Surface area

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Surface area is the measure of how much exposed area a solid object has, expressed in square units. Mathematical description of the surface area is considerably more involved than the definition of arc length of a curve. For polyhedra (objects with flat polygonal faces) the surface area is the sum of the areas of its faces. Smooth surfaces, such as a sphere, are assigned surface area using their representation as parametric surfaces. This definition of the surface area is based on methods of infinitesimal calculus and involves partial derivatives and double integration.

General definition of surface area was sought by Henri Lebesgue and Hermann Minkowski at the turn of the twentieth century. Their work led to the development of geometric measure theory which studies various notions of surface area for irregular objects of any dimension. An important example is the Minkowski content of a surface.


Definition of surface area

While areas of many simple surfaces have been known since antiquity, a rigorous mathematical definition of area requires a lot of care. Surface area is an assignment

of a positive real number to a certain class of surfaces that satisfies several natural requirements. The most fundamental property of the surface area is its additivity: the area of the whole is the sum of the areas of the parts. More rigorously, if a surface S is a union of finitely many pieces S1, …, Sr which do not overlap except at their boundaries then

Surface areas of flat polygonal shapes must agree with their geometrically defined area. Since surface area is a geometric notion, areas of congruent surfaces must be the same and area must depend only on the shape of the surface, but not on its position and orientation in space. This means that surface area is invariant under the group of Euclidean motions. These properties uniquely characterize surface area for a wide class of geometric surfaces called piecewise smooth. Such surfaces consist of finitely many pieces that can be represented in the parametric form

with continuously differentiable function \vec{r}. The area of an individual piece is defined by the formula

Thus the area of SD is obtained by integrating the length of the normal vector \vec{r}_u\times\vec{r}_v to the surface over the appropriate region D in the parametric uv plane. The area of the whole surface is then obtained by adding together the areas of the pieces, using additivity of surface area. The main formula can be specialized to different classes of surfaces, giving, in particular, formulas for areas of graphs z = f(x,y) and surfaces of revolution.

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