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Exponential and

Logarithmic
Equations
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Contents: This page corresponds to 4.4 (p. 348) oI the text.
Suggested problems Irom text:
p. 355 #13,17,21,25,27,29,31,51,53,57,59,81,89
Exponential Equations
Logarithmic Equations

Exponential Equations
Some exponential equations can be solved by using the Iact that exponential Iunctions are one-
to-one. In other words, an exponential Iunction does not take two diIIerent values to the same
number.
Example 1.
3
x
9
3
x
3
2

The Iunction I(x) 3
x
is one-to-one, so it does not take two diIIerent values to 9, so x must equal
2.
x 2
The equation in example 1 was easy to solve because we could express 9 as a power oI 3.
However, it is oIten necessary to use a logarithm when solving an exponential equation.

Example 2.
e
x
20
e are going to use the Iact that the natural logarithm is the inverse oI the exponential Iunction,
so ln e
x
x, by logarithmic identity 1. e must take the natural logarithm oI both sides oI the
equation.
ln e
x
ln 20
Now the leIt hand side simpliIies to x, and the right hand side is a number. It is approximately
2.9957.
x 2.9957
Exercise 1:
Use a calculator to check the answer we Iound to the equation in example 2.
Example 3.
5
x
16 e will solve this equation in two diIIerent ways.
First Approach: e use the Iact that log
5
5
x
x (logarithmic identity 1 again).
5
x
16
log
5
5
x
log
5
16
x log
5
16
x ln 16 / ln 5, by the change-oI-base Iormula.
x 1.7227 (approximately)
Second Approach: e will use the natural logarithm and property 3.
5
x
16 Take the natural logarithm oI both sides.
ln 5
x
ln 16
x ln 5 ln 16
x ln 16 / ln 5
x 1.7227 (approximately)
e could have used any logarithm with the second approach. The second approach is the one
that you see most oIten.
Exercise 2:
Use a calculator to check the answer we Iound to the equation in example 3.
Equations like that in the next example occur Irequently in applications.
Example 4.
200 e
0.07t
500
e Iirst isolate the exponential part by dividing both sides oI the equation by 200.
e
0.07t
2.5
Now we take the natural logarithm oI both sides.
ln e
0.07t
ln 2.5
The leIt hand side simpliIies to 0.07t, by logarithmic identity 1.
0.07t ln 2.5
t ln (2.5) / 0.07
t 13.1 (approximately)
Exercise 3:
Solve the Iollowing equations and check the answers.
(a) 3
x
10
(b) 150 e
0.05 t
350
Answer
Return to Contents
Logarithmic Equations
hen solving exponential equations we Irequently used logarithmic identity 1 because it
involves applying a logarithmic Iunction to "undo" the eIIect oI an exponential Iunction. hen
dealing with logarithmic equations we will use logarithmic identity 2 where an exponential
Iunction is applied to "undo" the eIIect oI a logarithmic Iunction.
Example 5.
2 log x 12
e want to isolate the log x, so we divide both sides by 2.
log x 6
Since log is the logarithm base 10, we apply the exponential Iunction base 10 to both sides oI the
equation.
10
log x
10
6

By logarithmic identity 2, the leIt hand side simpliIies to x.
x 10
6
1000000
Example 6.
7 3 ln x 15 First isolate ln x.
3 ln x 8
ln x 8/3
Now apply the exponential Iunction to both sides.
e
ln x
e
8/3

x e
8/3

This is the exact answer. II you use a calculator to evaluate this expression, you will have an
approximation to the answer.
x is approximately equal to 14.39.
Exercise 4:
Check the answers Iound in examples 5 and 6.
Example 7.
ln (x 4) ln (x - 2) ln 7
First we use property 1 oI logarithms to combine the terms on the leIt.
ln (x 4)(x - 2) ln 7
Now apply the exponential Iunction to both sides.
e
ln (x 4)(x - 2)
e
ln 7

The logarithmic identity 2 allows us to simpliIy both sides.
(x 4)(x - 2) 7
x
2
2x - 8 7
x
2
2x - 15 0
(x - 3)(x 5) 0
x 3 or x -5
x 3 checks, Ior ln 7 ln 1 ln 7.
x -5 /oes not check, Ior when we try to substitute -5 Ior x in the original equation we are taking
the natural logarithm oI negative numbers, which is not deIined.
So, x 3 is the only solution.

t`s the Law Too - the Laws of Logarithms


revised 6 Mar 2011
Copyright 20022011 by Stan Brown, Oak Road Systems
Summary: Do you have trouble remembering the laws oI logarithms? Do you know why you
can change log(x)log(y) to a diIIerent Iorm, but not log(xy)? This page helps you make sense
out oI the laws oI logarithms.
See also: All the laws oI logarithms Ilow directly out oI the laws of exponents. II you Ieel a bit
unsteady with the laws oI exponents, please review them beIore going on.
Contents:
O ogarithm? hat`s a ogarithm?
4 here Did ogs Come From?
4 hy Do e Care?
O Baseic Facts
4 og oI 1, og Equaling 1
4 og as Inverse
4 hat`s ln?
O Combining ogs with the Same Base
4 Multiply Numbers, Add Their ogarithms
4 Exponent, Multiply the ogarithm
4 Raising Numbers to Any Power
4 Divide Numbers, Subtract Their ogarithms
O Changing the Base
O Summary
O Conclusion
O hat`s New
Copying: You`re welcome to print copies oI this page Ior your own use, and to link Irom your
own eb pages to this page. But please don`t make any electronic copies and publish them on
your eb page or elsewhere.
Logarithm? What`s a Logarithm?
A logarithm is just an exponent.
To be speciIic, the logarithm oI a number x to a base b is just the exponent you put onto b to
make the result equal x. For instance, since 5 25, we know that 2 (the power) is the logarithm
oI 25 to base 5. Symbolically, log
5
(25) 2.
More generically, iI x b
y
, then we say that y is the logarithm oI x to the base b or the base-b
logarithm oI x. In symbols, y log
b
(x). Every exponential equation can be rewritten as a
logarithmic equation, and vice versa, just by interchanging the x and y in this way.
Another way to look at it is that the log
b
x Iunction is deIined as the inverse oI the b
x
Iunction.
These two statements express that inverse relationship, showing how an exponential equation is
equivalent to a logarithmic equation:
x b
y
is the same as y log
b
x
Example 1: 1000 10
3
is the same as 3 log
10
1000.
Example 2: log
3
81 ? is the same as 3
?
81.
It can`t be said too oIten: a logarithm is nothing more than an exponent. You can write the above
deIinition compactly, and show the log as an exponent, by substituting the second equation into
the Iirst to eliminate y:

Read that as the logarithm oI x in base b is the exponent you put on b to get x as a result.
Where Did Logs Come From?
BeIore pocket calculators only three decades ago, but in student years that`s the age oI
dinosaurs the answer was simple. You needed logs to compute most powers and roots with
Iair accuracy; even multiplying and dividing most numbers were easier with logs. Every decent
algebra books had pages and pages oI log tables at the back.
The invention oI logs in the early 1600s Iueled the scientiIic revolution. Back then scientists,
astronomers especially, used to spend huge amounts oI time crunching numbers on paper. By
cutting the time they spent doing arithmetic, logarithms eIIectively gave them a longer
productive liIe. The slide rule, once almost a cartoon trademark oI a scientist, was nothing more
than a device built Ior doing various computations quickly, using logarithms. See Eli Maor`s e.
The Story of a Number Ior more on this.
Today, logs are no longer used in routine number crunching. But there are still good reasons Ior
studying them.
Why Do We Care?
hy do we use logarithms, anyway?
O To Iind the number oI payments on a loan or the time to reach an investment goal
O To model many natural processes, particularly in living systems. e perceive loudness oI
sound as the logarithm oI the actual sound intensity, and dB (decibels) are a logarithmic
scale. e also perceive brightness oI light as the logarithm oI the actual light energy, and
star magnitudes are measured on a logarithmic scale.
O To measure the pH or acidity oI a chemical solution. The pH is the negative logarithm oI
the concentration oI Iree hydrogen ions.
O To measure earthquake intensity on the Richter scale.
O To analyze exponential processes. Because the log Iunction is the inverse oI the
exponential Iunction, we oIten analyze an exponential curve by means oI logarithms.
Plotting a set oI measured points on log-log or semi-log paper can reveal such
relationships easily. Applications include cooling oI a dead body, growth oI bacteria, and
decay oI a radioactive isotopes. The spread oI an epidemic in a population oIten Iollows a
modiIied logarithmic curve called a logistic.
O To solve some Iorms oI area problems in calculus. (The area under the curve 1/x,
between x1 and xA, equals ln A.)
aseic Facts
From the deIinition oI a log as inverse oI an exponential, you can immediately get some basic
Iacts. For instance, iI you graph y10
x
(or the exponential with any other positive base), you see
that its range is positive reals; thereIore the domain oI ylog x (to any base) is the positive reals.
In other words, you can`t take log 0 or log oI a negative number.
(Actually, iI you`re willing to go outside the reals, you can take the log oI a negative number.
The technique is taught in many trigonometry courses.)
Log of 1, Log Equaling 1
You know that anything to the zero power is 1: b
0
1. Change that to logarithmic Iorm with the
deIinition oI logs and you have
log
b
1 0 Ior any base b
In the same way, you know that the Iirst power oI any number is just that number: b
1
b. Again,
turn that around to logarithmic Iorm and you have
log
b
b 1 Ior any base b
Example 3: ln 1 0
Example 4: log
5
5 1
Log as nverse
A log is an exponent because the log Iunction is the inverse oI the exponential Iunction. The
inverse Iunction undoes the eIIect oI the original Iunction. (I`m not a big Ian oI most uses the
term cancel in math, but it does Iit in this situation.)
This means that iI you take the log oI an exponential (to the same base, oI course), you get back
to where you started:
log
b
b
x
x Ior any base b
This Iact lets you evaluate many logarithms without a calculator.
Example 5: log
5
125 log
5
(5) 3
Example 6: log
10
10
3.16
3.16
Example 7: ln e
-kt/2
-kt/2
What`s ln?
Any positive number is suitable as the base oI logarithms, but two bases are used more than any
others:
base of
logarithms
symbol name
10
log
(iI no base shown)
common logarithm
e ln
natural logarithm,
pronounced ell-enn or lahn
Natural logs are logs, and Iollow all the same rules as any other logarithm. Just remember
ln x means log
e
x
hy base e? hat`s so special about e? Most oI the explanations need some calculus, Ior
instance that e
x
is the only Iunction that is both its own integral and its own derivative or that e
has this beautiIul deIinition in terms oI Iactorials:
e 1/0! 1/1! 1/2! 1/3! ...
Numerically, e is about 2.7182818284. It`s irrational (the decimal expansion never ends and
never repeats), and in Iact like pi it`s transcendental (no polynomial equation with integer
coeIIicients has pi or e as a root.)
e (like pi) crops up in all sorts oI unlikely places, like computations oI compound interest. It
would take a book to explain, and Iortunately there is a book, Eli Maor`s e. The Story of a
Number. He also goes into the history oI logarithms, and the book is well worth getting Irom
your library.
Combining Logs with the Same ase
In a minute we`ll look at the various combinations. But Iirst you might want to know the general
principle: ogs re/uce operations by one eve ogs turn a multiplication into an addition, a
division into a subtraction, an exponent into a multiplication, and a radical into a division. Now
let`s see why, and look at some examples.
ultiply Numbers, Add Their Logarithms
Multiplying two expressions corresponds to adding their logarithms. Can we make sense oI this?
By the compact deIinition,
x b
log
b
x
and y b
log
b
y

and thereIore, substituting Ior x and y,
xy b
log
b
x
b
log
b
y

But when you multiply two powers oI the same base, you add their exponents. So the right-hand
side becomes
xy b
log
b
xlog
b
y

Now apply the compact deIinition to the leIthand side:
b
log
b
(xy)
xy
Combine that with the preceding equation to obtain
b
log
b
(xy)
b
og
b
xog
b
y

Now we have two powers oI the same base. II the powers are equal, then the exponents must also
be equal. ThereIore
log
b
(xy) log
b
x log
b
y
So what`s the bottom line? Multiplying two numbers and taking the log is the same as taking
their logs and adding.
Example 8: log
8
(x)log
8
(x) is the same as log
8
(xx) or just log
8
(x).
Example 9: log
10
(20)log
10
(50) log
10
(2050) log
10
(1000) 3.
Exponent, ultiply the Logarithm
Continuing our theme oI logarithms reducing the level oI operations, iI you have the yth power
oI a number and take the log, the result is y times the log oI the number. Here`s why, starting
with x
y
:
Start with the compact deIinition oI a logarithm:
x b
log
b
x

and raise both sides to the y power:
x
y
(b
log
b
x
)
y

A power oI a power is equivalent to just multiplying the exponents. SimpliIy the right-hand side:
x
y
b
(y log
b
x)

Rewrite the leIt-hand side using the compact deIinition oI a log:
b
log
b
(xy)
x
y

(The Iont may be hard to read: that`s x to the power y on leIt and right.) and combine the last two
equations:
b
log
b
(xy)
b
(y log
b
x)

II the powers are equal and the bases are equal, the exponents must be equal:
log
b
(x
y
) y log
b
x
Example 10: ln(2
6
) 6 ln 2 (where ln means log
e
, the natural logarithm).
Example 11: log
5
(5x) is not equal to 2 log
5
(5x). Be careIul with order oI operations! 5x is 5(x),
not (5x). log
5
(5x) must Iirst be decomposed as the log oI the product: log
5
5 log
5
(x). Then the
second term can use the power rule, log
5
(x) 2 log
5
x. The Iirst term is just 1. Summing up,
log
5
(5x) 1 2 log
5
x.
Raising Numbers to Any Power
The trick to evaluating expressions like 6.7
4.4
is to use the exponent rule and the log-as-inverse
deIinition:
x 6.7
4.4

log x 4.4 ( log 6.7 ) about 3.634729132
x 10
3.63472...
about 4312.5
There`s nothing special about base-10 logs here. The calculation could just as well be
x 6.7
4.4

ln x 4.4 ( ln 6.7 ) about 8.369273116
x e
8.36927...
about 4312.5
This will work Ior any positive base and any real exponent, so Ior example
x a
a

log x a (log a) about 1.561842388
x 10
1.5618...
about 36.46215961
You can combine this with the multiplying numbers adding logarithms rule to evaluate powers
that are too big Ior your calculator. For example, what is 671
217
?
x 671
217

log x 217 (log 671) about 613.3987869
Now, separate the integer and Iractional parts oI the logarithm.
log x about 0.3987869 613
x 10
0.3987869 613

x 10
0.3987869
10
613

x about 2.505 10
613

For examples like this, you really do have to use base-10 logs.
II the base is negative or the exponent is complex, see Powers and Roots oI a Complex Number.
Divide Numbers, Subtract Their Logarithms
Since division is the opposite oI multiplication, and subtraction is the opposite oI addition, it`s
not surprising that dividing two expressions corresponds to subtracting their logs. hile we
could go back again to the compact deIinition, it`s probably easier to use the two preceding
properties.
Start with the Iact that 1/y y
1
(see the deIinition oI negative exponents):
x/y x(1/y) xy
1

and take the log oI both sides:
log
b
(x/y) log
b
(xy
1
)
The right-hand side is the log oI a product, which becomes the sum oI the logs:
log
b
(x/y) log
b
x log
b
(y
1
)
and the second term is the log oI a power, which becomes (1) times the log, or just minus the
log:
log
b
(x/y) log
b
x log
b
y
In words, iI you divide and take the log, that`s the same as subtracting the individual logs.
Example 12: 6751545, and thereIore log
10
675 log
10
15 log
10
45. (Try it on your
calculator!)
Example 13: log(xy) log(xy) log(xy / xy) log(x/y) log(x) log(y).
Changing the ase
Now you have everything you need to change logarithms Irom one base to another. ook again
at the compact equation that deIines a log in base b:

To change the log Irom base b to another base (call it a), you want to Iind log
a
(x). Since you
already have x on one side oI the above equation, it seems like a good start is to take the base-a
log oI both sides:
log
a
(b
log
b
x
) log
a
x
But the leIt-hand side oI that equation is just the log oI a power. You remember that log(x
y
) is
just log(x) times y. So the equation simpliIies to
(log
a
b) (log
b
x) log
a
x
Notice that log
a
b is a constant. This means that the logs oI all numbers in a given base a are
proportional to the logs oI the same numbers in another base b, and the proportionality constant
log
a
b is the log oI one base in the other base. II you`re like me, you may have trouble
remembering whether to multiply or divide. II so, just derive the equation as you see, it takes
only two steps.
Some textbooks present the change-oI-base Iormula as a Iraction. To get the Iraction Irom the
above equation, simply divide by the proportionality constant log
a
b:
log
b
x (log
a
x) / (log
a
b)
Example 14: log
4
16 (log 16) / (log 4). (You can veriIy this with your calculator, since you
know log
4
16 must equal 2.)
Example 15: Most calculators can`t graph y log
3
x directly. But you can change the base to e
and easily plot y (ln x)(ln 3). (You could equally well use base 10.)
An interesting side road leads Irom the above Iormula. Replace x everywhere with a this is
legal since the Iormula is true Ior all positive a, b, and x. You get
log
b
a (log
a
a) / (log
a
b)
But log
a
a 1 (see og oI 1 above), so the Iormula becomes
log
b
a 1 / (log
a
b)
Example 16: log
10
e 1/(ln 10). (You can veriIy this with your calculator.)
Example 17: log
125
5 1/(log
5
125). This is easy to veriIy: 5
3
125, and 5 is the cube root oI 125.
ThereIore log
125
5 1/3 and log
5
125 3, and 1/3 does indeed equal 1/3.
Summary
The laws oI logarithms have been scattered through this longish page, so it might be helpIul to
collect them in one place. To make this even more amazingly helpIul grin~, the associated laws
oI exponents are shown here too.
For heaven`s sake, don`t try to memorize this table! Just use it to jog your memory as needed.
Better yet, since a log is an exponent, use the laws oI exponents to re-derive any property oI
logarithms that you may have Iorgotten. That way you`ll truly gain mastery oI this material, and
you`ll Ieel conIident about the operations.
exponents logarithms
(All laws apply Ior any positive a, b, x, and y.)
x b
y
is the same as y log
b
x
b
0
1 log
b
1 0
b
1
b log
b
b 1
b
(log
b
x)
x log
b
b
x
x
b
x
b
y
b
xy
log
b
(xy) log
b
x log
b
y
b
x
b
y
b
xy
log
b
(x/y) log
b
x log
b
y
(b
x
)
y
b
xy
log
b
(x
y
) y log
b
x
(log
a
b) (log
b
x) log
a
x
log
b
x (log
a
x) / (log
a
b)
log
b
a 1 / (log
a
b)
Don`t get creative! Most variations on the above are not valid.
Example 18: log (5x) is not the same as log 5 log x. As you know, log 5 log x log(5x),
not log(5x). ook careIully at the above table and you`ll see that there`s nothing you can do to
split up log(xy) or log(xy).
Example 19: (log x) / (log y) is not the same as log(x/y). In Iact, when you divide two logs to the
same base, you`re working the change-oI-base Iormula backward. Though it`s not oIten useIul,
(log x) / (log y) log
y
x. Just don`t write log(x/y)!
Example 20: (log 5)(log x) is not the same as log(5x). You know that log(5x) is log 5 log x.
There`s really not much you can do with the product oI two logs when they have the same base.
See also: Combining Operations (Distributive aws)
Conclusion
ell, there you have it: the laws oI logarithms demystiIied! The general rule is that logs simply
drop an operation down one level: exponents become multipliers, divisions become subtractions,
and so on. II ever you`re unsure oI an operation, like how to change base, work it out by using
the deIinition oI a log and applying the laws oI exponents, and you won`t go wrong.