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Curvilinear Coordinates


  • Curvilinear Coordinates (Estimated time: 5 minutes): This activity serves as an introduction to the notations which physicists use to represent vector fields in various coordinate systems.
  • Drawing Surfaces in Cylindrical and Spherical Coordinates (Estimated time: 5 minutes): In this small whiteboard question, the students are asked to draw surfaces of equal values of coordinates in cylindrical ($s$, $\theta$, and $\phi$) and spherical coordinates ($r$, $\theta$, and $\phi$). This can lead into a whole class discussion on the range of values allowed for each coordinate in cylindrical and spherical coordinate systems.
  • Curvilinear Basis Vectors (Estimated time: 15 minutes): In this kinesthetic activity students are asked to point in $\hat{r}$, $\hat{\theta}$, $\hat{\phi}$, $\hat{s}$, and $\hat{z}$ directions in reference to an origin within the classroom. A class discussion ensues about the directions of curvilinear basis vectors and how the direction changes at different points in space. This is in contrast to rectangular unit vectors, $\hat{x}$, $\hat{y}$, and $\hat{z}$, which have fixed directions at each point in space. Many mathematics courses do not cover curvilinear basis vectors, so it is expected that students will not be familiar with these basis vectors.
  • Introducing $d\vec{r}$ (Estimated time: 5 minutes):

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