UW AMath High Performance Scientific Computing
AMath 483/583 Class Notes
Spring Quarter, 2013

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Lab 8: Thursday April 24, 2014

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Lab 10: Tuesday May 1, 2014

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Lab 9: Tuesday April 29, 2014

Programming problem

Work on this in groups!

Write a Fortran program to compute the roots of a quadratic equation and determine the absolute and relative error in the roots computed. The program should do the following:

  • Prompt the user and then read in the desired roots x1true and x2true (See the example below).
  • Determine the coefficients a, b, c so that the quadratic equation \(a x^2 + bx + c =0\) has the desired roots (you can set a=1).
  • Using a,b,c, compute the roots x1 and x2 by using the quadratic formula.
  • Print out the “true” and computed values for each root along with the absolute and relative error in each.

So you should be able to do something like this:

$ gfortran quadratic.f90
$ ./a.out
 input x1true, x2true:
2.5, 3

Coefficients:  a =     0.100000E+01  b =    -0.550000E+01  c = 0.750000E+01

Root x1  computed:  0.250000000000000E+01  true:  0.250000000000000E+01
         absolute error:     0.000000E+00  relative error:     0.000000E+00

Root x2  computed:  0.300000000000000E+01  true:  0.300000000000000E+01
         absolute error:     0.000000E+00  relative error:     0.000000E+00

Don’t worry too much about the formatting but you might want to print out 15 digits in the computed roots.

You might want to assume the values are entered with x1true <= x2true so you know which root from the quadratic equations goes with which original value. (And print out an informative error message otherwise.)

Test it out

Test a variety of values to see that it’s working.

Once it’s working on reasonable values, try the following:

  • x1 = 1e-12, x2 = 2
  • x1 = -2, x2 = 1e-12

In each case you should find that one root is computed accurately but the other root has a large relative error (few digits of accuracy).

Figure out why “catastrophic cancellation” is the problem.


  • Improve the code by noticing that if one root is calculated accurately, the other root can be calculated from the fact that x1 * x2 = c.
  • Remove the assumption that x1true <= x2true.