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Pascal’s Triangle

Ahsan Kamran

In much of the Western World, this triangle is referred to as “Pascal’s


Triangle”, after the French Mathematician Blaise Pascal, in the 17th century.
However, mathematicians in different parts of the world had already invented
such a triangle centuries before Pascal was even born: Omar Khayyàm in
Persia, Yang Hui in China, Niccolò Fontana Tartagalia in Italy etc. Pascal’s
own triangle was published posthumously, 3 years after his death, by Pierre
Raymond de Montmort.

Pascal’s triangle is visually a very simple triangle, but it is mathematically


enriched. Diagonally, the leftmost and rightmost columns are filled with 1’s. In
Pascal’s triangle, we start numbering from 0, so the topmost row is row 0, and
the leftmost column is column 0. In the top 2 rows, we start off by filling 1’s. In
every next row, a number is decided based on the sum of two numbers above it.
So, in the 3rd row, 2 is derived by adding 1 and 1. Or, in the 5th row, 10 is found
by adding 4 and 6.
Pascal’s triangle also shows the powers of 2. If we let n denote the row number,
where n starts from 0, in row n, the sum of all the numbers will equal to 2 n. For
instance, in the 5th row, which gives 1, 5, 10, 10, 5, and 1, the sum of all the
numbers is 32, which is indeed 25. The same goes for any other row in this
triangle.

Another interesting detail in Pascal’s triangle is the list of diagonals. The


leftmost column of diagonals is, of course, only 1’s. The next row is a set of
natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and so on and so forth. These are also
referred to as “counting numbers”. The third diagonal is a list of triangular
numbers: 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, … Triangular numbers are part of a series of
numbers that are derived from the continued summing of natural numbers into
triangular shapes. The fourth diagonal has tetrahedral numbers: 1, 4, 10, 20, 35
etc. These are figurate numbers that are shown in a similar way, only different
that they represent pyramids with a triangular base and three sides.

Another interesting thing about


Pascal’s triangle is that the
second-to-leftmost diagonal has
a property of squared numbers.
Every number in this diagonal
has its square. For this second
diagonal, the square of every
number is equal to the sum of
the numbers next to it and
below both of those. So, as
demonstrated, the square of 4,
which is 16, is the sum of 6 and
10.

Pascal’s triangle has uses in Mathematics. One of the most notable uses of
Pascal’s triangle is its expression of coefficients in polynomials. These
coefficients can be seen in every row. Let’s take an original expression of (x +
1). Here, the power is 1, and as Pascal’s triangle shows, the coefficient on both
x and 1 is 1. When the power is increased to 2, the equation becomes x2 + 2x +
1, and as Pascal’s triangle rightly shows, the coefficients are 1, 2, and 1.

Power Binomial Expression Pascal’s triangle


of
(x + 1)
1 1x + 1 1, 1
2 (x + 1) = 1x2 + 2x + 1
2
1, 2, 1
3 (x + 1)3 = 1x3 + 3x2 + 3x + 1 1, 3, 3, 1
4 (x + 1)4 = 1x4 + 4x3 + 6x2+ 4x + 1 1, 4, 6, 4, 1

This pattern keeps repeating itself. And there are so many more applications of
Pascal’s triangle.