2D Generalizations of Viviani's Theorem

Viviani's Theorem is named after Vincenzo Viviani, a 17th century mathematician, who was a student of Evangelista Torricelli, the inventor of the barometer. The theorem states the surprising result that the sum of the (perpendicular) distances from a point to the sides of an equilateral triangle is constant. The theorem generalizes to polygons that are equilateral or equi-angled, or to 2n-gons with opposite sides parallel as shown respectively by the three interactive sketches below. Drag point P or any of the red vertices to explore the results.

A learning activity with a worksheet that guides learners to discover and formulate Viviani's theorem, and to explain why (prove) that it is true, together with the further explorations below, is given in my book Rethinking Proof with Sketchpad.

"The process of generalization, instead of leading from elements to classes, leads from classes to classes ... we shall regard abstraction as class formation, and generalization as class extension ...." - Zoltan Dienes (1961, pp. 282; 296). On Abstraction and Generalization. Harvard Educational Review, 31(3), pp. 281-301.

Please install Java (version 1.4 or later) to use JavaSketchpad applets.

Equilateral pentagon distances

Please install Java (version 1.4 or later) to use JavaSketchpad applets.

Equi-angled pentagon distances

Click on the Show Hint button for constructing a logical explanation (proof) for the above result, or if you're really stuck, go to my 2005 paper in Mathematics in School at: Crocodiles and Polygons.

Please install Java (version 1.4 or later) to use JavaSketchpad applets.

Parallel-hexagon distances

Note that the results hold even when P is outside the polygon, or outside a pair of parallel lines, provided we regard distances respectively falling completely outside the polygon or outside the parallel lines as negative; in other words using directed distances (or equivalently, vectors). However, Sketchpad does not measure 'negative' distances, so dragging P outside will appear to no longer give a constant sum.

Further Generalizations

Viviani's theorem can be even further generalized by constructing lines to the sides of the above sets of polygons so that they form equal angles with the sides as shown with a dynamic sketch at Further generalizations of Viviani's theorem.

The theorem also generalizes to 3D as shown at 3D Generalizations of Viviani's Theorem.

A Variation on Viviani

An interesting variation of Viviani's theorem was experimentally discovered by a schoolboy, Clough, in 2003 and is available at: Clough's Theorem and some generalizations.

This page uses JavaSketchpad, a World-Wide-Web component of The Geometer's Sketchpad. Copyright © 1990-2011 by KCP Technologies, Inc. Licensed only for non-commercial use.

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Updated by Michael de Villiers, 5 May 2013.