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Related Rates

Related Rates problems have a basic set of steps to follow. The key to remember is that, since youre
taking the derivative with respect to t, you should end any derivatives of x with

dy
dt

dx
dt

, of y with

Steps:
1.

2.
3.
4.
5.

Draw the picture and label everything you know.

a. Constants should be labeled with a number.
b. Variables should be labeled with both the variable and the number if
known.
Find an equation to relate the variables.
Find any missing values.
Take the derivative with respect to t.
Plug in known values and find the answer you were asked for.

Lets take some look at the classic related rates problems youre likely to see.

The Lamppost
Heres how this one usually goes.
A 6 ft. man walks towards an 18 ft. lamppost at a rate of 3 ft/sec when hes 10 ft. from the base of the lamppost. At
what rate is the length of his shadow changing? At what rate is the tip of his shadow moving?
1. So how do we draw this?

If a
the

distance is decreasing (in other words, the person is moving

towards the object in question), then the rate is negative. If
distance is increasing, then the rate is positive.

2. What equation relates these variables? We should

actually have two separate triangles that will be
height and the distance to the tip of the shadow as the

notice here that there are two heights of triangles, so we

similar. The first is made up of the lamppost as the
base. The smaller triangle is made up of the man

Since these two triangles are similar, we can set up a

proportion:

18
6
=
x+ y y
18 y=6 ( x + y )
18 y=6 x+6 y

12 y=6 x
1
y= x
2
3. We already know that were looking at the moment when the man is 10 ft. away from the lamppost (i.e. x=10). Now
we can use the equation to find the length of the mans shadow at the same instant.

1
1
y= x y= ( 10 ) y=5
2
2
4. Now we take the equation from part 2 and we take its derivative.

1
dy 1 dx
y= x =
2
dt 2 dt
5. Then, we want to use steps 1-4 to find the answers were looking for.

a. At what rate is the length of his shadow changing? Here, were looking for

dy
dt

, since the length of the

dy 1 dx dy 1
dy 3 ft
=
= (3 ) =
dt 2 dt
dt 2
dt
2 sec
So his shadows length is decreasing at a rate of 1.5 ft/sec.
b. At what rate is the tip of his shadow moving? Here, we say that the tip of his shadow was a total length of
x+y from the base of the lamppost, so:

d
dx dy
3 9 ft
( x + y ) + 3+

dt
dt dt
2
2 sec
And thats all there is to the lamppost problem!

From now on, well just focus on how to set up the problems. Answers will be at the end of each one, though!

Heres the question for this one
A 13 ft. ladder is leaning against a wall. The base of the ladder is being pulled away from the wall at a rate of 2 ft/sec.
At what rate is the top of the ladder falling when the ladder is 5 ft. away from the wall?

Notice in the labeling that the length of the ladder is a constant. Also,

dx
dt

is positive because the distance from the

wall is increasing.

Whenever we see a right triangle, we should automatically think: Pythag!

x 2+ y 2 =132
At this point, we want to find the value of y when x=5. After weve done
we can take the derivative of the equation with respect to t.

dx
dy
+2 y =0
dt
dt

dy
dt

dy
dt

5
=- 6

ft/sec (Note that its negative since its falling.)

that,

Spherical Balloon
This problem usually looks like.
Air is being pumped into a spherical balloon at a rate of 5 cm3/min. Determine the rate at which the radius of the
balloon is increasing when the diameter of the balloon is 20 cm. Find the rate at which the surface area of the balloon
is changing.
Thankfully, the picture for this one is pretty easy, so our focus will be on the
equations.

4
V = r3
3
SA=4 r 2
d=2 r

We want to start by finding our missing variable using our diameter equation. At the instant the diameter is 20 cm, the
Youll notice that we dont need to find V or SA at the instant r= 10, since the derivatives of their equations dont have
V or SA left in them. Just

So, find

dr
dt

dV
dt

and

dSA
dt

dV
2 dr
=4 r
dt
dt

dr
dt

, you can find

dSA
dr
=8 r
dt
dt
And thats all there is to it!

dSA
dt

by taking the derivative of SA and plugging in your new values!

dr
1 cm dSA
cm
=
,
=1
dt 80 min dt
min

Conical Tank
These problems almost always deal with dripping water like this.
A tank of water in the shape of a cone is leaking water at a constant rate of 2 ft^3/hr. The radius of the tank is 5 ft,
and the height of the tank is 14 ft. At what rate is the depth of the water in the tank changing when the depth is 6 ft?

Again, its important to notice that

dV
dt

is negative because we

are losing water. Also, notice that the radius and height of the cone
itself are constant, while the radius and height of the water are
variable.

The equation for the volume of a cone is:

1
V = r2 h
3

Unfortunately, this equation has both an r and an h, when we only really need h (since were looking for

dh
dt

). So

how do we get rid of the r?

We should recognize the setup here being similar to that of the lamppost problem. We have two triangles that are
nested. Therefore, we have the following as our equation:

r 5
5
= r= h
h 14
14
Now we can replace the r in our equation for V.
2

1
5
V=
h h
3 14

( )

1 25 2

h h
3 196

dV
dt

25
h3
588

dh
dt

in a flash! Just remember to simplify fractions

through cross cancellation before multiplying. It will save you a lot of time!

dh
dt

98 ft
225 hr

Optimization
Optimization problems are just like the problems where you find the relative maximums and minimums of a function.
The biggest difference is that we have to figure out the functions on our own. Youll notice there are some similarities
between related rates and optimization, but youll also notice that we no longer have to worry about t!
Steps:
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Draw the picture and label everything you know.

You should have a number given. Find the equation for it, and set it equal to the value. This is your helper
equation.
Write the equation of what youre trying to maximize or minimize.
Solve for one variable in your helper equation and substitute it into the optimization equation. Simplify.
Take the derivative of the optimization equation, set it equal to 0, and solve for your variable.
Use what youve found to answer the question.

Farmer Bob and Bessie

This is the nickname Ive given all problems in which you need to fence in a rectangular area which has one side
already bounded by a river, or a barn, or something similar (so you only have to fence three sides). It can be asked in
one of two ways
a.
b.

They give you the area and have you find the minimum perimeter.
They give you the amount of fence (the perimeter), and ask you to maximize the area.

Lets take a look at the picture for the general problem and then take a look at how the two problems differ.

P=2 x+ y
A=xy

So youll notice the equations are the same, no matter the setup of the problem.

Heres version a:

ft .2

\$5
ft

Minimize the cost.

2. Here, our given number is 800

ft .

, and we know its the area. So we have

800=xy
3. Were trying to minimize the cost (which really means the perimeter).

P=2 x+ y
4. It will be easiest to solve for y in our area equation since theres only one y in the perimeter.

y=

800
x

Then substitute it into the perimeter equation

P=2 x+

800
x

5. Then we find the extremum by taking the derivative and setting it equal to zero.
'

P =2

2=

800
=0
x2

800
x2

2 x =800
x 2=400
x= 20
Keep in mind to check the answers logically. Since were not going to have a negative fence length, we can stick with
just x = 20.
6. Remember to answer the question! They asked for us to minimize the cost. So, we need to find the total fencing
needed, then calculate the cost. Plug x into the equation for the perimeter.

P=2 ( 20 ) +

800
20

40+ 40=80

\$5
ft . , we need 80 feet of fence, it will cost \$400. Tada!

Now lets take a look at version b:

Farmer Bob and Bessie have changed their minds. They managed to buy 100 feet of fence, and they want to
maximize the area in which Bessie can roam next to the river if they use all of the fencing. What dimensions
should they use?
2. Here our given number is the perimeter.

100=2 x + y
3. The equation we want to maximize is:

A=xy
4. Here, again its easiest to solve for y in our helper equation:

y=1002 x
And we should substitute it in to the area equation and simplify it:

A=x ( 1002 x )
100 x 2 x 2
5. Now take the derivative and set equal to zero as usual.

A ' =1004 x=0

100=4 x

25=x
6. Now the question asked for the dimensions of the fenced in area, so we also need y.

y=1002 x
1002 ( 25 )
10050
50

50 ft x 25 ft

Distance Between a Point and a Curve

What is the closest point on the curve y=x^2 +2 to the point (3,2)?

The helper equation here is a little different than before. We need to find the general form of points on the curve.

y=x 2 +2

( x , y ) ( x , x 2 +2 )
The optimization equation is the distance between the two points.

d= ( x2 x1 )2+( y 2 y 1 )2
When we substitute our two points into the equation we get:

d= ( x3 )2 + ( x 2 +22 )

( x 3 )2+ ( x 2)

x 26 x +9+ x 4
x 4 + x2 6 x+ 9

Now we want to take the derivative. Remember, we have a shortcut for the derivative of the square root of functions:

y= f ( x )

y '=

f ' (x)
2 f (x )

So when we take the derivative of d, we get:

'

d=

4 x3 +2 x6
x 4 + x 26 x +9

2 x3 + x3
x 4 + x 26 x +9
And then we solve by finding when the numerator is 0:

2 x 3 + x3=0

( x1 ) ( 2 x 2 +2 x +3 ) =0

x1=0 x=1

2 x 2 +2 x+3=0 Not Possible

6. They wanted the point, so we use the x value to find the y value:

y=x 2 +2

( 1 )2+2

Rectangle Inscribed in Circle

Given a semicircle of radius 2 inches, find the area and dimensions of the largest rectangle that can be inscribed
within the semicircle.
Heres our picture:

We notice that the semicircle is our helper equation:

x 2+ y 2 =22

x 2+ y 2 =4

We also notice that we need the area of the rectangle. Since its 2x units long and y units tall, our area equation is:

A=2 xy
When we solve for y in our helper equation, notice that we use the positive square root, since were looking at the top
half of the circle.

y 2=4x 2

y= 4x 2

Then, when we substitute it in to the area equation, we get this:

A=2 x 4x2
Now, all you have to do is take the derivative and solve! Remember to use both product and chain rule here.

x= 2. , y= 2. , A=4 .2

Cone Inscribed in Sphere

Find the dimensions of the right circular cone of largest volume that can be inscribed in a sphere of radius 3 cm.

Heres our 2-dimensional picture for the problem. Note that we labeled the
radius of the sphere, and we named the radius of the cone as r:

I love Pythagorean Theorem, and you should, too! Anytime you see a right triangle,
feel free to use it to make the helper equation:

r 2 + y 2=9

Plus, we know the equation for height of the cone:

h= y+ 3
And we know our optimization equation, since were trying to maximize the volume of the cone:

1
V = r2 h
3
Here, it will be easiest to solve for r^2 instead of r, since theres also an r^2 in our Volume equation:
2

r =9 y

h= y+ 3

1
V = ( 9 y 2 ) ( y +3 )
3

Now, substitute them in:

1
( y3 3 y 2+ 9 y+ 27)
3

Differentiate and solve for y. Use that to find h, r, and the volume. Note that youll get two possibilities for y, but that
you should choose the positive option, as a negative value would not make sense in context.

h=4 cm. , r=2 2 cm . ,V =

32
3
cm .
3

Folded Box
You have a piece of paper with dimensions 16cm x 6cm. In order to fold the paper into an open top box, you cut
squares of equal size out of each corner. What is the maximum volume of the resulting box? What are its dimensions?
Our picture looks like this, where the dotted lines are
where weve cut:

We can see that well end up with a box that looks like
this:

L=162 x

W =62 x

H=x

And our volume equation for a rectangular prism is:

V =LWH
So our new volume equation is:

V =( 162 x ) ( 62 x ) x

x ( 4 x 244 x +96 )

4 x 44 x + 96 x

Differentiate! Youll get two answers here. Notice that since neither the width nor length can be negative, our x value
can be at most 3.

L=

40
10
4
1600
cm . , W = cm. , H= cm ., V =
cm.3
3
3
3
27

Swimming or Running
A lifeguard can swim at a rate of 5

ft
sec

ft
sec

Suppose she sees a drowning child in

the ocean 200 feet down the shore and 50 feet out in the ocean. How far should she run down the shore before she
swims to the child? How long does it take?
Heres our picture:

Even though this looks like a related rates problem, its

actually optimization, where we use what we know
about the relationship between time and velocity:

d=vt t=

d
v

So we know the distance we run is x feet, and we can run at a rate of 15 feet/second. It takes us this much time:

t x=

x
15

We know the distance we have to swim by Pythag:

y 2=502 + ( 200x )2

y 2=2500+ 40000400 x + x 2

y= x 2400 x +42500

And it takes us this much time to swim that distance at a rate of 5 feet/second:

t y=

x 2400 x + 42500
5

So heres our equation for total time to get to the child:

t=

x x 2400 x+ 42500
+
15
5

1
( x +3 x 2400 x+ 42500)
15

Differentiate the problem to minimize the time! This one is particularly obnoxious, as far as the algebra, and it requires
using quadratic formula, so let me know if you need help with this part.