area 0.0841875 was worked out on a calculator,
but I also want it in surd form, in case there is
a pattern to the values I am getting for these
successive areas.

I already have Sin(1.13289996c)

= 2 (1 + 17)
Now I need Cos(1.13289996c) in surd form and
hence a value in surd form for my function for the
area of LKFH,
A2 = Cos2(Sin2 2), The area of LKFH = FH KF
where 2 = 1.13289996c (7sf). FH = Sin(1.13289996c) 2
= 2(1 + 17) 2
Since Cos2 1 Sin2, 8 2
Cos2(1.13289996c) = 1 (2(1 + 17)2 = 2(1 + 17) 42
64 8
= 64 2(1 + 217 + 17) = 2(17 3)
64 8
= 64 2 417 34 KF = Cos(1.13289996c)
64 = (7 17)
= 28 417 4
64 Hence the area of LKFH
= 7 17 = 2(17 3) (7 17)
16 8 4
Cos (1.13289996c) = (7 17) = 2(17 3)(7 17)
4 32
(taking the positive root of 16 because we are in the Checking this on a calculator gives 0.08418749
first quadrant). (9sf), the value already calculated.




The graph of y = Sin2x 2Cosx showing the region relevant to rectangle LKFH, where
'SWCVKQPZ  /4 < x < /2. The maximum corresponds with the values I calculated, as shown by the lines
'SWCVKQPZ x = 1.133c and y = 0.08419.

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem



3 n
The defining angle for rectangle KMNP (left) and (right) the defining angle for a general rectangle ZXQP (based on KMNP).

Summary of my findings so far so that the areas can be expressed as

The five largest rectangles that fit into my unit circle A1 = Cos1(Sin1 Sin0) and
can thus be expressed, to 7 significant figures, as A2 = Cos2(Sin2 Sin1).
ABCD + 4 2{LKFH}
= 2 + 4(2 0.0841875) Next on the list is rectangle KMNP = A3.
= 2.6735 (5sf). A3 = MN NP.
Point N is defined by NOJ = 3 (as yet unknown).
MN = Cos3 and
Meet the family! NP = (Sin3 Sin2) so
A3 = MN NP = Cos3(Sin3 Sin2)
The area of rectangle LKFH in surd form is rather
complicated not promising for finding a pattern. I can take this pattern and write a general formula
However, I do know that I used the angle /4 (from for the A series of rectangles. For a general rectangle
square OLBE) to define it. Similarly I can use the ZXQY of area An with point Q on the circumference
angle Sin-1 2(1 + 17) from rectangle LKFH to defined by angle QOJ = n (see above right),
8 XQ = Cosn and
write a function defining the area of the smaller QY = (Sinn Sinn-1) so
rectangle KMNP. I should also be able to An = XQ QY = Cosn(Sinn Sinn-1)
differentiate this function and find its maximum
value as I did with LKFH. I conjecture that there is an infinite family of these
rectangles, as suggested in the diagram top left on
I could keep on defining the next rectangle using the the next page.
angle Ive just calculated. What I need is a general
formula. First I need to summarise the data Ive If Sinn-1= k, a constant value already calculated, the
collected already. function An = Cosn(Sinn Sinn-1) becomes
An = SinnCosn k Cosn.
I can define the areas already calculated as: Applying the appropriate double-angle formula,
area of square OLBE = A1 An = Sin2n k Cosn.
area of rectangle LKFH = A2 I can now differentiate the function using the same
where techniques as on page 7, so that
point B is defined by BOE = 1 = /4 and dAn = Cos2n + kSinn
point F is defined by FOE = 2 = 1.13289996c dn

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

A5A4 First I need Sin3 where k = Sin1.13289996c :

A3 Sin3 = k (k2 + 8)
A2 = Sin1.13289996c (Sin21.13289996c + 8)
Taking the as negative gives 0.51606 (5dp),
which is not the sine of an angle in the first quadrant.
Taking as positive gives:
Sin3 = 0.9688817 (8sf)
Hence 3 = 1.320672c or 75.66894 (7sf)
I can now use 3 = 1.320672c in the area function
A2 An = Cosn(Sinn Sinn-1) to calculate the area of
A3 KMNP. Substituting in my known values:
A4 A3 = Cos1.320672c(Sin1.320672c Sin1.13289996c)
A5 Hence A3 = 0.0157 (4dp).

The series A rectangles. In general, taking k = Sinn-1, a value already

calculated, and taking the as positive, my formula
At the maximum value of the function: for calculating Sinn becomes:
Cos2n + kSinn = 0, where /4 < Sin-1k < n < /2.
Formula for series A
As before, from the double-angle formula
Sinn = Sinn-1 + (Sin2n-1+ 8)
Cos2 Cos2 Sin2, I can rearrange to get
2Sin2n + kSinn + 1 = 0.
Since Sinn-1 determines the value of Sinn, and both
Now I put these values into the quadratic formula:
are changing, they are both variables.
Sinn = k (k2 + 8)
(k and 4 can become positive, because of the ).

As before, I shall only want the positive solution

each time, as I am working in the first quadrant.
To test if this works Ill substitute back
Rin the values M F
I know already: K P
Let n = 2 = 1.13289996c
n-1 = 1 = /4, so that k = Sin/4 = 2.
Sinn = k (k2 + 8)
= 2 ( + 8)
= 2(1 + 17) (positive solution, as on page 7)
= Sin1.13289996c as required.

So I can now use this formula to find the maximum 3

value for the area of rectangle KMNP (A3).
Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Top 10 rectangles in series A

Rectangle Angle Sinn using my formula Radians Area: Cosn(SinnSinn-1)
A1 1 0.707106781 0.785398163 0.5
A2 2 0.90560329 1.1328 0.084187488
A3 3 0.968881655 1.320672 0.015662941
A4 4 0.989663207 1.426889061 0.002980305
A5 5 0.996558364 1.487807029 0.000571568
A6 6 0.998853227 1.522900767 0.000109872
A7 7 0.999617791 1.543147337 0.0000211367
A8 8 0.999872602 1.554833853 0.00000406725
A9 9 0.999957535 1.561580519 0.00000078271
A10 10 0.999985845 1.565475603 0.00000015063

So the area is given by two very tiny numbers

Formula for series A multiplied together. As the table shows, by the time
Sinn = Sinn-1 + (Sin2n-1+ 8) I get to rectangle A10, the area is already vanishingly
4 small and the angle is rapidly approaching /2.
However, since Sinn > Sinn -1 the area will never be
To show how n and n-1 vary together, I plotted the zero, which confirms my conjecture that the series is
above function in Autograph, using y = n and infinite.
x = n-1. To assist in interpretation I also plotted lines
to show the limits /4 < x < /2 and /4 < y < /2. Conclusions from this section
By working in the quarter-circle I have now defined
Using the above formula I then used Excel to solve one whole series of rectangles A1, A2 , A3 etc. and
successive rectangles in series A (see table at top). can solve any number of them (given sufficient
computer power) using a formula. In terms of the
After A3, the rectangles shrink rapidly. The reasons unit circle, they form the series {4A1} + 4{2A2} +
for this are as follows. 4{2A3} +....+ 4{2An} where each term in brackets
Sinn > Sinn -1 but also Sinn 1 and Sinn-1 1. is one composite square or rectangle. The grouped
Hence Sinn Sinn -1 0. rectangles are symmetrical about the perpendicular
At the same time Cosn 0. diameters (see diagrams on next page).



'SWCVKQP[ How n relates to n-1 in series A.
The coordinates are the actual values.

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

I A5A4
R K F A3

J A5


I know that 4 A1 squares make square ABCD, the shown as the pink squares and pale blue rectangles
largest rectangle in the unit circle, and that in the image below.
2 A2 rectangles constitute the second largest,
inscribed in segment AIB (see diagram above Rectangle 2 A3, the next in the series defined by
left). AIB is one of the four remaining congruent my formula, is the largest that will fit in segment RIF
segments, containing congruent rectangles. So (see diagrams above) but I shall not know whether
I know the areas of the five largest rectangles. it is the next largest rectangle to fit in the unit circle
Combined, their areas equal 2.6735 (5sf). They are until I have first investigated section FHB.

A3 A3
A2 A2

A1 A1

A2 A2
A3 A3
A3 A3
A2 A2
A1 A1

A2 A2
A3 A3

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Series A Series D

Series B Series E

Series C Series F

Rachel Beckett: A curve-packing problem

Rival rectangles A3 2 = 1.13289996c
At this point I want to state a conjecture to which A2 = B1
I shall return later, namely that there is an infinite B2
number of families of rectangles within my unit
B3 1 = /4
circle, as illustrated in the diagrams on these two
pages. Any pair of adjacent rectangles already
inscribed defines a new section of the circle, one of a AB2
unique group of eight congruent ones symmetrically 2
arranged around the square, two in each quarter- A1
circle. Each of these sections contains two subseries A2 = B1
of rectangles, one in a horizontal axis and one
in a vertical axis. Each rectangle is one of eight A3
congruent ones (in the eight congruent sections). A4
The six diagrams showing series A, B, C, D, E and
F illustrate this conjecture. Note that the orientation So the best way of choosing the next rectangle to
of the rows of rectangles alternates between vertical test, is to first find the largest remaining section
and horizontal. Every rectangle (except the large of the circle, then write a function for its largest
square) belongs to more than one series (see diagram rectangle, maximise this and solve it.
This could be quite a challenge, as I would need
There will not be scope in this paper to prove my a reliable way of determining the rankings of the
conjecture in its entirety, but I shall explore it further sections before I even began testing the rectangles.
and find more evidence as my discussion continues. Also, although it seems very likely that the areas of
the sections will rank in the same order as the areas
To return to my main purpose, I want to be able to of their inscribed rectangles, I would need to prove
rank the rectangles that fit the unit circle in order of that this is the case.
size. It seems likely that the next largest rectangle
will always be in the largest remaining section of the I decided that, before attempting a more general
circle (one of eight congruent ones). solution I would identify what appears to be the
largest remaining section, write a function for its
B2 = C1 largest rectangle, and then compare the maximum
A 3 = D1
A2 = B1 A2 = B1 size of this rectangle with that of any rival rectangle.
By solving one rectangle at a time, I can rank each
one in relation to those I have solved already.

A1 A1 When I have ranked a couple more rectangles and

A2 = A2 = found a pattern for that family (if possible) I can
B1 B1 then return to the problem of finding a more general
strategy for the sequence in which I should test the
A2 = A2 = sections and their rectangles.
B1 B1
A1 A1

B3 = E1 A2 = B1 A2 = B1 A2 C2 = F1