Suppose an elementary school has a square playground with an area of 3000 square feet. Could you find the width of the playground? Would the width be a rational or irrational number?
Square Roots and Irrational Numbers
The square root of a number is any number such that .
Every positive number has two square roots, the positive and the negative. The symbol used to represent the square root is . It is assumed that this is the positive square root of . To show both the positive and negative values, you can use the symbol , read “plus or minus.”
means the positive square root of 81.
means the negative square root of 81.
means the positive or negative square root of 81.
Let's solve the following problem by using square roots:
Human chess is a variation of chess, often played at Renaissance fairs, in which people take on the roles of the various pieces on a chessboard. The chessboard is played on a square plot of land that measures 324 square meters with the chess squares marked on the grass. How long is each side of the chessboard?
The human chessboard measures 324 square meters.
The area of a square is . The value of Area can be replaced with 324.
The value of represents the square root of 324.
The chessboard is 18 meters long by 18 meters wide.
Approximating Square Roots
When the square root of a number is a whole number, this number is called a perfect square. 9 is a perfect square because .
Not all square roots are whole numbers. Many square roots are irrational numbers, meaning there is no rational number equivalent. For example, 2 is the square root of 4 because . The number 7 is the square root of 49 because . What is the square root of 5?
There is no whole number multiplied by itself that equals five, so is not a whole number. To find the value of , we can use estimation.
To estimate the square root of a number, look for the perfect integers less than and greater than the value, and then estimate the decimal.
Let's estimate :
The perfect square below 5 is 4 and the perfect square above 5 is 9. Therefore, . Therefore, is between and , or . Because 5 is closer to 4 than 9, the decimal is a low value: .
Identifying Irrational Numbers
Real numbers have two categories: rational and irrational. If a square root is not a perfect square, then it is considered an irrational number. These numbers cannot be written as a fraction because the decimal does not end (non-terminating) and does not repeat a pattern (non-repeating). Although irrational square roots cannot be written as fractions, we can still write them exactly, without typing the value into a calculator.
For example, suppose you do not have a calculator and you need to find . You know there is no whole number squared that equals 18, so is an irrational number. The value is between and . However, we need to find the exact value of .
Begin by writing the prime factorization of . . but does not have a whole number value. Therefore, the exact value of is .
You can check your answer on a calculator by finding the decimal approximation for each square root.
Let's find the exact value of :
Earlier, you were told that an elementary school has a square playground with an area of 3000 square feet. What is the width of the playground? Is the width a rational or irrational number?
Since the playground is a square, we can use the formula for the area of a square:
The width of the playground is feet. Since 30 is not a perfect square, the width is irrational.
The area of a square is 50 square feet. What are the lengths of its sides?
Using the area of a square formula, :
Now we will simplify:
The length of each side of the square is feet.
Find the following square roots exactly without using a calculator. Give your answer in the simplest form.
Use a calculator to find the following square roots. Round to two decimal places.
To see the Review answers, open this PDF file and look for section 2.12.