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 lengthDetermining the length of an irregular arc segment is also called rectification of a curve. Historically, many methods were used for specific curves...
of a curve. For polyhedra (objects with flat polygonal
facesIn geometry, a face of a polyhedron is any of the polygons that make up its boundaries. For example, any of the squares that bound a cube is a face of the cube...
) the surface area is the sum of the areas of its faces. Smooth surfaces, such as a
sphereA sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in threedimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...
, are assigned surface area using their representation as
parametric surfaceA parametric surface is a surface in the Euclidean space R3 which is defined by a parametric equation with two parameters. Parametric representation is the most general way to specify a surface. Surfaces that occur in two of the main theorems of vector calculus, Stokes' theorem and the divergence...
s. This definition of the surface area is based on methods of infinitesimal
calculusCalculus is a branch of mathematics focused on limits, functions, derivatives, integrals, and infinite series. This subject constitutes a major part of modern mathematics education. It has two major branches, differential calculus and integral calculus, which are related by the fundamental theorem...
and involves
partial derivativeIn mathematics, a partial derivative of a function of several variables is its derivative with respect to one of those variables, with the others held constant...
s and double integration.
General definition of surface area was sought by
Henri LebesgueHenri Léon Lebesgue was a French mathematician most famous for his theory of integration, which was a generalization of the seventeenth century concept of integration—summing the area between an axis and the curve of a function defined for that axis...
and
Hermann MinkowskiHermann Minkowski was a German mathematician of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, who created and developed the geometry of numbers and who used geometrical methods to solve difficult problems in number theory, mathematical physics, and the theory of relativity. Life and work :Hermann Minkowski was born...
at the turn of the twentieth century. Their work led to the development of
geometric measure theoryIn mathematics, geometric measure theory is the study of the geometric properties of the measures of sets , including such things as arc lengths and areas. It uses measure theory to generalize differential geometry to surfaces with mild singularities called rectifiable sets...
which studies various notions of surface area for irregular objects of any dimension. An important example is the
Minkowski contentThe Minkowski content of a set, or the boundary measure, is a basic concept in geometry and measure theory which generalizes to arbitrary measurable sets the notions of length of a smooth curve in the plane and area of a smooth surface in the space...
of a surface.
Definition of surface area
While areas of many simple surfaces have been known since antiquity, a rigorous mathematical
definition of the area requires a lot of care.
Surface area is an assignment

of a positive
real numberIn mathematics, a real number is a value that represents a quantity along a continuum, such as 5 , 4/3 , 8.6 , √2 and π...
to a certain class of
surfaceIn mathematics, specifically in topology, a surface is a twodimensional topological manifold. The most familiar examples are those that arise as the boundaries of solid objects in ordinary threedimensional Euclidean space R3 — for example, the surface of a ball...
s 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
S_{1}, …,
S_{r} which do not overlap except at their boundaries then

Surface areas of flat polygonal shapes must agree with their geometrically defined
areaArea is a quantity that expresses the extent of a twodimensional surface or shape in the plane. Area can be understood as the amount of material with a given thickness that would be necessary to fashion a model of the shape, or the amount of paint necessary to cover the surface with a single coat...
. Since surface area is a geometric notion, areas of
congruentIn geometry, two figures are congruent if they have the same shape and size. This means that either object can be repositioned so as to coincide precisely with the other object...
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 motionsIn mathematics, the Euclidean group E, sometimes called ISO or similar, is the symmetry group of ndimensional Euclidean space...
. 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 formA parametric surface is a surface in the Euclidean space R3 which is defined by a parametric equation with two parameters. Parametric representation is the most general way to specify a surface. Surfaces that occur in two of the main theorems of vector calculus, Stokes' theorem and the divergence...

with continuously differentiable function
The area of an individual piece is defined by the formula

Thus the area of
S_{D} is obtained by integrating the length of the normal vector
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 revolutionA surface of revolution is a surface in Euclidean space created by rotating a curve around a straight line in its plane ....
.
One of the subtleties of surface area, as compared to
arc lengthDetermining the length of an irregular arc segment is also called rectification of a curve. Historically, many methods were used for specific curves...
of curves, is that surface area cannot be defined simply as the limit of areas of polyhedral shapes approximating a given smooth surface. It was demonstrated by
Hermann SchwarzKarl Hermann Amandus Schwarz was a German mathematician, known for his work in complex analysis. He was born in Hermsdorf, Silesia and died in Berlin...
that already for the cylinder, different choices of approximating flat surfaces can lead to different limiting values of the area.
Various approaches to general definition of surface area were developed in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth century by
Henri LebesgueHenri Léon Lebesgue was a French mathematician most famous for his theory of integration, which was a generalization of the seventeenth century concept of integration—summing the area between an axis and the curve of a function defined for that axis...
and
Hermann MinkowskiHermann Minkowski was a German mathematician of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, who created and developed the geometry of numbers and who used geometrical methods to solve difficult problems in number theory, mathematical physics, and the theory of relativity. Life and work :Hermann Minkowski was born...
. While for piecewise smooth surfaces there is a unique natural notion of surface area, if a surface is very irregular, or rough, then it may not be possible to assign any area at all to it. A typical example is given by a surface with spikes spread throughout in a dense fashion. Many surfaces of this type occur in the theory of
fractalA fractal has been defined as "a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is a reducedsize copy of the whole," a property called selfsimilarity...
s. Extensions of the notion of area which partially fulfill its function and may be defined even for very badly irregular surfaces are studied in the
geometric measure theoryIn mathematics, geometric measure theory is the study of the geometric properties of the measures of sets , including such things as arc lengths and areas. It uses measure theory to generalize differential geometry to surfaces with mild singularities called rectifiable sets...
. A specific example of such an extension is the
Minkowski contentThe Minkowski content of a set, or the boundary measure, is a basic concept in geometry and measure theory which generalizes to arbitrary measurable sets the notions of length of a smooth curve in the plane and area of a smooth surface in the space...
of a surface.
Common formulas
Surface areas of common solids
Shape 
Equation 
Variables 
CubeIn geometry, a cube is a threedimensional solid object bounded by six square faces, facets or sides, with three meeting at each vertex. The cube can also be called a regular hexahedron and is one of the five Platonic solids. It is a special kind of square prism, of rectangular parallelepiped and...


s = side length 
Rectangular prism 

ℓ = length, w = width, h = height 
SphereA sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in threedimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...


r = radius of sphere 
Spherical lune 

r = radius of sphere, θ = dihedral angleIn geometry, a dihedral or torsion angle is the angle between two planes.The dihedral angle of two planes can be seen by looking at the planes "edge on", i.e., along their line of intersection...

Closed cylinder A cylinder is one of the most basic curvilinear geometric shapes, the surface formed by the points at a fixed distance from a given line segment, the axis of the cylinder. The solid enclosed by this surface and by two planes perpendicular to the axis is also called a cylinder...


r = radius of the circular base, h = height of the cylinder 
Lateral surface area of a cone A cone is an ndimensional geometric shape that tapers smoothly from a base to a point called the apex or vertex. Formally, it is the solid figure formed by the locus of all straight line segments that join the apex to the base...


s = slant height of the cone,
r = radius of the circular base,
h = height of the cone 
Full surface area of a cone 

s = slant height of the cone,
r = radius of the circular base,
h = height of the cone 
PyramidA pyramid is a structure whose outer surfaces are triangular and converge at a single point. The base of a pyramid can be trilateral, quadrilateral, or any polygon shape, meaning that a pyramid has at least three triangular surfaces...


B = area of base, P = perimeter of base, L = slant height 
Ratio of surface areas of a sphere and cylinder of the same radius and height
The above formulas can be used to show that the volumes of a
sphereA sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in threedimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...
and
cylinderCylinder most commonly refers to:* Cylinder , a threedimensional geometric shapeCylinder may also refer to:Science and technology:* Cylinder , the space in which a piston travels in an engine...
of the same radius and height are in the ratio
2 : 3, as follows.
Let the radius be
r and the height be
h (which is 2
r for the sphere).
The discovery of this ratio is credited to
ArchimedesArchimedes of Syracuse was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. Although few details of his life are known, he is regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity. Among his advances in physics are the foundations of hydrostatics, statics and an...
.
In chemistry
Surface area is important in
chemical kineticsChemical kinetics, also known as reaction kinetics, is the study of rates of chemical processes. Chemical kinetics includes investigations of how different experimental conditions can influence the speed of a chemical reaction and yield information about the reaction's mechanism and transition...
. Increasing the surface area of a substance generally increases the
rateThe reaction rate or speed of reaction for a reactant or product in a particular reaction is intuitively defined as how fast or slow a reaction takes place...
of a
chemical reactionA chemical reaction is a process that leads to the transformation of one set of chemical substances to another. Chemical reactions can be either spontaneous, requiring no input of energy, or nonspontaneous, typically following the input of some type of energy, such as heat, light or electricity...
. For example,
ironIron is a chemical element with the symbol Fe and atomic number 26. It is a metal in the first transition series. It is the most common element forming the planet Earth as a whole, forming much of Earth's outer and inner core. It is the fourth most common element in the Earth's crust...
in a fine powder will
combustCombustion or burning is the sequence of exothermic chemical reactions between a fuel and an oxidant accompanied by the production of heat and conversion of chemical species. The release of heat can result in the production of light in the form of either glowing or a flame...
, while in solid blocks it is stable enough to use in structures. For different applications a minimal or maximal surface area may be desired.
In biology
The surface area of an organism is important in several considerations, such as regulation of body temperature and
digestionDigestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are more easily absorbed into a blood stream, for instance. Digestion is a form of catabolism: a breakdown of large food molecules to smaller ones....
. Animals use their teeth to grind food down into smaller particles, increasing the surface area available for digestion. The epithelial tissue lining the digestive tract contains microvilli, greatly increasing the area available for absorption.
ElephantElephants are large land mammals in two extant genera of the family Elephantidae: Elephas and Loxodonta, with the third genus Mammuthus extinct...
s have large
earThe ear is the organ that detects sound. It not only receives sound, but also aids in balance and body position. The ear is part of the auditory system....
s, allowing them to regulate their own body temperature. In other instances, animals will need to minimize surface area; for example, people will fold their arms over their chest when cold to minimize heat loss.
The
surface area to volume ratioThe surfaceareatovolume ratio also called the surfacetovolume ratio and variously denoted sa/vol or SA:V, is the amount of surface area per unit volume of an object or collection of objects. The surfaceareatovolume ratio is measured in units of inverse distance. A cube with sides of...
(SA:V) of a
cellThe cell is the basic structural and functional unit of all known living organisms. It is the smallest unit of life that is classified as a living thing, and is often called the building block of life. The Alberts text discusses how the "cellular building blocks" move to shape developing embryos....
imposes upper limits on size, as the volume increases much faster than does the surface area, thus limiting the rate at which substances diffuse from the interior across the
cell membraneThe cell membrane or plasma membrane is a biological membrane that separates the interior of all cells from the outside environment. The cell membrane is selectively permeable to ions and organic molecules and controls the movement of substances in and out of cells. It basically protects the cell...
to interstitial spaces or to other cells. Indeed, representing a cell as an idealized
sphereA sphere is a perfectly round geometrical object in threedimensional space, such as the shape of a round ball. Like a circle in two dimensions, a perfect sphere is completely symmetrical around its center, with all points on the surface lying the same distance r from the center point...
of radius
r, the volume and surface area are, respectively,
V = 4/3 π
r^{3};
SA = 4 π
r^{2}. The resulting surface area to volume ratio is therefore 3/
r. Thus, if a cell has a radius of 1 μm, the SA:V ratio is 3; whereas if the radius of the cell is instead 10 μm, then the SA:V ratio becomes 0.3. With a cell radius of 100, SA:V ratio is 0.03. Thus, the surface area falls off steeply with increasing volume.
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