Archimedean spiral

The Archimedean spiral (also known as the arithmetic spiral) is a spiral named after the 3rd-century BC Greek mathematician Archimedes. It is the locus of points corresponding to the locations over time of a point moving away from a fixed point with a constant speed along a line that rotates with constant angular velocity. Equivalently, in polar coordinates (r, θ) it can be described by the equation

Three 360° loops of one arm of an Archimedean spiral

with real numbers a and b. Changing the parameter a moves the centerpoint of the spiral outward from the origin (positive a toward and negative a toward ), while b controls the distance between loops.

From the above equation, it can thus be stated: the position of particle from the point of start is proportional to the angle as time elapses.

Archimedes described such a spiral in his book On Spirals. Conon of Samos was a friend of his and Pappus states that this spiral was discovered by Conon.[1]

Derivation of general equation of spiralEdit

A physical approach is used below to understand the notion of Archimedean spirals. Suppose a point object moves in the cartesian system with a constant velocity   directed parallel to the x-axis, with respect to the x-y plane. Let at time  , the object was at an arbitrary point  . If the x-y plane rotates with a constant angular velocity   about the Z-axis, then the velocity of the point with respect to Z-axis may be written as:


The X-Y plane rotates to an angle ωt (anticlockwise) about the origin in time t. (c,0) is the position of the object at t=0. P is the position of the object at time t, at a distance of R=vt+c.



Here   is the modulus of the position vector of the particle at any time  ,   is the velocity component along x-axis and   is the component along y-axis. The figure shown alongside explains it.


The above equations can be integrated by applying integration by parts, leading to the following parametric equations:



Squaring the two equations and then adding (and some small alterations) results in the cartesian equation


(using the fact that   and  )



Its polar form,



The Archimedean spiral has the property that any ray from the origin intersects successive turnings of the spiral in points with a constant separation distance (equal to 2πb if θ is measured in radians), hence the name "arithmetic spiral". In contrast to this, in a logarithmic spiral these distances, as well as the distances of the intersection points measured from the origin, form a geometric progression.

Osculating circles of the Archimedean spiral. The spiral itself is not drawn: we see it as the locus of points where the circles are especially close to each other.

The Archimedean spiral has two arms, one for θ > 0 and one for θ < 0. The two arms are smoothly connected at the origin. Only one arm is shown on the accompanying graph. Taking the mirror image of this arm across the y-axis will yield the other arm.

For large θ a point moves with well-approximated uniform acceleration along the Archimedean spiral while the spiral corresponds to the locations over time of a point moving away from a fixed point with a constant speed along a line which rotates with constant angular velocity[2] (see contribution from Mikhail Gaichenkov).

As the Archimedean spiral grows, its evolute asymptotically approaches a circle with radius


Archimedean spiral represented on a polar graph

General Archimedean spiralEdit

Sometimes the term Archimedean spiral is used for the more general group of spirals


The normal Archimedean spiral occurs when c = 1. Other spirals falling into this group include the hyperbolic spiral (c = −1), Fermat's spiral (c = 2), and the lituus (c = −2). Virtually all static spirals appearing in nature are logarithmic spirals, not Archimedean ones. Many dynamic spirals (such as the Parker spiral of the solar wind, or the pattern made by a Catherine's wheel) are Archimedean.


One method of squaring the circle, due to Archimedes, makes use of an Archimedean spiral. Archimedes also showed how the spiral can be used to trisect an angle. Both approaches relax the traditional limitations on the use of straightedge and compass in ancient Greek geometric proofs.[3]

Mechanism of a scroll compressor

The Archimedean spiral has a variety of real-world applications. Scroll compressors, used for compressing gases, have rotors that can be made from two interleaved Archimedean spirals, involutes of a circle of the same size that almost resemble Archimedean spirals[4], or hybrid curves. The coils of watch balance springs and the grooves of very early gramophone records form Archimedean spirals, making the grooves evenly spaced (although variable track spacing was later introduced to maximize the amount of music that could be cut onto a record).[5] Asking for a patient to draw an Archimedean spiral is a way of quantifying human tremor; this information helps in diagnosing neurological diseases. Archimedean spirals are also used in digital light processing (DLP) projection systems to minimize the "rainbow effect", making it look as if multiple colors are displayed at the same time, when in reality red, green, and blue are being cycled extremely quickly.[6] Additionally, Archimedean spirals are used in food microbiology to quantify bacterial concentration through a spiral platter.[7] They are also used to model the pattern that occurs in a roll of paper or tape of constant thickness wrapped around a cylinder.[8][9]

Code for producing an Archimedean spiralEdit

The following R code produces the first graph above.

a <- 1.5
b <- -2.4
t <- seq(0,5*pi, length.out=500)
x <- (a + b*t) * cos(t)
y <- (a + b*t) * sin(t)
plot(x, y, type="l", col=2, lwd=3)
abline(h=0, v=0, col="grey")

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, "Conon of Samos", Dictionary of Scientific Biography 3:391.
  2. ^ Sloane, N. J. A. (ed.). "Sequence A091154". The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. OEIS Foundation.
  3. ^ Boyer, Carl B. (1968). A History of Mathematics. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 140–142. ISBN 0-691-02391-3.
  4. ^ Sakata, Hirotsugu; Masayuki Okuda. "Fluid compressing device having coaxial spiral members". Retrieved 2006-11-25.
  5. ^ Penndorf, Ron. "Early Development of the LP". Archived from the original on 5 November 2005. Retrieved 2005-11-25.. See the passage on Variable Groove.
  6. ^ Ballou, Glen (2008), Handbook for Sound Engineers, CRC Press, p. 1586, ISBN 9780240809694
  7. ^ J. E. Gilchrist; J. E. Campbell; C. B. Donnelly; J. T. Peeler; J. M. Delaney (1973). "Spiral Plate Method for Bacterial Determination". Applied Microbiology. 25 (2): 244–52. doi:10.1128/AEM.25.2.244-252.1973. PMC 380780. PMID 4632851.
  8. ^ Tony Peressini (3 February 2009). "Joan's Paper Roll Problem" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 November 2013. Retrieved 2014-10-06.
  9. ^ Walser, H.; Hilton, P.; Pedersen, J.; Mathematical Association of America (2000). Symmetry. Mathematical Association of America. p. 27. ISBN 9780883855324. Retrieved 2014-10-06.

External linksEdit