# PYTHAGOREAN TRIPLES M. SUNIL R. KOSWATTA HARPER COLLEGE, ILLINOIS

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1 PYTHAGOREAN TRIPLES M. SUNIL R. KOSWATTA HARPER COLLEGE, ILLINOIS Astract. This talk is ased on a three week summer workshop (Los Angeles 2004) conducted y Professor Hung-Hsi Wu, University of California, Berkeley, on Algera for K-12 teachers. Professor Wu has een conducting workshops for K-12 teacher in many parts of the country for several years. He is a memer of the National Math Panal. Three positive integers a,, c form a Pythagorean triple {a,, c} if a = c 2. In other words, a, and c are lengths of three sides of a right triangle. Almost everyody know that {3, 4, 5}, {5, 12, 13}, and {8, 15, 17} are Pythagorean triples. But are there others? Pythagorean triples can e produced at will y solving an extremely simple linear system of equations. It can e shown that this method produces all the Pythagorean triples. One would like to say that this method is due to Baylonians some 3800 years ago, ut a more accurate statement would e that it is the algeraic rendition of the method one infers from a close reading of the cuneiform talet, Plimpton which listed fifteen Pythagorean triples. Lest you entertain for even a split second the idle thought that people couldn t have known such advanced mathematics thirty-eight centuries ago and that these triples were proaly hit upon y trial and error, let it e noted that the largest triple (in Plimpton 322) is {12709, 13500, 18541}. 2 More amazingly, these were the work of a pupil proaly doing his assigned homework from school. 3 Theorem 1. Let (u, v) e the solution of the linear system u + v = t s u v = s t where s and t are positive integers with s < t. If we write u and v as two fractions with the same denominator, u = c and v = a, then {a,, c} is a Pythagorean triple. 1 From the Plimpton collection of cuneiform talets in the Colomia University 2 Wu 3 Roson 1

2 Pythagorean Triples Page 2 Proof of this theorem is very simple and should e accessile to any one with high school algera ackground. Proof. Multiply corresponding sides of the two equations in the theorem to get (u + v)(u v) = t s s t or u2 v 2 = 1. So with, u = c and v = a, we have ( c ) 2 ( a ) 2 = 1. Multiplying through oth sides of this equality y 2 gives c 2 a 2 = 2 and therefore, a = c 2. Let us use theorem 1 to produce some new Pythagorean triples. EXAMPLE 1: Consider u + v = 2 u v = 1 2 You get 2u = 5 2 so that u = 5 4 y adding the two equations. Eliminating u (y sutracting) from the same two equations you get 2v = 3 2 so that v = 3. Thus, the 4 triple retrieved from this system of linear equations is {3, 4, 5}. EXAMPLE 2: Consider 3 2 u v = 2 3 Adding the two equations gives u = 13. Sustituting u in the second equation gives 12 v = 5. Therefore, y theorem 1, {5, 12, 13} is a Pythagorean triple. 12 EXAMPLE 3: Consider 4 3 u v = 3 4

3 Pythagorean Triples Page 3 Adding the two equations gives u = 25. Sustituting u in the second equation gives 24 v = 7. Therefore, y theorem 1, {7, 24, 25} is a Pythagorean triple. 24 EXAMPLE 4: Consider 69 2 u v = 2 69 Adding the two equations gives u = Sustituting u in the second equation gives 276 v = theorem 1 guarantees that {276, 4757, 4765} is a Pythagorean triple. 276 EXAMPLE 5: Consider u v = Adding the two equations gives u = Sustituting u in the second equation gives v = theorem 1 guarantees that {27000, 25418, 37082} is a Pythagorean triple We define a Pythagorean triple {a,, c} to e primitive if the integers a, and c have no common divisor other than 1. We say that a Pythagorean triple is a multiple of anther Pythagorean triple {a,, c } if there is a positive integer n so that a = na, = n and c = nc. In this terminology, a given Pythagorean triple is either primitive, or is a multiple of a primitive Pythagorean triple. EXAMPLE 6: Consider u + v = 5 Adding the two equations you get 2u = 26 5 u v = 1 5 sutracting) from the same two equations you get 2v = so that u =. Eliminating u (y so that v =. Thus, y 10

4 Pythagorean Triples Page 4 Theorem 3, {10, 25, 26} is a Pythagorean triple. This is not primitive ecause it is a multiple of the primitive Pythagorean triple {5, 12, 13}. However, if we have taken the troule to reduce u = 26 to its lowest terms, then we 10 would otain u = 13 and the primitive triple {5, 12, 13} would e the result. Thus we 5 see that different values of s and t do not always lead to distinct primitive Pythagorean triples. We now explain the genesis of Theorem 1. We assume that we already have a Pythagorean triple {a,, c} and proceed to find what it must e. By assumption, a = c 2. By dividing this equation through y 2, we get (1) ( a ) = ( c ) 2. Let u = c and v = a. Thus u and v are oth fractions and u > v. Now (1) ecomes v = u 2 and therefore, (2) u 2 v 2 = 1. Since u 2 v 2 = (u + v)(u v), we get (u + v)(u v) = 1. Since oth (u + v) and (u v) are known fractions, let s, t e two positive integers with s < t so that u + v = t s. Because (u + v)(u v) = 1, necessarily, u v = s. Therefore, we have: t (3) u + v = t s u v = s t where s and t are positive integers with s < t. From this point of view, Theorem 1 is inevitale.

5 Pythagorean Triples Page 5 We can refine Theorem 1 y directly solving system (3). Adding the two equations, we get 2u = t s + s t = t2 + s 2, and therefore, st u = t2 + s 2. By sustituting u in the second equation of (3), we get, A simple computation gives, v = t2 s 2. ( ) t 2 s 2 2 ( ) t 2 + s =. Multiplying oth sides y () 2, we get (t 2 s 2 ) 2 + () 2 = (t 2 + s 2 ) 2. This shows that if s, t are positive integers and t > s, then {, t 2 s 2, t 2 + s 2 } is a Pythagorean triple. We say that two integers x and y are relatively prime if x and y have no common divisors other than ±1. We will use the notation (x, y) = 1 to indicate that x and y are relatively prime. We use the notation (x, y) = z to indicate that z is the greatest common divisor of x and y. If {a,, c} is a Pythagorean triple and if (a, ) = n then n divides c. Therefore, if a = a n, = n and c = c n then {a,, c } is a triple with (a, ) = 1. In other words, {a,, c } is a primitive triple and {a,, c} is a multiple of {a,, c }. Therefore, we will consider {a,, c} to e a primitive triple for the rest of the discussion. Both a and cannot e even ecause if so, then (a, ) 1. We claim that oth a and cannot e odd either. We can estalish this claim y using proof y contradiction

6 Pythagorean Triples Page 6 method. Assume that oth a and are odd. That is, a = n + 1 and = m + 1 for two even integers n and m. Then That is, a = (n + 1) 2 + (m + 1) 2 = n 2 + m 2 + 2n + 2m + 2 = c 2 c 2 2 = n 2 + m 2 + 2n + 2m Since n and m are even, 4 divides (c 2 2). Now this is the contradiction we sought. c is a positive integer. Therefore, it is either even or odd. If c is even the c 2 is divisile y 4. Therefore, c 2 2 is not divisile y 4. If c is odd, then c 2 1 is divisile y 4. (Assume c = k + 1 for some even integer k. Then c 2 = k 2 + 2k + 1 and c 2 1 = k 2 + 2k.) Therefore, c 2 2 is not divisile y 4. Therefore, if {a,, c} is primitive then a and are of opposite parity. Without loss of generality, lets assume that a is even. Theorem 2. If a,, and c are positive integers, then the most general solution of the equation a = c 2, satisfying the conditions, (a, ) = 1, and a is even is a =, = t 2 s 2, c = t 2 + s 2 where s, t are integers of opposite parity and (s, t) = 1 and t > s > 0. Moreover there is a 1-1 correspondence etween different values of s, t and different values of a,, c. 4 Proof. First assume that {a,, c} is a primitive Pythagorean triple and a is even and is odd. Since is odd, let = m + 1 for some even integer m. Then c 2 = a 2 + m 2 + 2m + 1 and therefore, c 2 is odd and hence, c is odd. Also, (, c) = 1. If not, then (, c) = n for some positive integer n 1. That means, c = nc and = n and c 2 2 is divisile y n 2 and therefore, a is divisile y n. This contradicts the fact that (a, ) = 1. ( Since oth and c are odd, 1(c ) and 1 (c + ) are positive integers. Also, (c ), 1(c + )) = 1. If not, then ( 1 (c ), 1(c + )) = d, for some positive integer d 1. That is, c+ = dx and c = dy for some positive integers x and y and x > y. 2 2 That means, c = d(x + y) and = (x y). This contradicts the fact that (, c) = 1. ( a ) ( ) ( ) 2 c c + Now = The two factors on the right, eing relatively prime, must oth e squares. Let c = s 2 and c + = t 2. Clearly, t > s > 0. Also, (s, t) = 1. If not, then (s, t) = u 2 2 for some postive integer u 1. That is s = us and t = ut for some positive integers s and t. Then (s 2, t 2 ) 1 and this is a contradiction. 4 Hardy and Wright

7 Pythagorean Triples Page 7 Since (t, s) = 1, oth t and s cannot e even. If oth t and s are odd, say t = n + 1 and s = m + 1 for positive even integers n and m and n > m, then = t 2 s 2 = (n m)(n + m + 2) eing product of two even integers is even and that is a contradiction. Therefore, s and t are of opposite parity. Now assume that s and t are two positive integers of opposite parity, (s, t) = 1 and t > s > 0 so that a =, = t 2 s 2, c = t 2 + s 2. Then a = 4s 2 t 2 + (t 2 s 2 ) 2 = (t 2 + s 2 ) 2 = c 2. Hence, {a,, c} is a Pythagorean triple, a is even and is odd. If (a, ) = d for some positive integer d 1, then d divides a, and hence c and therefore, d divides t 2 s 2 and t 2 + s 2. That is, t 2 s 2 = dm and t 2 + s 2 = dn for some positive integers m and n and m > n. That means, 2t 2 = d(n + m) and 2s 2 = d(n m). Therefore, d divides oth 2t 2 and 2s 2. But, clearly, (t 2, s 2 ) = 1 since (t, s) = 1. Therefore, d must e either 1 or 2. But d divides and is odd. Therefore, d is 1 and (a, ) = 1. Finally, if and c are given then s 2, and t 2 are uniquely determined and as a consequence s and t are uniquely determined. References [1] Hung-Hsi Wu, Introduction to School Algera [DRAFT], wu/, June [2] G.H. Hardy and E.M. Wright An Introduction to the Theory of Numers, Oxford University Press. [3] O. Neugeauer The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, Brown University Press. [4] R. Creighton Buck Sherlock Holmes in Baylon, The American Mathematical Monthly, Vol. 87, No. 5. (May, 1980), pp [5] Eleanor Roson Neither Sherlock Holmes nor Baylon : A reassessment of Plimpton 322, Historia Mathematica, 28 (2001), [6] Eleanor Roson Words and Pictures: New Light on Plimpton 322, The American Mathematical Monthly, Feruary (2002),

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