2003 AMC 12A Problems/Problem 25


Let $f(x)= \sqrt{ax^2+bx}$. For how many real values of $a$ is there at least one positive value of $b$ for which the domain of $f$ and the range of $f$ are the same set?

$\mathrm{(A) \ 0 } \qquad \mathrm{(B) \ 1 } \qquad \mathrm{(C) \ 2 } \qquad \mathrm{(D) \ 3 } \qquad \mathrm{(E) \ \mathrm{infinitely \ many} }$


The function $f(x) = \sqrt{x(ax+b)}$ has a codomain of all non-negative numbers, or $0 \le f(x)$. Since the domain and the range of $f$ are the same, it follows that the domain of $f$ also satisfies $0 \le x$.

The function has two zeroes at $x = 0, \frac{-b}{a}$, which must be part of the domain. Since the domain and the range are the same set, it follows that $\frac{-b}{a}$ is in the codomain of $f$, or $0 \le \frac{-b}{a}$. This implies that one (but not both) of $a,b$ is non-positive. If $a$ is positive, then $\lim_{x \rightarrow -\infty} ax^2 + bx \ge 0$, which implies that a negative number falls in the domain of $f(x)$, contradiction. Thus $a$ must be non-positive, $b$ is non-negative, and the domain of the function occurs when $x(ax+b) > 0$, or

$0 \le x \le \frac{-b}{a}.$

Completing the square, $f(x) = \sqrt{a\left(x + \frac{b}{2a}\right)^2 - \frac{b^2}{4a}} \le \sqrt{\frac{-b^2}{4a}}$ by the Trivial Inequality (remember that $a \le 0$). Since $f$ is continuous and assumes this maximal value at $x = \frac{-b}{2a}$, it follows that the range of $f$ is

$0 \le f(x) \le \sqrt{\frac{-b^2}{4a}}.$

As the domain and the range are the same, we have that $\frac{-b}{a} = \sqrt{\frac{-b^2}{4a}} = \frac{b}{2\sqrt{-a}} \Longrightarrow a(a+4) = 0$ (we can divide through by $b$ since it is given that $b$ is positive). Hence $a = 0, -4$, which both we can verify work, and the answer is $\mathbf{(C)}$.

See Also

2003 AMC 12A (ProblemsAnswer KeyResources)
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