The Related Rates of an Automatic Pizza Saucer
Posted by Bowman Dickson
I always struggle a bit with teaching related rates, because the focus of all textbook/AP problems is to calculate how fast something is changing in one single moment in time, which short shrifts the beauty of the topic. The main idea seems more to be thinking about how two rates are, well, related to each other. What must happen to one rate as time goes on if another rate stays constant? That’s what makes that classic ladder problem even remotely interesting (why the hell would one side be moving at a constant rate while the other is speeding up?).
I saw this gif of an automatic pizza saucer a while ago and immediately thought it would be a fabulous discussion piece for this very idea:
Someone who designed this used some sort of calculus, even if it was the intuitive kind! We talked about this in class for 15 minutes or so, and the students that enjoy wrestling with not-so-obvious and applied situations really enjoyed thinking about these types of questions:
- If the pizza spins at a constant rate and the sauce comes out at a constant rate, what has to happen to the speed of the arm?
- If the pizza spins at a constant rate and the arm moves at a constant rate, what has to happen to the rate at which the sauce comes out?
- If the arm of the pizza moves at a constant rate and the sauce comes out at a constant rate what has to happen to the rate at which the pizza spins?
We came to some interesting conclusions about the above, including that one of the situations above is not possible (I think!), which we only figured out because one student and I were vehemently defending two different and opposite things.
Anyone want to try to throw some numbers on this to figure out these very questions?