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A Guide to Differential Length, Area, and Volume

x " (#$,$) dx
Cartesian y " (#$,$) dy
z " (#$,$) dz
! ! !
r " [0,#) dr
! ! !
Cylindrical " " [0,2# ] r " d#
! ! !
z " (#$,$) dz
! ! !
r " [0,#) dr
! ! !
Spherical " " [0, # ] r " d#
! " ! ! r " sin # " d$
" [0,2# ]
! ! !
If I want to form a differential area dA I just multiply the two differential lengths that
! ! !
from the area together. For example, if I wanted to from some differential area by
sweeping out two!angles " and " in!spherical coordinates, ! my dA would be given by:

! dA = r 2 sin " # d$ # d"

Last let me consider


! the volume integral of some function
! f that is just a function of the
!
radius ( i.e. f " f (r) ).
!
R % 2%

&&& f (r) " dV = & & & f (r) "!r 2 sin # " dr " d# " d$ =
! r= 0# = 0$ = 0
2% % R
= & d$ & sin# " d# &r 2
f (r) " dr
$= 0 #=0 r= 0
R
= 4% " &r 2
f (r) " dr
r= 0

Hence, I have converted by volume integral into a regular old one-dimensional integral!
2# #
The 4 " that
! came from the $ d" $ sin% & d% is often referred to as the “solid angle”.
"= 0 %=0
Since these two terms are cumbersome to write, that is, just too much to write for lazy
physicists, the following short hand is often used:
! 2# #
! $ d" $ sin% & d% = $ d'
"= 0 %=0
where the limits of integration are understood. This d" , or rather, the integral over it, is
the mystifying solid angle, which, when explained, is (hopefully) not so mystifying!
!
!