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In physics and geometry, a **catenary** ( US: /ˈkætənɛri/ , UK: /kəˈtiːnəri/ ) is the curve that an idealized hanging chain or cable assumes under its own weight when supported only at its ends.

**Physics** is the natural science that studies matter, its motion, and behavior through space and time, and that studies the related entities of energy and force. Physics is one of the most fundamental scientific disciplines, and its main goal is to understand how the universe behaves.

**Geometry** is a branch of mathematics concerned with questions of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space. A mathematician who works in the field of geometry is called a geometer.

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- History
- Inverted catenary arch
- Catenary bridges
- Anchoring of marine objects
- Mathematical description
- Equation
- Relation to other curves
- Geometrical properties
- Science
- Analysis
- Model of chains and arches
- Derivation of equations for the curve
- Alternative derivation
- Determining parameters
- Generalizations with vertical force
- Nonuniform chains
- Suspension bridge curve
- Catenary of equal strength
- Elastic catenary
- Other generalizations
- Chain under a general force
- See also
- Notes
- Bibliography
- Further reading
- External links

The catenary curve has a U-like shape, superficially similar in appearance to a parabolic arch, but it is not a parabola.

A **parabolic arch** is an arch shaped like a parabola. Such arches are used in bridges, cathedrals, and elsewhere in architecture and engineering.

In mathematics, a **parabola** is a plane curve that is mirror-symmetrical and is approximately U-shaped. It fits several superficially different other mathematical descriptions, which can all be proved to define exactly the same curves.

The curve appears in the design of certain types of arches and as a cross section of the catenoid—the shape assumed by a soap film bounded by two parallel circular rings.

A **catenary arch** is a type of architectural pointed arch that follows an inverted catenary curve. It is common in cathedrals and in Gothic arches used in Gothic architecture. It is not a parabolic arch.

A **catenoid** is a type of surface, arising by rotating a catenary curve about an axis. It is a minimal surface, meaning that it occupies the least area when bounded by a closed space. It was formally described in 1744 by the mathematician Leonhard Euler.

The catenary is also called the **alysoid**, **chainette**,^{ [1] } or, particularly in the materials sciences, **funicular**.^{ [2] }

Mathematically, the catenary curve is the graph of the hyperbolic cosine function. The surface of revolution of the catenary curve, the catenoid, is a minimal surface, specifically a minimal surface of revolution. A hanging chain will assume a shape of least potential energy which is a catenary.^{ [3] } The mathematical properties of the catenary curve were first studied by Robert Hooke in the 1670s, and its equation was derived by Leibniz, Huygens and Johann Bernoulli in 1691.

In mathematics, the **graph** of a function *f* is, formally, the set of all ordered pairs (*x*, *f* ), such that *x* is in the domain of the function *f*. In the common case where x and *f*(*x*) are real numbers, these pairs are Cartesian coordinates of points in the Euclidean plane and form thus a subset of this plane, which is a curve in the case of a continuous function. This graphical representation of the function is also called the *graph of the function*.

A **surface of revolution** is a surface in Euclidean space created by rotating a curve around an axis of rotation.

In mathematics, a **minimal surface** is a surface that locally minimizes its area. This is equivalent to having zero mean curvature.

Catenaries and related curves are used in architecture and engineering, in the design of bridges and arches, so that forces do not result in bending moments. In the offshore oil and gas industry, "catenary" refers to a steel catenary riser, a pipeline suspended between a production platform and the seabed that adopts an approximate catenary shape.

A **steel catenary riser** (SCR) is a common method of connecting a subsea pipeline to a deepwater floating or fixed oil production platform. SCRs are used to transfer fluids like oil, gas, injection water, etc. between the platforms and the pipelines.

In optics and electromagnetics, the hyperbolic cosine and sine functions are basic solutions to Maxwell's equations.^{ [4] } The symmetric modes consisting of two evanescent waves would form a catenary shape.^{ [5] }^{ [6] }^{ [7] }

The word "catenary" is derived from the Latin word *catēna*, which means "chain". The English word "catenary" is usually attributed to Thomas Jefferson,^{ [8] }^{ [9] } who wrote in a letter to Thomas Paine on the construction of an arch for a bridge:

I have lately received from Italy a treatise on the equilibrium of arches, by the Abbé Mascheroni. It appears to be a very scientifical work. I have not yet had time to engage in it; but I find that the conclusions of his demonstrations are, that every part of the catenary is in perfect equilibrium.

^{ [10] }

It is often said^{ [11] } that Galileo thought the curve of a hanging chain was parabolic. In his * Two New Sciences * (1638), Galileo says that a hanging cord is an approximate parabola, and he correctly observes that this approximation improves as the curvature gets smaller and is almost exact when the elevation is less than 45°.^{ [12] } That the curve followed by a chain is not a parabola was proven by Joachim Jungius (1587–1657); this result was published posthumously in 1669.^{ [11] }

The application of the catenary to the construction of arches is attributed to Robert Hooke, whose "true mathematical and mechanical form" in the context of the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral alluded to a catenary.^{ [13] } Some much older arches approximate catenaries, an example of which is the Arch of Taq-i Kisra in Ctesiphon.^{ [14] }

In 1671, Hooke announced to the Royal Society that he had solved the problem of the optimal shape of an arch, and in 1675 published an encrypted solution as a Latin anagram ^{ [15] } in an appendix to his *Description of Helioscopes,*^{ [16] } where he wrote that he had found "a true mathematical and mechanical form of all manner of Arches for Building." He did not publish the solution to this anagram^{ [17] } in his lifetime, but in 1705 his executor provided it as *ut pendet continuum flexile, sic stabit contiguum rigidum inversum*, meaning "As hangs a flexible cable so, inverted, stand the touching pieces of an arch."

In 1691, Gottfried Leibniz, Christiaan Huygens, and Johann Bernoulli derived the equation in response to a challenge by Jakob Bernoulli;^{ [11] } their solutions were published in the * Acta Eruditorum * for June 1691.^{ [18] }^{ [19] } David Gregory wrote a treatise on the catenary in 1697^{ [11] }^{ [20] } in which he provided an incorrect derivation of the correct differential equation.^{ [19] }

Euler proved in 1744 that the catenary is the curve which, when rotated about the x-axis, gives the surface of minimum surface area (the catenoid) for the given bounding circles.^{ [1] } Nicolas Fuss gave equations describing the equilibrium of a chain under any force in 1796.^{ [21] }

Catenary arches are often used in the construction of kilns. To create the desired curve, the shape of a hanging chain of the desired dimensions is transferred to a form which is then used as a guide for the placement of bricks or other building material.^{ [22] }^{ [23] }

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri, United States is sometimes said to be an (inverted) catenary, but this is incorrect.^{ [24] } It is close to a more general curve called a flattened catenary, with equation *y* = *A* cosh(*Bx*), which is a catenary if *AB* = 1. While a catenary is the ideal shape for a freestanding arch of constant thickness, the Gateway Arch is narrower near the top. According to the U.S. National Historic Landmark nomination for the arch, it is a "weighted catenary" instead. Its shape corresponds to the shape that a weighted chain, having lighter links in the middle, would form.^{ [25] }^{ [26] }

- The Gateway Arch (looking East) is a flattened catenary.
- Catenary arch kiln under construction over temporary form
- Cross-section of the roof of the Keleti Railway Station (Budapest, Hungary)
- The cross-section of the roof of the Keleti Railway Station forms a catenary.

In free-hanging chains, the force exerted is uniform with respect to length of the chain, and so the chain follows the catenary curve.^{ [29] } The same is true of a simple suspension bridge or "catenary bridge," where the roadway follows the cable.^{ [30] }^{ [31] }

A stressed ribbon bridge is a more sophisticated structure with the same catenary shape.^{ [32] }^{ [33] }

However, in a suspension bridge with a suspended roadway, the chains or cables support the weight of the bridge, and so do not hang freely. In most cases the roadway is flat, so when the weight of the cable is negligible compared with the weight being supported, the force exerted is uniform with respect to horizontal distance, and the result is a parabola, as discussed below (although the term "catenary" is often still used, in an informal sense). If the cable is heavy then the resulting curve is between a catenary and a parabola.^{ [34] }^{ [35] }

The catenary produced by gravity provides an advantage to heavy anchor rodes. An anchor rode (or anchor line) usually consists of chain or cable or both. Anchor rodes are used by ships, oil rigs, docks, floating wind turbines, and other marine equipment which must be anchored to the seabed.

When the rode is slack, the catenary curve presents a lower angle of pull on the anchor or mooring device than would be the case if it were nearly straight. This enhances the performance of the anchor and raises the level of force it will resist before dragging. To maintain the catenary shape in the presence of wind, a heavy chain is needed, so that only larger ships in deeper water can rely on this effect. Smaller boats also rely on catenary to maintain maximum holding power.^{ [36] }

The equation of a catenary in Cartesian coordinates has the form^{ [34] }

where cosh is the hyperbolic cosine function. All catenary curves are similar to each other; changing the parameter a is equivalent to a uniform scaling of the curve.^{ [37] }

The Whewell equation for the catenary is^{ [34] }

Differentiating gives

and eliminating φ gives the Cesàro equation ^{ [38] }

The radius of curvature is then

which is the length of the line normal to the curve between it and the x-axis.^{ [39] }

When a parabola is rolled along a straight line, the roulette curve traced by its focus is a catenary.^{ [40] } The envelope of the directrix of the parabola is also a catenary.^{ [41] } The involute from the vertex, that is the roulette formed traced by a point starting at the vertex when a line is rolled on a catenary, is the tractrix.^{ [40] }

Another roulette, formed by rolling a line on a catenary, is another line. This implies that square wheels can roll perfectly smoothly on a road made of a series of bumps in the shape of an inverted catenary curve. The wheels can be any regular polygon except a triangle, but the catenary must have parameters corresponding to the shape and dimensions of the wheels.^{ [42] }

Over any horizontal interval, the ratio of the area under the catenary to its length equals a, independent of the interval selected. The catenary is the only plane curve other than a horizontal line with this property. Also, the geometric centroid of the area under a stretch of catenary is the midpoint of the perpendicular segment connecting the centroid of the curve itself and the x-axis.^{ [43] }

A moving charge in a uniform electric field travels along a catenary (which tends to a parabola if the charge velocity is much less than the speed of light c).^{ [44] }

The surface of revolution with fixed radii at either end that has minimum surface area is a catenary revolved about the x-axis.^{ [40] }

In the mathematical model the chain (or cord, cable, rope, string, etc.) is idealized by assuming that it is so thin that it can be regarded as a curve and that it is so flexible any force of tension exerted by the chain is parallel to the chain.^{ [45] } The analysis of the curve for an optimal arch is similar except that the forces of tension become forces of compression and everything is inverted.^{ [46] } An underlying principle is that the chain may be considered a rigid body once it has attained equilibrium.^{ [47] } Equations which define the shape of the curve and the tension of the chain at each point may be derived by a careful inspection of the various forces acting on a segment using the fact that these forces must be in balance if the chain is in static equilibrium.

Let the path followed by the chain be given parametrically by **r** = (*x*, *y*) = (*x*(*s*), *y*(*s*)) where s represents arc length and **r** is the position vector. This is the natural parameterization and has the property that

where **u** is a unit tangent vector.

A differential equation for the curve may be derived as follows.^{ [48] } Let **c** be the lowest point on the chain, called the vertex of the catenary.^{ [49] } The slope *dy/dx* of the curve is zero at C since it is a minimum point. Assume **r** is to the right of **c** since the other case is implied by symmetry. The forces acting on the section of the chain from **c** to **r** are the tension of the chain at **c**, the tension of the chain at **r**, and the weight of the chain. The tension at **c** is tangent to the curve at **c** and is therefore horizontal without any vertical component and it pulls the section to the left so it may be written (−*T*_{0}, 0) where *T*_{0} is the magnitude of the force. The tension at **r** is parallel to the curve at **r** and pulls the section to the right. The tension at **r** can be split into two components so it may be written *T***u** = (*T* cos *φ*, *T* sin *φ*), where T is the magnitude of the force and φ is the angle between the curve at **r** and the x-axis (see tangential angle). Finally, the weight of the chain is represented by (0, −*λgs*) where λ is the mass per unit length, g is the acceleration of gravity and s is the length of the segment of chain between **c** and **r**.

The chain is in equilibrium so the sum of three forces is **0**, therefore

and

and dividing these gives

It is convenient to write

which is the length of chain whose weight on Earth is equal in magnitude to the tension at **c**.^{ [50] } Then

is an equation defining the curve.

The horizontal component of the tension, *T* cos *φ* = *T*_{0} is constant and the vertical component of the tension, *T* sin *φ* = *λgs* is proportional to the length of chain between the **r** and the vertex.^{ [51] }

The differential equation given above can be solved to produce equations for the curve.^{ [52] }

From

the formula for arc length gives

Then

and

The second of these equations can be integrated to give

and by shifting the position of the x-axis, β can be taken to be 0. Then

The x-axis thus chosen is called the *directrix* of the catenary.

It follows that the magnitude of the tension at a point (*x*, *y*) is *T* = *λgy*, which is proportional to the distance between the point and the directrix.^{ [51] }

The integral of the expression for dx/ds can be found using standard techniques, giving^{ [53] }

and, again, by shifting the position of the y-axis, α can be taken to be 0. Then

The y-axis thus chosen passes through the vertex and is called the axis of the catenary.

These results can be used to eliminate s giving

The differential equation can be solved using a different approach.^{ [54] } From

it follows that

and

Integrating gives,

and

As before, the x and y-axes can be shifted so α and β can be taken to be 0. Then

and taking the reciprocal of both sides

Adding and subtracting the last two equations then gives the solution

and

In general the parameter a is the position of the axis. The equation can be determined in this case as follows:^{ [55] } Relabel if necessary so that *P*_{1} is to the left of *P*_{2} and let h be the horizontal and v be the vertical distance from *P*_{1} to *P*_{2}. Translate the axes so that the vertex of the catenary lies on the y-axis and its height a is adjusted so the catenary satisfies the standard equation of the curve

and let the coordinates of *P*_{1} and *P*_{2} be (*x*_{1}, *y*_{1}) and (*x*_{2}, *y*_{2}) respectively. The curve passes through these points, so the difference of height is

and the length of the curve from *P*_{1} to *P*_{2} is

When *s*^{2} − *v*^{2} is expanded using these expressions the result is

so

This is a transcendental equation in a and must be solved numerically. It can be shown with the methods of calculus^{ [56] } that there is at most one solution with *a* > 0 and so there is at most one position of equilibrium.

If the density of the chain is variable then the analysis above can be adapted to produce equations for the curve given the density, or given the curve to find the density.^{ [57] }

Let w denote the weight per unit length of the chain, then the weight of the chain has magnitude

where the limits of integration are **c** and **r**. Balancing forces as in the uniform chain produces

and

and therefore

Differentiation then gives

In terms of φ and the radius of curvature ρ this becomes

A similar analysis can be done to find the curve followed by the cable supporting a suspension bridge with a horizontal roadway.^{ [58] } If the weight of the roadway per unit length is w and the weight of the cable and the wire supporting the bridge is negligible in comparison, then the weight on the cable from **c** to **r** is wx where x is the horizontal distance between **c** and **r**. Proceeding as before gives the differential equation

This is solved by simple integration to get

and so the cable follows a parabola. If the weight of the cable and supporting wires is not negligible then the analysis is more complex.^{ [59] }

In a catenary of equal strength, the cable is strengthened according to the magnitude of the tension at each point, so its resistance to breaking is constant along its length. Assuming that the strength of the cable is proportional to its density per unit length, the weight, w, per unit length of the chain can be written T/c, where c is constant, and the analysis for nonuniform chains can be applied.^{ [60] }

In this case the equations for tension are

Combining gives

and by differentiation

where ρ is the radius of curvature.

The solution to this is

In this case, the curve has vertical asymptotes and this limits the span to π*c*. Other relations are

The curve was studied 1826 by Davies Gilbert and, apparently independently, by Gaspard-Gustave Coriolis in 1836.

Recently, it was shown that this type of catenary could act as a building block of electromagnetic metasurface and was known as "catenary of equal phase gradient".^{ [61] }

In an elastic catenary, the chain is replaced by a spring which can stretch in response to tension. The spring is assumed to stretch in accordance with Hooke's Law. Specifically, if p is the natural length of a section of spring, then the length of the spring with tension T applied has length

where E is a constant equal to kp, where k is the stiffness of the spring.^{ [62] } In the catenary the value of T is variable, but ratio remains valid at a local level, so^{ [63] }

The curve followed by an elastic spring can now be derived following a similar method as for the inelastic spring.^{ [64] }

The equations for tension of the spring are

and

from which

where p is the natural length of the segment from **c** to **r** and *λ*_{0} is the mass per unit length of the spring with no tension and g is the acceleration of gravity. Write

so

Then

and

from which

and

Integrating gives the parametric equations

Again, the x and y-axes can be shifted so α and β can be taken to be 0. So

are parametric equations for the curve. At the rigid limit where E is large, the shape of the curve reduces to that of a non-elastic chain.

With no assumptions have been made regarding the force **G** acting on the chain, the following analysis can be made.^{ [65] }

First, let **T** = **T**(*s*) be the force of tension as a function of s. The chain is flexible so it can only exert a force parallel to itself. Since tension is defined as the force that the chain exerts on itself, **T** must be parallel to the chain. In other words,

where T is the magnitude of **T** and **u** is the unit tangent vector.

Second, let **G** = **G**(*s*) be the external force per unit length acting on a small segment of a chain as a function of s. The forces acting on the segment of the chain between s and *s* + Δ*s* are the force of tension **T**(*s* + Δ*s*) at one end of the segment, the nearly opposite force −**T**(*s*) at the other end, and the external force acting on the segment which is approximately **G**Δ*s*. These forces must balance so

Divide by Δ*s* and take the limit as Δ*s* → 0 to obtain

These equations can be used as the starting point in the analysis of a flexible chain acting under any external force. In the case of the standard catenary, **G** = (0, −*λg*) where the chain has mass λ per unit length and g is the acceleration of gravity.

- Catenary arch
- Chain fountain or self-siphoning beads
- Overhead line – power lines suspended over rail or tram vehicles
- Roulette (curve) – an elliptic/hyperbolic catenary
- Troposkein – the shape of a spun rope
- Weighted catenary

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- ↑ Ira Freeman investigated the case where only the cable and roadway are significant, see the External links section. Routh gives the case where only the supporting wires have significant weight as an exercise.
- ↑ Following Routh Art. 453
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*Learn from the Masters*. MAA. pp. 128–9. ISBN 978-0-88385-703-8. - Venturoli, Giuseppe (1822). "Chapter XXIII: On the Catenary".
*Elements of the Theory of Mechanics*. Trans. Daniel Cresswell. J. Nicholson & Son.

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- O'Connor, John J.; Robertson, Edmund F., "Catenary",
*MacTutor History of Mathematics archive*, University of St Andrews . - Catenary at PlanetMath.org .
- Catenary curve calculator
- Catenary at The Geometry Center
- "Catenary" at Visual Dictionary of Special Plane Curves
- The Catenary - Chains, Arches, and Soap Films.
- Cable Sag Error Calculator – Calculates the deviation from a straight line of a catenary curve and provides derivation of the calculator and references.
- Dynamic as well as static cetenary curve equations derived – The equations governing the shape (static case) as well as dynamics (dynamic case) of a centenary is derived. Solution to the equations discussed.
- The straight line, the catenary, the brachistochrone, the circle, and Fermat Unified approach to some geodesics.
- Ira Freeman "A General Form of the Suspension Bridge Catenary"
*Bulletin of the AMS*

The **Mercator projection** is a cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. It became the standard map projection for nautical navigation because of its ability to represent lines of constant course, known as rhumb lines or loxodromes, as straight segments that conserve the angles with the meridians. Although the linear scale is equal in all directions around any point, thus preserving the angles and the shapes of small objects, the Mercator projection distorts the size of objects as the latitude increases from the Equator to the poles, where the scale becomes infinite. So, for example, landmasses such as Greenland and Antarctica appear much larger than they actually are, relative to landmasses near the equator such as Central Africa.

In mathematics, the **polar coordinate system** is a two-dimensional coordinate system in which each point on a plane is determined by a distance from a reference point and an angle from a reference direction.

In calculus, and more generally in mathematical analysis, **integration by parts** or **partial integration** is a process that finds the integral of a product of functions in terms of the integral of their derivative and antiderivative. It is frequently used to transform the antiderivative of a product of functions into an antiderivative for which a solution can be more easily found. The rule can be readily derived by integrating the product rule of differentiation.

A **tautochrone** or **isochrone curve** is the curve for which the time taken by an object sliding without friction in uniform gravity to its lowest point is independent of its starting point. The curve is a cycloid, and the time is equal to π times the square root of the radius over the acceleration of gravity. The tautochrone curve is the same as the brachistochrone curve for any given starting point.

In calculus, **integration by substitution**, also known as ** u-substitution**, is a method for finding integrals. Using the fundamental theorem of calculus often requires finding an antiderivative. For this and other reasons, integration by substitution is an important tool in mathematics. It is the counterpart to the chain rule for differentiation.

In the mathematical field of differential geometry, a **metric tensor** is a type of function which takes as input a pair of tangent vectors v and w at a point of a surface and produces a real number scalar *g*(*v*, *w*) in a way that generalizes many of the familiar properties of the dot product of vectors in Euclidean space. In the same way as a dot product, metric tensors are used to define the length of and angle between tangent vectors. Through integration, the metric tensor allows one to define and compute the length of curves on the manifold.

In mathematics, a **parametric equation** defines a group of quantities as functions of one or more independent variables called parameters. Parametric equations are commonly used to express the coordinates of the points that make up a geometric object such as a curve or surface, in which case the equations are collectively called a **parametric representation** or **parameterization** of the object.

A **cardioid** is a plane curve traced by a point on the perimeter of a circle that is rolling around a fixed circle of the same radius. It can also be defined as an epicycloid having a single cusp. It is also a type of sinusoidal spiral, and an inverse curve of the parabola with the focus as the center of inversion.

In trigonometry, **tangent half-angle formulas** relate the tangent of half of an angle to trigonometric functions of the entire angle. Among these are the following

**Bipolar coordinates** are a two-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system based on the Apollonian circles.. Confusingly, the same term is also sometimes used for two-center bipolar coordinates. There is also a third system, based on two poles.

In calculus, **Leibniz's rule** for differentiation under the integral sign, named after Gottfried Leibniz, states that for an integral of the form

In mathematics an **orthogonal trajectory** is

The **multiple integral** is a definite integral of a function of more than one real variable, for example, *f*(*x*, *y*) or *f*(*x*, *y*, *z*). Integrals of a function of two variables over a region in **R**^{2} are called double integrals, and integrals of a function of three variables over a region of **R**^{3} are called triple integrals.

In geometry, the **elliptic(al) coordinate system** is a two-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system in which the coordinate lines are confocal ellipses and hyperbolae. The two foci and are generally taken to be fixed at and , respectively, on the -axis of the Cartesian coordinate system.

**Prolate spheroidal coordinates** are a three-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system that results from rotating the two-dimensional elliptic coordinate system about the focal axis of the ellipse, i.e., the symmetry axis on which the foci are located. Rotation about the other axis produces oblate spheroidal coordinates. Prolate spheroidal coordinates can also be considered as a limiting case of ellipsoidal coordinates in which the two smallest principal axes are equal in length.

The **gradient theorem**, also known as the **fundamental theorem of calculus for line integrals**, says that a line integral through a gradient field can be evaluated by evaluating the original scalar field at the endpoints of the curve.

The main **trigonometric identities** between trigonometric functions are proved, using mainly the geometry of the right triangle. For greater and negative angles, see Trigonometric functions.

The **Whewell equation** of a plane curve is an equation that relates the tangential angle with arclength, where the tangential angle is the angle between the tangent to the curve and the x-axis, and the arc length is the distance along the curve from a fixed point. These quantities do not depend on the coordinate system used except for the choice of the direction of the x-axis, so this is an intrinsic equation of the curve, or, less precisely, *the* intrinsic equation. If a curve is obtained from another by translation then their Whewell equations will be the same.

In classical mechanics, a **Liouville dynamical system** is an exactly soluble dynamical system in which the kinetic energy *T* and potential energy *V* can be expressed in terms of the *s* generalized coordinates *q* as follows:

In differential geometry, the **radius of curvature**, R, is the reciprocal of the curvature. For a curve, it equals the radius of the circular arc which best approximates the curve at that point. For surfaces, the radius of curvature is the radius of a circle that best fits a normal section or combinations thereof.

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