I had a recent conversation with a friend who asked me “what makes number theory interesting?”. I loved the question, mainly because it gave me an opportunity to talk about math in a positive manner. More importantly though, it was an opportunity to talk about one of my favorite courses in mathematics (along with discrete mathematics and set theory). As much as the current day seems to focus on joining Number Theory with Cryptography, when I answered this question I wanted to make sure I didn’t go that route. Numbers are beautiful in their own right, and one of the things about Number Theory that was so interesting was simply the ability to look at all the different questions and patterns and properties of numbers discovered.

To answer this question, I started listing numbers to see if she noticed a pattern, but I did it with a “picture”.

.

..

…

….

…..

……

and I asked two questions

- How many dots will go on the next line

and - After each line how many dots have been drawn in total?

Lets answer these questions:

Dots | # on this line | # in total |
---|---|---|

. | 1 | 1 |

.. | 2 | 3 |

… | 3 | 6 |

…. | 4 | 10 |

….. | 5 | 15 |

There were a lot of directions I could have taken this conversation next, but I decided to stay in the realm of triangles and discuss Pascal’s triangle. This is a triangle that begins with a 1 on the first row and each number on the rows beneath is the sum of the two cells above it, assuming that cells not present have a value of zero.

So the first five rows of this triangle are

1

11

121

1331

14641

This is an interesting and beautiful triangle because of just the number of patterns you can see in it.

- Obviously there are ones on the outside cells of the triangle.
- One layer in, we get what are called the Natural or Counting numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, …) .
- One layer in, we can start to see the list of numbers that I was showing my friend (1, 3, 6, 10, 15, …).

There are several other properties of this triangle and I wanted to allow users to begin to see them, so I wrote a script highlighting some of these patterns.