Exponential Growth and Decay

Exponential growth can be amazing!

The idea is that something grows in relation to its current value, such as always doubling.

Example: If a population of rabbits doubles every month, we would have 2, then 4, then 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, etc!

Amazing Tree

tree

 

Let us say we have this special tree.

It grows exponentially , following this formula:

Height (in mm) = ex

e is Euler's number

 

e^x graph

 

No tree could ever grow that tall.
So when people say "it grows exponentially" ... just think what that means.

Growth and Decay

But sometimes things can grow (or the opposite: decay) exponentially, at least for a while.

So we have a generally useful formula:

y(t) = a × ekt

Where y(t) = value at time "t"
a = value at the start
k = rate of growth (when >0) or decay (when <0)
t = time

 

Example: 2 months ago you had 3 mice, you now have 18.

Mice

Assuming the growth continues like that

  • What is the "k" value?
  • How many mice 2 Months from now?
  • How many mice 1 Year from now?

 

Start with the formula:

y(t) = a × ekt

We know a=3 mice, t=2 months, and right now y(2)=18 mice:

18 = 3 × e2k

Now some algebra to solve for k:

Divide both sides by 3:6 = e2k
Take the natural logarithm of both sides:ln(6) = ln(e2k)
ln(ex)=x, so:ln(6) = 2k
Swap sides:2k = ln(6)
Divide by 2:k = ln(6)/2

Notes:

 

We can now put k = ln(6)/2 into our formula from before:

y(t) = 3 e(ln(6)/2)t

Now let's calclulate the population in 2 more months (at t=4 months):

y(4) = 3 e(ln(6)/2)×4 = 108

And in 1 year from now (t=14 months):

y(14) = 3 e(ln(6)/2)×14 = 839,808

That's a lot of mice! I hope you will be feeding them properly.

Exponential Decay

Some things "decay" (get smaller) exponentially.

Example: Atmospheric pressure (the pressure of air around you) decreases as you go higher.

It decreases about 12% for every 1000 m: an exponential decay.

The pressure at sea level is about 1013 hPa (depending on weather).

mount everest

 

 

Start with the formula:

y(t) = a × ekt

We know

So:

891.44 = 1013 ek×1000

Now some algebra to solve for k:

Divide both sides by 1013:0.88 = e1000k
Take the natural logarithm of both sides:ln(0.88) = ln(e1000k)
ln(ex)=x, so:ln(0.88) = 1000k
Swap sides:1000k = ln(0.88)
Divide by 1000:k = ln(0.88)/1000

 

Now we know "k" we can write:

y(t) = 1013 e(ln(0.88)/1000)×t

 

And finally we can calculate the pressure at 381 m, and at 8848 m:

 

y(381) = 1013 e(ln(0.88)/1000)×381 = 965 hPa

y(8848) = 1013 e(ln(0.88)/1000)×8848 = 327 hPa

 

(In fact pressures at Mount Everest are around 337 hPa ... good calculations!)

Half Life

The "half life" is how long it takes for a value to halve with exponential decay.

Commonly used with radioactive decay, but it has many other applications!

Example: The half-life of caffeine in your body is about 6 hours. If you had 1 cup of coffeee 9 hours ago how much is left in your system?

cup of coffee

Start with the formula:

y(t) = a × ekt

We know:

So:

0.5 = 1 cup × e6k

Now some algebra to solve for k:

Take the natural logarithm of both sides:ln(0.5) = ln(e6k)
ln(ex)=x, so:ln(0.5) = 6k
Swap sides:6k = ln(0.5)
Divide by 6:k = ln(0.5)/6

Now we can write:

y(t) = 1 e(ln(0.5)/6)×t

In 6 hours:

y(6) = 1 e(ln(0.5)/6)×6 = 0.5

Which is correct as 6 hours is the half life

And in 9 hours:

y(9) = 1 e(ln(0.5)/6)×9 = 0.35

After 9 hours the amount left in your system is about 0.35 of the original amount. Have a nice sleep :)

Have a play with the Half Life of Medicine Tool to get a good understanding of this.