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Calculus Contributing →

What is calculus?[edit | edit source]

Calculus is the broad area of mathematics dealing with such topics as instantaneous rates of change, areas under curves, and sequences and series. Underlying all of these topics is the concept of a limit, which consists of analyzing the behavior of a function at points ever closer to a particular point, but without ever actually reaching that point. As a typical application of the methods of calculus, consider a moving car. It is possible to create a function describing the displacement of the car (where it is located in relation to a reference point) at any point in time as well as a function describing the velocity (speed and direction of movement) of the car at any point in time. If the car were traveling at a constant velocity, then algebra would be sufficient to determine the position of the car at any time; if the velocity is unknown but still constant, the position of the car could be used (along with the time) to find the velocity.

However, the velocity of a car cannot jump from zero to 35 miles per hour at the beginning of a trip, stay constant throughout, and then jump back to zero at the end. As the accelerator is pressed down, the velocity rises gradually, and usually not at a constant rate (i.e., the driver may push on the gas pedal harder at the beginning, in order to speed up). Describing such motion and finding velocities and distances at particular times cannot be done using methods taught in pre-calculus, whereas it is not only possible but straightforward with calculus.

Calculus has two basic applications: differential calculus and integral calculus. The simplest introduction to differential calculus involves an explicit series of numbers. Given the series (42, 43, 3, 18, 34), the differential of this series would be (1, -40, 15, 16). The new series is derived from the difference of successive numbers which gives rise to its name "differential". Rarely, if ever, are differentials used on an explicit series of numbers as done here. Instead, they are derived from a continuous function in a manner which is described later.

Integral calculus, like differential calculus, can also be introduced via series of numbers. Notice that in the previous example, the original series can almost be derived solely from its differential. Instead of taking the difference, however, integration involves taking the sum. Given the first number of the original series, 42 in this case, the rest of the original series can be derived by adding each successive number in its differential (42+1, 43-40, 3+15, 18+16). Note that knowledge of the first number in the original series is crucial in deriving the integral. As with differentials, integration is performed on continuous functions rather than explicit series of numbers, but the concept is still the same. Integral calculus allows us to calculate the area under a curve of almost any shape; in the car example, this enables you to find the displacement of the car based on the velocity curve. This is because the area under the curve is the total distance moved, as we will soon see.

Why learn calculus?[edit | edit source]

Calculus is essential for many areas of science and engineering. Both make heavy use of mathematical functions to describe and predict physical phenomena that are subject to continuous change, and this requires the use of calculus. Take our car example: if you want to design cars, you need to know how to calculate forces, velocities, accelerations, and positions. All require calculus. Calculus is also necessary to study the motion of gases and particles, the interaction of forces, and the transfer of energy. It is also useful in business whenever rates are involved. For example, equations involving interest or supply and demand curves are grounded in the language of calculus.

Calculus also provides important tools in understanding functions and has led to the development of new areas of mathematics including real and complex analysis, topology, and non-euclidean geometry.

Notwithstanding calculus' functional utility (pun intended), many non-scientists and non-engineers have chosen to study calculus just for the challenge of doing so. A smaller number of persons undertake such a challenge and then discover that calculus is beautiful in and of itself.

What is involved in learning calculus?[edit | edit source]

Learning calculus, like much of mathematics, involves two parts:

  • Understanding the concepts: You must be able to explain what it means when you take a derivative rather than merely apply the formulas for finding a derivative. Otherwise, you will have no idea whether or not your solution is correct. Drawing diagrams, for example, can help clarify abstract concepts.
  • Symbolic manipulation: Like other branches of mathematics, calculus is written in symbols that represent concepts. You will learn what these symbols mean and how to use them. A good working knowledge of trigonometry and algebra is a must, especially in integral calculus. Sometimes you will need to manipulate expressions into a usable form before it is possible to perform operations in calculus.

What you should know before using this text[edit | edit source]

There are some basic skills that you need before you can use this text. Continuing with our example of a moving car:

  • You will need to describe the motion of the car in symbols. This involves understanding functions.
  • You need to manipulate these functions. This involves algebra.
  • You need to translate symbols into graphs and vice versa. This involves understanding the graphing of functions.
  • It also helps (although it isn't necessarily essential) if you understand the functions used in trigonometry since these functions appear frequently in science.

Scope[edit | edit source]

The first four chapters of this textbook cover the topics taught in a typical high school or first year college course. The first chapter, Precalculus, reviews those aspects of functions most essential to the mastery of calculus. The second, Limits, introduces the concept of the limit process. It also discusses some applications of limits and proposes using limits to examine slope and area of functions. The next two chapters, Differentiation and Integration, apply limits to calculate derivatives and integrals. The Fundamental Theorem of Calculus is used, as are the essential formulas for computation of derivatives and integrals without resorting to the limit process. The third and fourth chapters include articles that apply the concepts previously learned to calculating volumes, and as other important formulas.

The remainder of the central calculus chapters cover topics taught in higher-level calculus topics: parametric and polar equations, sequences and series, multivariable calculus, and differential equations.

The final chapters cover the same material, using formal notation. They introduce the material at a much faster pace, and cover many more theorems than the other two sections. They assume knowledge of some set theory and set notation.

Calculus Contributing →