**Content Summary**: 600 words, 6 min read

And now, an unprovoked foray into number theory!

Simple Continued Fractions (SCFs)

Have you run into **simple continued fractions** in your mathematical adventures? They look like this:

Let represent the coefficients and . If you fix you can uniquely represent with . For example:

Let us call the **leading coefficients **of n. Here we have represented the rational with four coefficients. It turns out that *every* rational number can be expressed with a finite number of leading coefficients.

Irrational Numbers

Life gets interesting when you look at the leading coefficients of irrational numbers. Consider the following:

First note that these irrational numbers have an infinite number of leading coefficients.

What do you notice about ? It repeats, of course! What is the repeating sequence for ? The sequence .

How about ? Well, after the first two digits, we notice an interesting pattern then then . The value of this triplet is non-periodic, but easy enough to compute. The situation looks even more bleak when you consider the …

Thus (golden ratio) and feature repeating coefficients, but and (Euler’s number) do not. What differentiates these groups?

Of these numbers, only the **transcendental numbers** fail to exhibit a period. Can this pattern be generalized? Probably. 🙂 There exists an unproved conjecture in number theory, that all infinite, non-periodic leading coefficients with bounded terms are transcendental.

Real Approximation As Coefficient Trimming

Stare the digits of . Can you come up with a fraction that approximates it?

Perhaps you have picked up the trick that is surprisingly close:

But could you come up with from first principles? More to the point, could you construct a fraction that comes yet closer to ‘s position on the number line?

Decomposing these numbers into continued fractions should betray the answer:

We can approximate any irrational number by truncating . Want a more accurate approximation of ? Keep more digits:

I’ll note in passing that this style of approximation resembles how algorithms approximate the frequency of signals by discarding smaller eigenvalues.

About π

Much ink has been spilled on the number . For example, does it contain roughly equal frequencies of 3s and 7s? When you generalize this question to any base (not just base 10), the question becomes whether is a **normal** **number**. Most mathematicians suspect the answer is Yes, but this remains pure conjecture to-date.

Let’s return to the digits of . Here is a graph of the first two hundred:

Do you see a pattern? I don’t.

Let’s zoom out. This encyclopedia displays the first 20,000 coefficients of :

So affords no obvious pattern. Is there another way to generate the digits of such that a pattern emerges?

Let **quadratic continued fraction **represent a number expressed as:

Set . Here only is allowed to vary. Astonishingly, the following fact is true:

Thus, continued fractions allow us to make sense out of important transcendental numbers like .

I’ll close with a quote:

Continued fractions are, in some ways, more “mathematically natural” representations of a real number than other representations such as decimal representations.