# Calculators and complex numbers (Part 15)

In this series of posts, I explore properties of complex numbers that explain some surprising answers to exponential and logarithmic problems using a calculator (see video at the bottom of this post). These posts form the basis for a sequence of lectures given to my future secondary teachers.

To begin, we recall that the trigonometric form of a complex number $z = a+bi$ is $z = r(\cos \theta + i \sin \theta)$

where $r = |z| = \sqrt{a^2 + b^2}$ and $\tan \theta = b/a$, with $\theta$ in the appropriate quadrant. As noted before, this is analogous to converting from rectangular coordinates to polar coordinates.

There’s a shorthand notation for the right-hand side ( $r e^{i \theta}$) that, at long last, I will explain in today’s post.

Definition. If $z$ is a complex number, then we define $e^z = \displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{\infty} \frac{z^n}{n!}$

This of course matches the Taylor expansion of $e^x$ for real numbers $x$.

Theorem. If $\theta$ is a real number, then $e^{i \theta} = \cos \theta + i \sin \theta$. $e^{i \theta} = \displaystyle \sum_{n=0}^{\infty} \frac{(i \theta)^n}{n!}$ $= \displaystyle 1 + i\theta + \frac{(i\theta)^2}{2!} + \frac{(i\theta)^3}{3!} + \frac{(i\theta)^4}{4!} + \frac{(i\theta)^5}{5!} + \frac{(i\theta)^6}{6!} + \frac{(i\theta)^7}{7!} + \dots$ $= \displaystyle \left(1 - \frac{\theta^2}{2!} + \frac{\theta^4}{4!} - \frac{\theta^6}{6!} \dots \right) + i \left( \theta - \frac{\theta^3}{3!} + \frac{\theta^5}{5!} - \frac{\theta^7}{7!} \right)$ $= \cos \theta + i \sin \theta$,

using the Taylor expansions for cosine and sine.

This theorem explains one of the calculator’s results: $e^{i \pi} = \cos \pi + i \sin \pi = -1 + 0i = -1$.

That said, you can imagine that finding something like $e^{4-2i}$ would be next to impossible by directly plugging into the series and trying to simply the answer. The good news is that there’s an easy way to compute $e^z$ for complex numbers $z$, which we develop in the next few posts. For completeness, here’s the movie that I use to engage my students when I begin this sequence of lectures.

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