Finding Maximums and Minimums

Read this section to learn about maximums, minimums, and extreme values for functions. Work through practice problems 1-5.


In theory and applications, we often want to maximize or minimize some quantity. An engineer may want to maximize the speed of a new computer or minimize the heat produced by an appliance. A manufacturer may want to maximize profits and market share or minimize waste. A student may want to maximize a grade in calculus or minimize the hours of study needed to earn a particular grade.

Also, many natural objects follow minimum or maximum principles, so if we want to model some natural phenomena we may need to maximize or minimize. A light ray travels along a "minimum time" path. The shape and surface texture of some animals tend to minimize or maximize heat loss. Systems reach equilibrium when their potential energy is minimized. A basic tenet of evolution is that a genetic characteristic which maximizes the reproductive success of an individual will become more common in a species.

Calculus provides tools for analyzing functions and their behavior and for finding maximums and minimums.

Source: Dale Hoffman,
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