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Practical Uses for Calculus

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):

http://www.essortment.com/math-basics-calculus-used-for-60928.html

http://mathforum.org/library/drmath/view/52292.html

http://www.ehow.com/info_8524020_uses-calculus-real-life.html

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/11/change-we-can-believe-in/

http://www.wyzant.com/Help/Math/Calculus/Introduction/Applications_of_Calculus.aspx

http://www.dummies.com/how-to/education-languages/math/Calculus/Practical-Applications.html

NOTE: Photo borrowed from: http://ms2ecology.blogspot.com/2011/06/brocks-calculus-white-board-notes.html

What are some other practical uses for calculus?