The question finally escaped from the lips of one of my precalculus students. The conversation went something like this:
Student: What is all this stuff useful for anyway?
Me: Precalculus is useful for preparing you for calculus.
Student: No, I mean what is calculus useful for? Do we ever really use calculus for real life situations?
Me: Of course! One example is the headlight used in cars. Calculus was used to help maximize the light emitted from the headlight.
Student: As long as it’s useful for something.
He seemed satisfied. I smiled.
As he walked away, I thought about the numerous times my students ask about the purpose of math, but this was a first. This student wanted to know that calculus was good for something and useful in the “real world.” So I did a little “research” and posted several sites in case someone reading this blog shares the same curiosity.
Some uses for calculus (very brief):
1. Growth rate of tumors (medicine)
2. Minimum payments due on credit cards (finance)
3. Curves for bridges, tunnels, and more (engineering)
4. Area under a curve (engineering)
5. Marginal cost (economics)
Websites to visit for more details (just a few):
NOTE: Photo borrowed from: http://ms2ecology.blogspot.com/2011/06/brocks-calculus-white-board-notes.html
What are some other practical uses for calculus?