The Basel problem was first posed in 1644 by Pietro Mengoli, author of the Novae quadraturae arithmeticae. It was to find the value of the sum

whose terms are the reciprocals of the positive square numbers.

Mengoli’s problem remained intractable for a lifetime (91 years) before it was famously solved by Leonhard Euler in 1735, who showed that

Later work by Bernhard Riemann defined the **zeta function **as

where is a complex number.

Thus the formula given by Euler is commonly written as .

**Proof 1:**

We begin with Euler’s original proof of the theorem. Like all of Euler’s groundbreaking work it is a true jewel of the imagination.

Consider the MacLaurin expansion of .

The solutions to occur when . Thus we may factorise as

The factor of follows from the MacLaurin expansion given above. Collecting pairs of factors as the difference of two squares we have

The coeffecient of in the MacLaurin expansion of is . The coeffecient of in the product representation is

as the contributions to the coefficient of come from the factor multiplied with exactly one of the factors. Equating coefficients we have

and thus

as required.

Some technical issues are ignored in the proof above. Notably, how are we certain that the representation of the sine function as a product of linear factors is a permissible one? The necessary mathematical formalism to answer this question was provided by Weierstrass. See for example [4] which covers these details. Perhaps this treatment leaves some doubt as to the uniqueness of the series representation and the validity of equating coefficients in the final step of the proof. These are valid concerns which will not be dealt with here.

**Proof 2:**

The second proof is due to Apostol [1] and appeared in the in 1983 Mathematical Intelligencer. Apostol is a common noun to mathematical students everywhere owing to his seminal calculus textbook. Apostol’s proof has the advantage of being the work of a man rather than a magician. Apostol was lost to the world on May 8, 2016 at 92 years old. You may see for yourself (e.g in this lecture given in 2013) that he remained sharp until the end.

Consider the following integral

We will show that . Considering the domain of integration , we may write as the geometric series

and substituting this into the double integral we have

We now ‘double count’ by evaluating the integral in a different way. We rotate the coordinate axes by 45 degrees, so that the point maps to where

so that becomes .

The region of integration becomes the square with vertices in the -plane.

Symmetry of the integral about the diagonal allows us to write

The reason for making this transformation is that is allows us to write the unknown integral in terms of a known formula for the inverse tangent function. Namely the identity

Thus

and

so that

Let these two integrals be and respectively. Making the substitution in so that it follows that and by the Pythagorean identity Hence and therefore . Substituting this information into gives

The second integral may be handled using a similar process. We make the change of coordinates so that

Finally

Substituting the information above into the integral , the calculation is reduced to

And therefore

as expected.

Maybe I was wrong to say Apostol was not a magician…

**Proof 3 **

The final proof comes from a math.stackexchange post (and possibly elsewhere) where several other methods for showing are also given. The proof relies on the expansion of the function on the domain into its Fourier series.

where

for and

for We note immediately that for as is an even function, is an odd function, and the product of an odd and even function is an odd function.

Calculating the initial coefficient

For

Integrating by parts twice gives (up to an additive constant)

As and for integer values of it follows that

Thus we have the Fourier series expansion

As

Thus .

It is interesting that the evaluation occurs on the boundary of the domain. The final evaluation at seems like a remarkable confluence. This method may also be used to calculate the values of for . I still wonder what intuition guides these proofs. For now it will have to be enough that they are beautiful.

**References
**

**[1]** Apostol, T. M. “A Proof That Euler Missed: Evaluating the Easy Way.” *Math. Intel.* **5**, 59-60, 1983.

**[2]**F. Beukers, “A note on the irrationality of and , Bull. Lon. Math. Soc. 11, 268-272, 1979.

**[3]** O’Connor, J.J. and Robertson, E.F. “Pietro Mengoli” http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Mengoli.html

**[4]** Sullivan, B.W. “Numerous Proofs of ” http://math.cmu.edu/~bwsulliv/MathGradTalkZeta2.pdf

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