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# 1.8: Variation - Constructing and Solving Equations

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## Solving Problems involving Direct, Inverse, and Joint variation

Certain relationships occur so frequently in applied situations that they are given special names. Variation equations show how one quantity changes in relation to other quantities. The relationship between the quantities can be described as direct, inverse, or joint variation.

## Direct Variation

Many real-world problems encountered in the sciences involve two types of functional relationships. The first type of functional relationship can be explored using the fact that the distance $$s$$ in feet an object falls from rest, without regard to air resistance, can be approximated using the following formula:

$$s=16t^{2}$$

Here $$t$$ represents the time in seconds the object has been falling. For example, after $$2$$ seconds the object will have fallen $$s = 16 ( 2 ) ^ { 2 } = 16 \cdot 4 = 64$$ feet.

 Time $$t$$ in seconds Distance in feet $$s = 16 t ^ { 2 }$$ 0 1 2 3 4 0 16 64 144 256

In this example, we can see that the distance varies over time as the product of a constant $$16$$ and the square of the time $$t$$. This relationship is described as direct variation and $$16$$ is called the constant of variation or the constant of proportionality

Definition: Direct Variation ($$y=kx$$)

Direct variation is a relationship where quantities behave in a like manner. If one increases, so does the other. If one decreases, so does the other.

For two quantities $$x$$ and $$y$$, this relationship is described as "$$y$$ varies directly as $$x$$" or "$$y$$ is directly proportional to $$x$$".

The equation that describes this relationship is $$y=kx$$, where $$k$$ is a non-zero constant called the constant of variation or the proportionality constant.

Howto: Solve a Variation Problem.

1. Translate the given English statement containing the words varies or proportional, into a model equation.
2. Substitute a given set of values into the equation and solve for $$k$$, the constant of variation.
3. Rewrite the equation obtained in step 1 as a formula with a value for $$k$$ found in step 2 defined. Make note of the units used for each variable in the formula.
4. Use the equation from step 3, and another set of values (with one value missing) to solve for the unknown quantity.

Example $$\PageIndex{1}$$: Direct Variation

An object’s weight on Earth varies directly to its weight on the Moon. If a man weighs $$180$$ pounds on Earth, then he will weigh $$30$$ pounds on the Moon. Set up an algebraic equation that expresses the weight on Earth in terms of the weight on the Moon and use it to determine the weight of a woman on the Moon if she weighs $$120$$ pounds on Earth.

Solution

Step 1. Translate “the weight on Earth varies directly to the weight on the Moon.”    $$E = kM$$

Step 2. Find $$k$$ using "If a man weighs $$180$$ pounds on Earth, then he will weigh $$30$$ pounds on the Moon."    $$E=180$$ pounds, $$M=30$$ pounds

$$\begin{array} { cr } E = kM & \text{Model equation} \\180=k \cdot 30\\ \frac { 180 } { 30 } = k \\ { 6 = k } \end{array}$$

Step 3. The formula is $$E = 6M$$, where $$E$$ is the weight on Earth in pounds and $$M$$ is the weight on the moon in pounds.

Step 4. Answer the question: "determine the weight of a woman on the Moon if she weighs $$120$$ pounds on Earth."    $$E=120$$ pounds, find M

$$\begin{array} { cll } E = 6M & \text{Formula:} & \text{ \(E$$ pounds on Earth}\\  && \text{ $$M$$ pounds on the Moon}\\{ 120 = 6 M } \\ { \frac { 120 } { 6 } = M } \\ { 20 = M } \end{array}\)

Answer:

The woman weighs $$20$$ pounds on the Moon.

## Indirect Variation

The second functional relationship can be explored using the model that relates the intensity of light $$I$$ to the square of the distance from its source $$d$$.

$$I = \frac { k } { d ^ { 2 } }$$

Here $$k$$ represents some constant. A foot-candle is a measurement of the intensity of light. One foot-candle is defined to be equal to the amount of illumination produced by a standard candle measured one foot away. For example, a $$125$$-Watt fluorescent growing light is advertised to produce $$525$$ foot-candles of illumination. This means that at a distance $$d=1$$ foot, $$I=525$$ foot-candles and we have:

$$\begin{array} { l } { 525 = \frac { k } { ( 1 ) ^ { 2 } } } \\ { 525 = k } \end{array}$$

Using $$k=525$$ we can construct a formula which gives the light intensity produced by the bulb:

$$I = \frac { 525 } { d ^ { 2 } }$$

 Distance $$t$$ in feet Light Intensity $$I = \frac { 525 } { d ^ { 2 } }$$ 1 2 3 4 5 525 131.25 58.33 32.81 21

Here $$d$$ represents the distance the growing light is from the plants. In the chart above, we can see that the amount of illumination fades quickly as the distance from the plants increases.

This type of relationship is described as an inverse variation. We say that I is inversely proportional to the square of the distance $$d$$, where $$525$$ is the constant of proportionality.

Definition: Indirect Variation ($$y=\frac{k}{x}$$)

Indirect variation is a relationship between quantities where if one increases, the other decreases.

For two quantities $$x$$ and $$y$$, this relationship is described as "$$y$$ varies indirectly as $$x$$" or "$$y$$ is inversely proportional to $$x$$".

The equation that describes this relationship is $$y=\dfrac{k}{x}$$, where $$k$$ is a non-zero constant called the constant of variation or the proportionality constant.

Example $$\PageIndex{2}$$: Indirect Variation

The weight of an object varies inversely as the square of its distance from the center of Earth. If an object weighs $$100$$ pounds on the surface of Earth (approximately $$4,000$$ miles from the center), how much will it weigh at $$1,000$$ miles above Earth’s surface?

Solution

Step 1. Translate  “$$w$$ varies inversely as the square of $$d$$”    $$w = \frac { k } { d ^ { 2 } }$$

Step 2. Find $$k$$ using "An object weighs $$100$$ pounds on the surface of Earth, approximately $$4,000$$ miles from the center".     $$w = 100$$ when $$d = 4,000$$

\begin{aligned} \color{Cerulean}{( 4,000 ) ^ { 2 }}\color{black}{ \cdot} 100 & =\color{Cerulean}{ ( 4,000 ) ^ { 2 }}\color{black}{ \cdot} \frac { k } { ( 4,000 ) ^ { 2 } } \\ 1,600,000,000 &= k \\ 1.6 \times 10 ^ { 9 } &= k \end{aligned}

Step 3. The formula is $$w = \frac { 1.6 \times 10 ^ { 9 } } { d ^ { 2 } }$$, where $$w$$ is the weight of the object in pounds and $$d$$ is the distance of the object from the center of the Earth in miles.

Step 4. Answer the question: "how much will it weigh at $$1,000$$ miles above Earth’s surface?"
Since the object is $$1,000$$ miles above the surface, the distance of the object from the center of Earth is  $$d = 4,000 + 1,000 = 5,000 \:\:\text{miles}$$

\begin{aligned} y & = \frac { 1.6 \times 10 ^ { 9 } } { ( \color{OliveGreen}{5,000}\color{black}{ )} ^ { 2 } } \\ & = \frac { 1.6 \times 10 ^ { 9 } } { 25,000,000 } \\ & = \frac { 1.6 \times 10 ^ { 9 } } { 2.5 \times 10 ^ { 9 } } \\ & = 0.64 \times 10 ^ { 2 } \\ & = 64 \end{aligned}

Answer:

The object will weigh $$64$$ pounds at a distance $$1,000$$ miles above the surface of Earth.

## Joint Variation

Lastly, we define relationships between multiple variables.

Definition: Joint Variation and Combined Variation

Joint variation is a relationship in which one quantity is proportional to the product of two or more quantities.

Combined variation exists when combinations of direct and/or inverse variation occurs

Example $$\PageIndex{3}$$: Joint Variation

 The area of an ellipse varies jointly as $$a$$, half of the ellipse’s major axis, and $$b$$, half of the ellipse’s minor axis as pictured. If the area of an ellipse is $$300π cm^{2}$$, where $$a=10$$ cm and $$b=30$$ cm, what is the constant of proportionality? Give a formula for the area of an ellipse.

Solution

Step 1. If we let $$A$$ represent the area of an ellipse, then we can use the statement “area varies jointly as $$a$$ and $$b$$” to write

$$A=kab$$

Step 2. To find the constant of variation $$k$$, use the fact that the area is $$300π$$ when $$a=10$$ and $$b=30$$.

$$\begin{array} { c } { 300 \pi = k ( \color{OliveGreen}{10}\color{black}{ )} (\color{OliveGreen}{ 30}\color{black}{ )} } \\ { 300 \pi = 300 k } \\ { \pi = k } \end{array}$$

Step 3. Therefore, the formula for the area of an ellipse is

$$A=πab$$

Answer:

The constant of proportionality is $$π$$ and the formula for the area of an ellipse is $$A=abπ$$.

Try It $$\PageIndex{3}$$: Combined Variation

Given that $$y$$ varies directly as the square of $$x$$ and inversely with $$z$$, where $$y=2$$ when $$x=3$$ and $$z=27$$, find $$y$$ when $$x=2$$ and $$z=16$$.

Answer
$$\frac{3}{2}$$

1.8: Variation - Constructing and Solving Equations is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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