# 2.1. Polynomial interpolation#

The United States carries out a census of its population every 10 years. Suppose we want to know the population at times in between the census years, or to estimate future populations. One technique is to find a polynomial that passes through all of the data points.1

Definition 2.1.1 :  Polynomial interpolation

Given $$n$$ points $$(t_1,y_1),\ldots,(t_n,y_n)$$, where the $$t_i$$ are all distinct, the polynomial interpolation problem is to find a polynomial $$p$$ of degree less than $$n$$ such that $$p(t_i)=y_i$$ for all $$i$$.

As posed in Definition 2.1.1, the polynomial interpolation problem has a unique solution. Once the interpolating polynomial is found, it can be evaluated anywhere to estimate or predict values.

## Interpolation as a linear system#

Given data $$(t_i,y_i)$$ for $$i=1,\ldots,n$$, we seek a polynomial

(2.1.1)#$p(t) = c_1 + c_{2} t + c_3t^2 + \cdots + c_{n} t^{n-1},$

such that $$y_i=p(t_i)$$ for all $$i$$. These conditions are used to determine the coefficients $$c_1\ldots,c_n$$:

$\begin{split}\begin{split} c_1 + c_2 t_1 + \cdots + c_{n-1}t_1^{n-2} + c_nt_1^{n-1} &= y_1, \\ c_1 + c_2 t_2 + \cdots + c_{n-1}t_2^{n-2} + c_nt_2^{n-1} &= y_2, \\ c_1 + c_2 t_3 + \cdots + c_{n-1}t_3^{n-2} + c_nt_3^{n-1} &= y_3, \\ \vdots \qquad & \\ c_1 + c_2 t_n + \cdots + c_{n-1}t_n^{n-2} + c_nt_n^{n-1} &= y_n. \end{split}\end{split}$

These equations form a linear system for the coefficients $$c_i$$:

(2.1.2)#$\begin{split} \begin{bmatrix} 1 & t_1 & \cdots & t_1^{n-2} & t_1^{n-1} \\ 1 & t_2 & \cdots & t_2^{n-2} & t_2^{n-1} \\ 1 & t_3 & \cdots & t_3^{n-2} & t_3^{n-1} \\ \vdots & \vdots & & \vdots & \vdots \\ 1 & t_n & \cdots & t_n^{n-2} & t_n^{n-1} \\ \end{bmatrix} \begin{bmatrix} c_1 \\ c_2 \\ c_3 \\ \vdots \\ c_n \end{bmatrix} = \begin{bmatrix} y_1 \\ y_2 \\ y_3 \\ \vdots \\ y_n \end{bmatrix},\end{split}$

or more simply, $$\mathbf{V} \mathbf{c} = \mathbf{y}$$. The matrix $$\mathbf{V}$$ is of a special type.

Definition 2.1.2 :  Vandermonde matrix

Given distinct values $$t_1,\ldots,t_n$$, a Vandermonde matrix for these values is the $$n\times n$$ matrix appearing in (2.1.2).

Polynomial interpolation can therefore be posed as a linear system of equations with a Vandermonde matrix.

Attention

Recall that the demos in this and later chapters omit the statement

using FundamentalsNumericalComputation


that is needed to run some of the statements.

Demo 2.1.3

We create two vectors for data about the population of China. The first has the years of census data and the other has the population, in millions of people.

year = [1982,2000,2010,2015];
pop = [1008.18, 1262.64, 1337.82, 1374.62];

t = year .- 1980.0
y = pop;

V = [ t[i]^j for i=1:4, j=0:3 ]

4×4 Matrix{Float64}:
1.0   2.0     4.0      8.0
1.0  20.0   400.0   8000.0
1.0  30.0   900.0  27000.0
1.0  35.0  1225.0  42875.0

c = V \ y

4-element Vector{Float64}:
962.2387878787877
24.12775468975476
-0.592262049062053
0.006843867243867301


The algorithms used by the backslash operator are the main topic of this chapter. As a check on the solution, we can compute the residual.

y - V*c

4-element Vector{Float64}:
0.0
0.0
0.0
2.2737367544323206e-13


Using floating-point arithmetic, it is not realistic to expect exact equality of quantities; a relative difference comparable to $$\macheps$$ is all we can look for.

p = Polynomial(c)    # construct a polynomial
p(2005-1980)         # include the 1980 time shift

1302.2043001443


The official population value for 2005 was 1303.72, so our result is rather good.

scatter(t,y, label="actual", legend=:topleft,
xlabel="years since 1980", ylabel="population (millions)",
title="Population of China")

# Choose 500 times in the interval [0,35].
tt = range(0,35,length=500)
# Evaluate the polynomial at all the vector components.
yy = p.(tt)
foreach(println,yy[1:4])

962.2387878787877
963.92820399633
965.611806828809
967.2896105457507

plot!(tt,yy,label="interpolant")


## Exercises#

1. Suppose you want to interpolate the points $$(-1,0)$$, $$(0,1)$$, $$(2,0)$$, $$(3,1)$$, and $$(4,2)$$ by a polynomial of as low a degree as possible.

(a) ✍ What is the maximum necessary degree of this polynomial?

(b) ✍ Write out a linear system of equations for the coefficients of the interpolating polynomial.

(c) ⌨ Use Julia to solve the system in (b) numerically.

2. (a) ✍ Say you want to find a cubic polynomial $$p$$ such that $$p(-1) =-2$$, $$p'(-1) =1$$, $$p(1) = 0$$, and $$p'(1) =-1$$. (This is known as a Hermite interpolant.) Write out a linear system of equations for the coefficients of $$p$$.

(b) ⌨ Use Julia to solve the linear system in part (a), and make a plot of $$p$$ over $$-1 \le x \le 1$$.

3. ⌨ Here are population figures (in millions) for three countries over a 30-year period (from United Nations World Population Prospects, 2019).

1990

2000

2010

2020

United States

252.120

281.711

309.011

331.003

India

873.278

1,056.576

1,234.281

1,380.004

Poland

37.960

38.557

38.330

37.847

(a) Use cubic polynomial interpolation to estimate the population of the USA in 2005.

(b) Use cubic polynomial interpolation to estimate when the population of Poland peaked during this time period.

(c) Use cubic polynomial interpolation to make a plot of the Indian population over this period. Your plot should be well labeled and show a smooth curve as well as the original data points.

4. ⌨ Here are the official population figures for the state of Delaware, USA, every ten years from 1790 to 1900: 59096, 64273, 72674, 72749, 76748, 78085, 91532, 112216, 125015, 146608, 168493, 184735. For this problem, use

$t = \frac{\text{year} - 1860}{10}$

as the independent (time) variable.

(a) Using only the data from years 1860 to 1900, plot the interpolating polynomial over the same range of years. Add the original data points to your plot as well.

(b) You might assume that adding more data will make the interpolation better. But this is not always the case. Use all the data above to create an interpolating polynomial of degree 11, and then plot that polynomial over the range 1860 to 1900. In what way is this fit clearly inferior to the previous one? (This phenomenon is studied in Chapter 9.)

1

We’re quite certain that the U.S. Census Bureau uses more sophisticated modeling techniques than the one we present here!