Finite Summation of Integer Powers (Part 1)

(Discrete Mathematics Techniques I)

We motivate an approach that uses recurrence relations to find closed form solutions to the finite-summation-of-integer-powers problem S_p(N) = \sum_{k=1}^{N} k^p for any individual p. The approach is illustrated for small p: k, k^2, k^3, k^4. Maxima, an open-source (free) software package, is used to demonstrate how a symbolic computation platform can speed up the accurate derivation of messy algebraic expressions.

A recurrence solution to the general case (arbitrary p) is developed in Part 2 along with Maxima source code. A direct (non-iterative) matrix method for solving the general case is given in Part 3 along with Maxima and Octave/Matlab source code.

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Good mathematical technique and the case for mathematical insight

Good mathematical technique can bring the solution to certain mathematical questions within reach. By a proper formulation (one that is both tractable and that generalizes readily) and the use of mechanical techniques, one can often pass from a single insight to the solution of a family of problems, and in some cases, to the solution of the general question itself. … Good mathematical technique has built within it the mathematical insight of the best of previous generations.

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