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## Why Study Math? The Parabola

As we continue our “Why Study Math” series of articles, here we look at a conic section called a parabola. A slice of a parabola cone (see other articles in this series on this point) is obtained by cutting a plane parallel to one of the generators of the cone. In plain English, this means the following: Take a cone made of Styrofoam; From the top draw a line, or point, straight down to the base; On the opposite side of this line, slice the cone with a knife, starting from the top in the middle, and cut in such a way that it is parallel to the line on the opposite side. Cutting the result produces a shape called a parabola.

Students first encounter parabolas in the study of high school algebra. They learn that a parabola is a curve produced by graphing any quadratic or quadratic equation. Unfortunately, students get bogged down by all the methods of solving these equations, and then by the need to sketch graphs; Unfortunately they never learn the practical applications. This is a common problem in the study of mathematics. Students get lost in the forest and cannot see the trees.

What students are not taught often enough is that parabolas occur frequently in the real world. They just need to open their eyes. For example, a parabola can be seen most clearly when looking at a suspension bridge. The trace made by the cables is in the shape of a parabola suspended from the highest point to the lowest. During a basketball game, the shots taken by the players make a parabola in the air. In fact, this is probably one of the most common applications of the parabola: projectile motion. Any body thrown into space, under the force of the gravitational field and without the effect of air resistance, traces out a parabola.

In addition to the applications mentioned above, parabolic surfaces are also known as paraboloids figures in optics and other technical applications. Reflectors and satellite dishes are shaped like parabolic surfaces. Even the headlamps of your car are of this shape. Actually the bulb is placed at a particular point called the focus of the parabola. An interesting thing to point out is that when you are driving down that dark country road and you have your lights on, it is the parabolic surface of your headlamp reflectors that enables you to see ahead. Remember that when you are trying to see if the deer is crossing ahead. until next time…

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