Parabolic cylindrical coordinates

Parabolic cylindrical coordinates

Parabolic cylindrical coordinates are a three-dimensional orthogonal coordinate system that results from projecting the two-dimensional parabolic coordinate system in theperpendicular z-direction. Hence, the coordinate surfaces are confocal parabolic cylinders. Parabolic cylindrical coordinates have found many applications, e.g., the potential theory of edges.

Basic definition

The parabolic cylindrical coordinates (sigma, au, z) are defined in terms of the Cartesian coordinates "(x,y,z)" by:

:x = sigma au,:y = frac{1}{2} left( au^{2} - sigma^{2} ight):z = z,

The surfaces of constant sigma form confocal parabolic cylinders

:2y = frac{x^{2{sigma^{2 - sigma^{2}

that open towards +y, whereas the surfaces of constant au form confocal parabolic cylinders

:2y = -frac{x^{2{ au^{2 + au^{2}

that open in the opposite direction, i.e., towards -y. The foci of all these parabolic cylinders are located along the line defined by x=y=0. The radius "r" has a simple formula as well

:r = sqrt{x^{2} + y^{2 = frac{1}{2} left( sigma^{2} + au^{2} ight)

that proves useful in solving the Hamilton-Jacobi equation in parabolic coordinates for the inverse-square central force problem of mechanics; for further details, see the Laplace-Runge-Lenz vector article.

cale factors

The scale factors for the parabolic cylindrical coordinates sigma and au are:

:h_{sigma} = h_{ au} = sqrt{sigma^{2} + au^{2


The infinitesimal element of volume is

:dV = h_sigma h_ au h_z=left( sigma^{2} + au^{2} ight) dsigma d au dz

and the Laplacian equals

: abla^{2} Phi = frac{1}{sigma^{2} + au^{2 left( frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial sigma^{2 + frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial au^{2 ight) +frac{partial^{2} Phi}{partial z^{2

Other differential operators such as abla cdot mathbf{F} and abla imes mathbf{F} can be expressed in the coordinates (sigma, au) by substituting the scale factors into the general formulae found in orthogonal coordinates.

Parabolic Cylinder harmonics

Since all of the surfaces of constant σ, τ and "z" are conicoid, Laplace's equation is separable in parabolic cylindrical coordinates. Using the technique of the separation of variables, a separated solution to Laplace's equation may be written:

:V=S(sigma),T( au),Z(z)

and Laplace's equation, divided by "V" , is written:

:frac{1}{sigma^2+ au^2}left [frac{ddot{S{S}+frac{ddot{T{T} ight] +frac{ddot{Z{Z}=0

Since the "Z" equation is separate from the rest, we may write


where "m" is constant. "Z(z)" has the solution:


Substituting -m^2 for ddot{Z}/Z , Laplace's equation may now be written:

:left [frac{ddot{S{S}+frac{ddot{T{T} ight] =m^2(sigma^2+ au^2)

We may now separate the "S" and "T" functions and introduce another constant n^2 to obtain:

:ddot{S} - (m^2sigma^2+n^2)S=0:ddot{T} - (m^2 au^2 -n^2)T=0

The solutions to these equations are the parabolic cylinder functions

:S_{mn}(sigma) = A_3,y_1(n^2/2m,sigmasqrt{2m}) + A_4,y_2(n^2/2m,sigmasqrt{2m}):T_{mn}( au) = A_5,y_1(n^2/2m,i au sqrt{2m}) + A_6,y_2(n^2/2m,i au sqrt{2m})

The parabolic cylinder harmonics for (m,n) are now the product of the solutions. The combination will reduce the number of constants to four and the general solution to Laplace's equation may be written:

:V(sigma, au,z)=sum_{m,n} A_{mn} S_{mn} T_{mn} Z_m,


The classic applications of parabolic cylindrical coordinates are in solving partial differential equations, e.g., Laplace's equation or the Helmholtz equation, for which such coordinates allow a
separation of variables. A typical example would be the electric field surrounding a flat semi-infinite conducting plate.

See also


* | pages = p. 658

* | pages = pp. 186–187

*, ASIN B0000CKZX7 | pages = p. 181

* | pages = p. 96

* Same as Morse & Feshbach (1953), substituting "u""k" for ξ"k".


External links

* [ MathWorld description of parabolic cylindrical coordinates]

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