Chebyshev (or Tchebycheff) polynomials are a class of mutually orthogonal polynomials (with respect to the inner product: ) defined on the interval . Yes, I realize that this is an improper integral, but it does converge in our setting.

These are used in approximation theory; here are a couple of uses:

1. The roots of the Chebyshev polynomial can be used to find the values of that minimize the maximum of over the interval . This is important in minimizing the error of the Lagrange interpolation polynomial.

2. The Chebyshev polynomial can be used to adjust an approximating Taylor polynomial to increase its accuracy (away from the center of expansion) without increasing its degree.

The purpose of this note isn’t to discuss the utility but rather to discuss an interesting property that these polynomials have. The Wiki article on these polynomials is reasonably good for that purpose.

Let’s discuss the polynomials themselves. They are defined for all positive integers as follows:

. Now, it is an interesting exercise in trig identities to discover that these ARE polynomials to begin with; one shows this to be true for, say, by using angle addition formulas and the standard calculus resolution of things like . Then one discovers a relation: to calculate the rest.

The definition allows for some properties to be calculated with ease: the zeros occur when and the first derivative has zeros where ; these ALL correspond to either an endpoint max/min at or local max and mins whose values are also . Here are the graphs of

Now here is a key observation: the graph of a forms spanning arcs in the square and separates the square into regions. So, if there is some other function whose graph is a connected, piecewise smooth arc that is transverse to the graph of that both spans the square from to and that stays within the square, that graph must have points of intersection with the graph of .

Now suppose that is the graph of a polynomial of degree whose leading coefficient is and whose graph stays completely in the square . Then the polynomial has degree (because the leading terms cancel via the subtraction) but has roots (the places where the graphs cross). That is clearly impossible; hence the only such polynomial is .

This result is usually stated in the following way: is normalized to be monic (have leading coefficient 1) by dividing the polynomial by and then it is pointed out that the normalized is the unique monic polynomial over that stays within for all . All other monic polynomials have a graph that leaves that box at some point over .

Of course, one can easily cook up analytic functions which don’t leave the box but these are not monic polynomials of degree .