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# Calculating Line Elements in Cylindrical and Spherical Coordinates by Corinne Manogue and Katherine Meyer c 1997 Corinne A.

Manogue Rectangular Coordinates: The arbitrary inﬁnitesimal displacement vector in Cartesian coordinates is: ˆ ˆ + dz k dr = dx ˆ ı + dy  Given the cube shown below, ﬁnd dr on each of the three paths, leading from a to b. Path 1: dr = Path 2: dr = Path 3: dr =
z

b path 3 a path 1 path 2 x y

The expression above for dr is valid for any path in rectangular coordinates. Find the appropriate expression for dr for the path which goes directly from a to c as drawn below. Path 4: dr =
z

a path 4 c x y

However, Cartesian coordinates would be a poor choice to describe a path on a cylindrically or spherically shaped surface. Next we will ﬁnd an appropriate expression in these cases.

by an inﬁnitesimal amount. Notice that. but dφ = 0 and dz = 0.Cylindrical Coordinates: SEE DIAGRAM ON NEXT PAGE You will now derive the general form for dr in cylindrical coordinates by determining dr along the speciﬁc paths below. dr = 0. only one coordinate r. ˆ direction is simply dr. Now. along any of these three paths. (i. φ. an inﬁnitesimal element of ˆ direction is not just dφ. .e. remembering that dr has both magnitude and direction. Path 1: dr = Path 2: dr = Path 3: dr = If all three coordinates are allowed to change simultaneously. along path 1. we could write this dr for any path as: dr = This is the general line element in cylindrical coordinates. Geometrically determine the length of the three paths leading from a to b and write these lengths in the corresponding boxes on the diagram. write down below the inﬁntesimal displacement vector dr along the three paths from a to b. But. just as an Note that an inﬁnitesmial element of length in the r inﬁnitesimal element of length in the ˆ ı direction is dx. or z is changing at a time. since this would be an angle and does not even have length in the φ the units of length.

φ.φ+ d φ.z path 3 length= (r+dr.z) path 1 length= path 2 length= y x φ dφ Line Elements in Cylindrical Coordinates .z+dz) =b a= (r.

along path 1. Path 1: dr = Path 2: dr = Path 3: dr = Be careful. ˆ or φ ˆ As in the cylindrical case. along any of these three paths. You will need to be more careful. note that an inﬁnitesmial element of length in the θ direction is not just dθ or dφ.e. remembering that dr has both magnitude and direction. dr = 0. . (i. by an inﬁnitesimal amount. only one coordinate r. this is the tricky one. θ. we could write this dr for any path as: dr = This is the general line element in spherical coordinates. or φ is changing at a time. but dθ = 0 and dφ = 0. Notice that.Spherical Coordinates: SEE DIAGRAM ON NEXT PAGE You will now derive the general form for dr in spherical coordinates by determining dr along the speciﬁc paths below. If all 3 coordinates are allowed to change simultaneously. Geometrically determine the length of the three paths leading from a to b and write these lengths in the corresponding boxes on the diagram. write down below the inﬁntesimal displacement vector dr along the three paths from a to b. Now.

θ+dθ .φ) =a path 2 length= b= path 3 length= (r+dr.φ +dφ ) θ dθ y φ x Line Elements in Spherical Coordinates dφ .z length= path 1 (r.θ .