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APPENDIX A

CURVES

A.1

For n = 2 or 3, a smooth parametrized curve is a subset of W1 of the form

{C(t)\te(a,b)}
where C(f ) : (a,b) Rn is assumed to be at least twice differentiable, and C'(f) 7^ 0
for any in (a, b). It is quite common to think of the function C(t) itself as the curve,
and such will be the case here as well. Thus, Ci (t) = (i2,cosf) is a curve in R 2 , and
C2(i) = (cosf,sini,i) isacurveinR 3 for any domain (,fe), but 03(f) = ( 2 ,||) and
C4(i) = ( 3 , 2 ) fail to be curves for any domain (a,b) that contains 0. Of course,
both C3(i) and C^t) are smooth parametrized curves over any domain (a,b) that
does not contain 0. In general, the domain (a,b) will be left unspecified, and it will
be assumed that every curve is in fact smooth and parametrized.
An arc of the curve C(t) is any portion that corresponds to a closed subinterval
[a, b] of the curve's domain. The length of such an arc is defined as
fb

/ \C'{t)\dt.
Ja
Introduction to Topology and Geometry, Second Edition.
By Saul Stahl and Catherine Stenson Copyright 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

429

430

APPENDIX A

Figure A.l

Arclength.

This definition is justified by the following informal argument. In Figure A.l let ds
denote the length of a small arc of the curve C(i) = (x(t),y(t)) in R 2 . Then
ds Vdx2 + dy2 y/[x?(t)dt]2 + \/(t)]2dt
= ^[x'{t)]2 + \y<{t)]2dt =

\C\t)\dt.

(1)

The justification of this definition for curves in R 3 is relegated to Exercise 7.

Example A.1.1 Find the lengths of the arcs of the curves C\(t) = (, 2 , 3 ) and
C 2 (i) = (cosr,sinf,i) for 1 < t < 2.
These lengths are respectively
/2

/ \J\+4t2
and

/2

\/sin 2 i + c o s 2 i + l d f = / y/ldt = y/l.

Every curve of the form y = f(x) can be converted into the parametrized curve
C(i) = (f,/(r)). Its arc over the interval [c,d] has length

fc \C\t)\dt = J" y/l + \f(t)]*dt = J" V+72dx.

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431

3
2
1
f= 0

-1
-2
-3
Figure A.2

A parametrized curve.

Theorem A.1.2 Let C(t) be a curve. Then C'(to) is parallel to the tangent to C(t) at
C(to), and |C;(io)| is the instantaneous rate with which this parametrization traces
the curve at C(to).
PROOF: By definition
C'(,o)=limC(*
/-)

Af)

At

-C(fo).

Since (l/At)[C(t0 + ) - C(/0)] is parallel to the chord from C(t0) to C(i 0 + ),

and since the tangent line at C(io) is the limiting position of this chord, it follows
that C'(io) is parallel to the tangent at C(fo)
Let As denote the length of the arc of C(f ), to <t < to + At. The instantaneous
speed with which the curve is traced out by the paramter t at C(fn) is

/-) At

/->0

At

which limit, by the Mean Value Theorem for integrals, has value |C'(io) |.

Q.E.D.

Example A.1.3 The curve C(i) = (t2,t) of Figure A.2 has the points corresponding to t 3, 2, 1, 0, 1, 2, 3 marked on it. The different lengths of the arcs
determined by these points are roughly proportional to the corresponding values of
|C'(0| = \ / l + 4 i 2 .
The parameter s of the curve C(s) is said to be an arclengthparameter if |C'(.s) | =
1 for all s in the domain.

432

APPENDIX A

C(i) = D(s)

Figure A.3

Example A.1.4 In the curve C(s) = (I/y/2)(coss,sins,s),s

eter, because
\C'(s)\ = - ^ \ / s i n 2 s + c o s 2 s + l =
1

Wl

V2

is an arclength param-

=y/l=\.

\/2

Theorem A.1.5 Every curve has an arclength parametrization.

PROOF: Let C(t) be a curve with a point A on it. The point A divides the curve into
two parts of which one (it doesn't matter which one) is designated as positive and
the other as negative. If s is a positive (negative) number, let D(s) denote that point
P on the positive (negative) part such that the arc of O(s) from A to P has length \s\.
Define the function t = t(s) by the equation
C(f(s))=D(5),
and let s = s(t) be its inverse.
Then

ID'WI

CM

|C(0

ds/dt

|C(0I-

C'(0I

Q.E.D.

Example A. 1.6 For the semicircle C(r) = (\/l 2 ,), - 1 < t < 1, set A = (1,0),
and designate the upper part as the positive direction (Fig. A.3). Then

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Curve

433

Tangent
line

Unit
tangent
O

Figure A.4

Tangents.

and hence

s(t)=f\C(T)\dx=f
Jo

dx
Jo

= sin

VT

t.

O(s) =C(t(s)) = ( v 1 sin2 A, sin ) = (cos s, sin s).

For any curve C(f ), the unit tangent is
T(f):

C'(f)

|C(0I"

We note in passing that while the tangent line to a curve is visualized at its point of
contact with the curve, the unit tangent is anchored at the origin (Fig. A.4).
Example A.1.7 If C(t) = (a\ + b\t,a2 + b2t,a3 + bit), then
C/(f) = (*i,&2,&3)

and

T(0 =

+ ^ + '

which, as expected, is a constant.

Example A.1.8 If C(t) = (cosi,sini,i), then
C'(f) = (-sini,cosi,l)

( = -r=(-cosi,sini,l).
V2
Here C is a helix, and T rotates about the origin while keeping a constant angle to
the xy-plane.
Example A.1.9 If C(f) = (t,t2,t3),
C'(i) = (l,2i,3i 2 )

and

then
and

T(i) =

(l,2f,3f 2 )
> / l + 4 i 2 + 9i 4 "

434

APPENDIX A

The curvature of a curve C(t) is a measure of the rate at which it is changing direction (relative to the traversed distance). Since the direction of a curve is specified
by its unit tangent, it follows from Theorem A. 1.2 that the curvature of C should
equal
dT\
dt
1T'(Q|
=ds
\ds\
\dt \

lew

Example A.1.10 For the curve C(t) = (a\ -\-b\t,ci2 + ^2^,3 H-^3i), wehaveT^f) =
0, whereas C'(f) 0 and hence : = 0.
Example A.1.11 For the curve C(f) = (cosi,sini,/), wehaveC'(i) = (sini,cosi, 1),
T'(f) = (cosi,sin/,0), and hence
|T'(Q

_1_

|C(0

V2'

Example A.1.12 For the curve C(i) = (, 2 , 3 ),

T(t) :

|'

(-4-183,2-184,6+123)
( l + 4 i 2 + 9f 4 ) 3 / 2
/4 + 52; 2 + 216r4 + 468r6-+ 324;8
(1+4 2 + 9 4 ) 3 / 2
'

fC =

(1+9 2 + 9 4 ) 2
'

In the interest of brevity the derivative dT(t{s))/ds will be abbreviated to dT/ds,

where s denotes the arclength parameter of C(t). Note that since T is a unit vector,
=1.
When this equation is differentiated with respect to s, we get
dT ^ ^ dT
.T + T. = 0
ds
ds
and hence

JT
T = 0.
ds
It follows that the vector dT/ds is orthogonal to the direction of C. For this reason,
the principal normal to C(t) is defined as the unit vector
N = ~ds
dT

"57

l d T

K ds '

(2)

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435

Example A.1.13 For the curve C(t) = (cosi,sini,f), set A = (1,0,0), so that
s(t) = / Vcos 2 T + s i n 2 T + l d r = Vt,
Jo
Hence
D(,)=(cos-^sin-^
is the arclength parametrization of C(f ). Consequently,
T

= D '

dT

1/

and

^ H~

( i

) ^ ( - s i ^ , c o s - ^ )

C0S

7i'~

sin

7rV

N = (1 cos= , sinT=,0
y/l

y/l

Theorem A.1.14 Let C(t) be a curve, and let ' and " denote first and second derivatives with respect to t. Then

_ \a x c"i

PROOF: Let D(s) be the arclength parametrization of C(t). By the chain rule,
dC
dDds
*- = ~ rat~ as
~i~~r
at

=s

*i

ds dt

and hence

s"T + S'2KN,

C' x C" = " x T + / 3 i c T x N.

However, since T and N are othogonal unit vectors, it follows that T x N is also a
unit vector. Hence
|C'XC"|=S'3K:,

[CxC'l

ic'xC'i

*-?5-HepExample A.1.15 For the curve C(f) = (t,t ,t ) we have

C(f) = (l,2f,3f 2 ),
C"(i) = (0,2,6i),

QED

436

APPENDIX A

and hence

C ' x C " = (6i 2 ,-6i,2).

Consequently,
K =

\C x C"|

|C'p

V36r4 + 36i 2 + 4
~ (1+4 2 + 94)3/2 -

/ 94 + 9 2 + 1
y ( 9 4 + 4 2 + 1 ) 3

The reader should take note of the fact that both the derivation and the final answer
here are simpler than those in Example A. 1.12.
Example A.1.16 The plane graph of y f(x) can be placed in R3 as the curve
C(f) - (i,/(i),0) with C'(f) = ( l , / ( i ) , 0 ) and C"(t) = (0,/"(i),0). It follows that
its curvature is
IC'xC'l

|(0,0,/")| _
1 3

(x/+7 )

"/13

\f"\

(i+/' 2 ) 3/2 '

The signed curvature of a plane curve is *, where the positive value is used if and
only if the curve is turning counterclockwise.
For a given curve C(f ), the vector
B(f ) = T(0 x N(0
is called the binormal of C(f ). It is clear that the vectors T, N, B form an orthonormal
triple. The arclength derivatives of these vectors are used to describe how the curve
twists through space. Let s be an arclength parameter of C. Since B B = 1, it follows
by differentiation with respect to the arclength s that
. B = 0.
ds
dB
dT
dN
= - - + = : + 0 = 0.
ds
ds
ds
The two equations above imply that dB/ds is orthogonal to both B and T. Since N
is also orthogonal to these two vectors, it follows that there exists a scalar function
, called the torsion of C, such that
= -.
ds
We will describe how this function is computed and used after the above considerations are summarized.

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437

Theorem A.1.17 (Frenet-Serret formulas) Let s be an arclength parameter of the

curve C. Then
as
= - + ,
as
dB

= -.
PROOF: It only remains to proveas
the second of the three equations. This, however,
follows by differentiating the equation N = B x T with respect to s:
-B

ds
ds
ds
= B x : - = -- + .

Q.E.D.

Proposition A.1.18 The curve C is a straight line if and only ifK = 0. It is a plane
curve if and only ifx = 0.
PROOF: If C is a straight line, then , and it follows from the first of the FrenetSerret equations that = 0.
If C is a plane curve, then both T and N lie in a plane parallel to that of C. The
binormal B must then be one of the two normals to this plane, and it is therefore
constant. It follows from the third equation that .
If s is arclength and K = 0, then by the first equation dT/ds = 0 and hence T =
dC/ds is constant. It follows that
C(s)=sE + F
for some constant vectors E and F. In other words, C is a straight line.
If = 0, then, by the third equation, B is constant. Set
f(s) =

(C(J)

- C(0)) B

for all s.

Then

df
dC
B = T B = 0.
ds
ds
In other words, f(s) is constant. Since /(0) = 0, it follows that

-4- = ^

(C(J)-C(0))-B = 0

for all s

implying that C(s) is contained in the plane orthogonal to B and containing the point
C(0).
Q.E.D.
Proposition A.1.18 makes it reasonable to regard the torsion as a measure of the
nonplanarity of the curve. There is a straightforward analog of Theorem A. 1.14 for
the computation of the torsion.

438

APPENDIX A

Theorem A.1.19 If ' denotes differentiation with respect to t, then the torsion of
C(t) is given by
T

C'xC"-C"'

|C'xC"| 2 '

PROOF: The following equations are easily verified, and the details are relegated to
Exercise 7:
C " = / T + K:(/)2N,

(3)
(4)

C x C" = K{S')%

C'" = [s'"-

CV) ]T+

c'xc-r

(5)

D(6)

= \axcr '

A curve C is said to be a cylindrical helix provided there is a fixed unit vector

A such that the angle from T to A is a constant . Equivalently, T A = cos# is
constant. For example, the helix
C(t) =

(acost,asint,bt)

is a cylindrical helix with A = (0,0,1).

Proposition A.1.20 The curve C with K>0is a cylindrical helix if and only ifx/K
is a constant
PROOF: Let ' denote differentiation with respect to an arclength parameter of the
cylindrical helix C with T A = cos . Then
0 = ( ) / = , = .
Since : > 0, it follows that N A = 0, and consequently A lies in the plane spanned
by T and B. Since all these vectors have unit length,
A = cos0T + sin0B.
Differentiation and the first and third Frenet-Serret formulas yield
0 = KTcosN-TsinN.
or
/ cot = constant
Conversely, suppose > 0 and / is constant. Let = cot - 1 (/). If we set
A = cos0T + sin0B,

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439

then, again by the Frenet-Serret formulas,

A' = ( K-COS - sin 0)N = 0.

It follows that A is a constant unit vector such that T A is also constant.

Q.E.D.

Proposition A.1.21 The curve C is part of a circle if and only if it has constant
nonzero curvature and its torsion vanishes everywhere.
PROOF: Suppose C is part of a circle. After a rotation and/or a translation it may
be assumed that C lies in the xy-plane and is centered at the origin, so that it has
arclength parametrization
C(s) =

r(cos(s/r),sin(s/r),0),

where r is the radius of the circle. It is then easily verified by means of Theorems
A. 1.14 and A. 1.18 that = \/r = constant, and is identically 0.
Conversely, suppose 0 is constant and vanishes everywhere. It follows from
Proposition A. 1.18 that C is planar. We next show that if s is an arclength parameter
of C, then the point

O(s)=C(s) + K(s)
is constant. When the equation above is differentiated with respect to s, we get
D ' ( ) = C'(i) + - N ' ( J ) = T + - ( - J C T + xB) = T - T = 0.

Hence, O(s) is a constant point, say D. Since the distance of C(.s) from this point D
is the constant l/fc, and since C is known to be planar, it follows that it is also part
of a circle.
Q.E.D.
Exercises A
1. Suppose

(,

^-'*--)

- 1<,<L

(a) Show that this is an arclength parametrization.

(b) Show that = l/y/S(l-s2)
(c) Show that

(,)=(^,^^,0
2. Compute the curvature of the curve
C(s) = ( p=cosi,sini, y=cost I .
,V2
V2

440

APPENDIX A

3. Let (x(t),y(t)) be a parametrized plane curve. Show that

K

\x'y"-x"y'\

(y2 + y2)3/2-

4. The curve C(i) = (coshi, sinht,t) is known as the hyperbolic helix. Show that its curvature is l/(2cosh 2 i).
5. Let denote the inclination of the tangent line to the graph of y = f(x) to the x-axis.
Prove that /ds equals the signed curvature.
6. Suppose f(x) = Ax2 + g(*), where 0 = g'(0) = g"(0). Then the signed curvature of
y = f(x) at;c = 0is2A.
7. Prove Equations (3)-(6).
8. Suppose C(i) is a curve in M3, A is a fixed 3-vector, and B is a fixed 3 x 3 rotation
matrix. Set D(i) = C(i) + A, E(r) = BC(f). Prove that

9. Evaluate the curvature and torsion of the following curves:

(a) C(t) = {3t-t3,3t2,3t

+ t3).

(b) C(i) = (i sini, 1 - c o s i , i ) .

(c) C(i) = (l+cos2r,sin2i,2sini).
(d) C(t) =

(t,t2,t3).