Trisectrix of Maclaurin


In geometry, the trisectrix of Maclaurin is a cubic plane curve notable for its trisectrix property, meaning it can be used to trisect an angle. It can be defined as locus of the point of intersection of two lines, each rotating at a uniform rate about separate points, so that the ratio of the rates of rotation is 1:3 and the lines initially coincide with the line between the two points. A generalization of this construction is called a sectrix of Maclaurin. The curve is named after Colin Maclaurin who investigated the curve in 1742.

Maclaurin's Trisectrix as the locus of the intersection of two rotating lines


Let two lines rotate about the points   and   so that when the line rotating about   has angle   with the x axis, the rotating about   has angle  . Let   be the point of intersection, then the angle formed by the lines at   is  . By the law of sines,


so the equation in polar coordinates is (up to translation and rotation)


The curve is therefore a member of the Conchoid of de Sluze family.

In Cartesian coordinates the equation of this curve is


If the origin is moved to (a, 0) then a derivation similar to that given above shows that the equation of the curve in polar coordinates becomes


making it an example of a limacon with a loop

The trisection propertyEdit

The Trisectrix of Maclaurin showing the angle trisection property

Given an angle  , draw a ray from   whose angle with the  -axis is  . Draw a ray from the origin to the point where the first ray intersects the curve. Then, by the construction of the curve, the angle between the second ray and the  -axis is  

Notable points and featuresEdit

The curve has an x-intercept at   and a double point at the origin. The vertical line   is an asymptote. The curve intersects the line x = a, or the point corresponding to the trisection of a right angle, at  . As a nodal cubic, it is of genus zero.

Relationship to other curvesEdit

The trisectrix of Maclaurin can be defined from conic sections in three ways. Specifically:

and the line   relative to the origin.

In addition:


  • J. Dennis Lawrence (1972). A catalog of special plane curves. Dover Publications. pp. 36, 95, 104–106. ISBN 0-486-60288-5.
  • Weisstein, Eric W. "Maclaurin Trisectrix". MathWorld.
  • "Trisectrix of Maclaurin" at MacTutor's Famous Curves Index
  • Maclaurin Trisectrix at
  • "Trisectrix of Maclaurin" at Visual Dictionary Of Special Plane Curves

External linksEdit

  • Loy, Jim "Trisection of an Angle", Part VI