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Neighbor fractions
1. What is the smallest dierence between two fractions (that is, if they are not the same), if (a) the denominator of one fraction is 2 and the denominator of the other one is 3? (b) the denominators of two fractions are 2 and 5? (c) the denominators are 4 and 5?
To nd the dierence between two numbers, subtract the smaller from the larger one.

Your answers to problem 1 share some properties. In each, the numerator of the dierence is 1, and its denominator is the product of the denominators of the two fractions. Lets consider pairs of fractions that produce the dierence of this sort. We will call two fractions neighbors, or neighbor fractions, if their dierence is a fraction whose numerator is 1, and whose denominator is the product of the fractions denominators, like this: a c 1 c a 1 = or = . b d bd d b bd 2. Here is another denition of neighbor fractions:
c Two fractions a and d are neighbor fractions, if b 1 1 is equal to bd or bd . a b

c d

Prove that both denitions are equivalent. Which of these pairs of fractions are neighbors? (a) 1 1 and 2 4 (b) 3 5 and 5 8 (c) 5 4 and 5 8 (d) 13 8 and 5 8 4. Find two other examples of neighbor fractions.
Problems with a Point: May 30, 2001 c EDC 2001

3.

Both fractions are improper (each is greater than 1). They still might be neighbors.

Neighbor fractions: Problem

5.

Draw a segment. Carefully divide it in three equal pieces by marks of one color and in ve equal pieces by marks of a dierent color. (a) Circle the pair of marks that are closest to each other. (b) If the length of the whole segment is 1, whats the distance between the marks youve circled? If If
a 5 a 5

6. 7.

and and

c 7 c 10

are neighbor fractions, what can a and c be? are neighbor fractions, what can a and c be?

Dont restrict yourself to numbers that are less than 1. By a fraction, we mean any number integer number written in the form natural . number 3 8 15 In this sense, 15 , 3 , 1 are all fractions. Relatively prime numbers are natural numbers that do not share a factor other than 1.

8.

Is there a pair of neighbor fractions with denominators that are not relatively prime? If so, give an example; if not, prove it. Suppose b and d are relatively prime, and you are asked to nd pairs of neighbor fractions with b and d as denominators. You are also asked to make sure each fractions value is between 0 and 1. How many pairs can you nd? There are two bus routes between town A and town B . All buses run along the same road, and they stop at the same place in town A and in town B . In between, buses of the rst route make 12 stops, and buses of the second route make 15 stops. Stops on the same route are equally spaced. John has left town A by a bus of the rst route. However, on the way the bus broke down, and John had to change to a bus of the second route before arriving at town B . Later he gured out that he had walked the shortest possible distance between the stops. (a) What part of the distance between the towns did John walk? (b) Where did John change buses?

9.

10.

Problems with a Point: May 30, 2001

c EDC 2001

Neighbor fractions: Hints

Hints
c Hint to problem 4. Suppose a and d are neighbors. Then b c ad bc is the numerator of their dierence. Since a and d are b neighbors, the numerator of their dierence must be 1. So, there is the equation to solve: ad bc = 1, and a, b, c, and d are all variables. What can they be? If you think four variables are too many, assign values to some of them (dont forget they must be natural). For example, start with a = 1 and c = 1. This way, youll be looking for a pair of neighbor fractions of the form 1 b 1 and d .

Hint to problem 6. Try dierent values. Hint to problem 7. If you cannot nd any values for a and c, consider the possibility that there actually arent any, and try to prove that. Hint to problem 8. If two numbers are not relatively prime, they share a factor other than 1. Call it f . Then the denominators can be expressed as mf and nf , where m and n are natural numbers. Hint to problem 10. The path between towns A and B is divided into 13 equal pieces by the stops on the rst route, and into 16 pieces by the stops on the second route. Therefore, you a are looking for fractions between 0 and 1 that have the form 13 c and 16 and are as close to each other as possible.

Problems with a Point: May 30, 2001

c EDC 2001

Neighbor fractions: Answers

Answers
1. (a) (b) (c) 2. 3. (a) (b) (c) (d) 4.
1 6 1 10 1 20

See solution.
1 2 3 5 4 5 8 5

and and and and

1 are not neighbors. 4 5 are neighbors. 8 5 are not neighbors. 8 13 are neighbors. 8

Answers may vary. Examples: 1 1 1 and 1 (in general, n and n+1 for any n); 7 8 7 8 n1 n 8 and 9 ( n and n+1 for any n); c b d also if a and d are neighbors, then a+ and c+ are also b b d neighbors. There are two answers:

5. (a)

(b) 6.

For both pairs of marks, the distance is

1 . 15

(a, c) can be (3, 4), (3+5, 4+7), (3+2 5, 4+2 7), ..., (3+ n 5, 4+ n 7), ... and (2, 3), (2+5, 3+7), (2+2 5, 3+2 7), ..., (2+ n 5, 3+ n 7), ..., where n is any natural number. See solution. If the denominators of two fractions are not relatively prime, they cannot be neighbors. 2

7. 8. 9.

1 10. (a) John walked 208 part of the distance between the towns. (b) John went from either the fth stop of the rst route back to the fourth stop of the second route, or from the eleventh stop of the rst route forward to the ninth stop of the second route.

Problems with a Point: May 30, 2001

c EDC 2001

Neighbor fractions: Solutions

Solutions
1a. If two fractions are m and n , then the dierence between 2 3 2n3m 2n them is 6 (or the other way around, 3m .) In any 6 case, to make the dierence the smallest, we want 3m 2n to be as close to 0 as possible. Since n and m are integers (they are numerators of two fractions), the expression 3m 2n has only integer values, and the closest to 0 are 1 and 1. So, the dierence cannot be smaller than 1 . To nd 6 out whether the dierence can be equal to 1 , we can try 6 1 1 various pairs. For example, 2 and 3 produce the required dierence. 2. Proof: The only dierence between these two denitions is c 1 that, in the second denition, instead of d a = bd there b a c 1 is b d = bd . Multiply one equality by 1 and youll get the other one. 6. Consider two cases: c 1 a 7 = 35 , and 5 c a 1 7 5 = 35 . In each case, by trial and error, we can nd one pair if we assume that both fractions are proper (which means they are between 0 and 1): 3 with 4 , and 3 with 2 . We can 5 7 7 5 check that there arent other solutions between 0 and 1. Then, each of the solutions generates the whole branch of the others, if we allow for the fractions to be improper: 1 1 If 3 4 = 35 , then 1 3 14 = 23 24 = ... = 35 . 5 7 5 7 5 7 Changing mixed fractions into improper fractions we get the following string of values for (a, c): (3, 4), (3 + 5, 4 + 7), (3 + 2 5, 4 + 2 7), ..., (3 + n 5, 4 + n 7), ... In a similar way, for the second case we get (2, 3), (2 + 5, 3 + 7), (2 + 2 5, 3 + 2 7), ..., (2 + n 5, 3 + n 7), ... 7. There are no neighbor fractions with denominators 5 and 10. a c) c 5c Proof: a 10 = 10a = 5(250 . This shows that whatever 5 50 natural numbers a and c are, the numerator of the dierence is always a multiple of 5 (that is, if the denominator of the dierence is the product of the denominators of the original fractions), and so it cannot be equal to 1 (or to 1). 8. If the denominators of two fractions are not relatively prime, they cannot be neighbors.
Problems with a Point: May 30, 2001 c EDC 2001

Neighbor fractions: Solutions

Proof: Denominators share a factor f other than 1. Express the denominators as mf and nf (m, n, and f are all natural numbers). The question now is whether there are a c natural a and c such that mf nf = nf 1mf . The numerator of the dierence is anf cmf = f (an cm), which cannot be equal to 1 (or 1) because it is a multiple of f . 9. As in problem 6, consider two cases that boil down to two equations: ad bc = 1 bc ad = 1 Each equations gives exactly one solution where a is smaller than b and c is smaller than d. If both fractions are between 0 and 1, then a can be 1, 2, 3, ..., b 1, and c can be 1, 2, 3, ..., d 1. Suppose we calculate ad for all values of a, and then subtract b from it as many times as we can before we get a negative result. Then c is the number of times we subtracted b. The value of ad bc cannot be bigger than b 1, because if it is bigger, we can subtract another b. It also cannot be 0, because if ad bc = 0, then ad = bc = # smaller than ad, which means that a and d are not relatively prime. So there are b 1 possible values for ad bc for b 1 dierent values of a. Each of these values, 1 among them, occurs exactly once. because if a value does not occur, another has to occur more than once, and this cannot happen. (Suppose a1 d c1 b = a2 d c2 b, subtract a2 d and c1 b from both sides, and obtain (a1 a2 )d = (c2 c1 )b, which cannot be true for relatively prime b and d, since a1 a2 < b). 10. Solve 16a 13c = 1 and 13c 16a = 1, and youll know between which stops John walked.
Note for a teacher: The general proof is rather complicated, and we do not recommend to ask students for it. An educated guess supported by examples might be enough.

Problems with a Point: May 30, 2001

c EDC 2001