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three-dimensional diagram of a catenoid
A catenoid
animation of a catenary sweeping out the shape of a catenoid as it rotates about a central point
A catenoid obtained from the rotation of a catenary

A catenoid is a type of surface, arising by rotating a catenary curve about an axis.[1] It is a minimal surface, meaning that it occupies the least area when bounded by a closed space.[2] It was formally described in 1744 by the mathematician Leonhard Euler.

Soap film attached to twin circular rings will take the shape of a catenoid.[2] Because they are members of the same associate family of surfaces, a catenoid can be bent into a portion of a helicoid, and vice versa.


The catenoid was the first non-trivial minimal surface in 3-dimensional Euclidean space to be discovered apart from the plane. The catenoid is obtained by rotating a catenary about its directrix.[2] It was found and proved to be minimal by Leonhard Euler in 1744.[3][4]

Early work on the subject was published also by Jean Baptiste Meusnier.[5][4]:11106 There are only two minimal surfaces of revolution (surfaces of revolution which are also minimal surfaces): the plane and the catenoid.[6]

The catenoid may be defined by the following parametric equations:

where and and is a non-zero real constant.

In cylindrical coordinates:

where is a real constant.

A physical model of a catenoid can be formed by dipping two circular rings into a soap solution and slowly drawing the circles apart.

The catenoid may be also defined approximately by the Stretched grid method as a facet 3D model.

Helicoid transformation[edit]

Continuous animation showing a helicoid deforming into a catenoid and back to a helicoid
Deformation of a helicoid into a catenoid

Because they are members of the same associate family of surfaces, one can bend a catenoid into a portion of a helicoid without stretching. In other words, one can make a (mostly) continuous and isometric deformation of a catenoid to a portion of the helicoid such that every member of the deformation family is minimal (having a mean curvature of zero). A parametrization of such a deformation is given by the system

for , with deformation parameter ,

where corresponds to a right-handed helicoid, corresponds to a catenoid, and corresponds to a left-handed helicoid.


  1. ^ Dierkes, Ulrich; Hildebrandt, Stefan; Sauvigny, Friedrich (2010). Minimal Surfaces. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 141. ISBN 9783642116988. 
  2. ^ a b c Gullberg, Jan (1997). Mathematics: From the Birth of Numbers. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 538. ISBN 9780393040029. 
  3. ^ Helveticae, Euler, Leonhard (1952) [reprint of 1744 edition]. Carathëodory Constantin, ed. Methodus inveniendi lineas curvas: maximi minimive proprietate gaudentes sive solutio problematis isoperimetrici latissimo sensu accepti (in Latin). Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 3-76431-424-9. 
  4. ^ a b Colding, T. H.; Minicozzi, W. P. (17 July 2006). "Shapes of embedded minimal surfaces". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 103 (30): 11106–11111. doi:10.1073/pnas.0510379103. PMC 1544050Freely accessible. 
  5. ^ Meusnier, J. B (1881). Mémoire sur la courbure des surfaces [Memory on the curvature of surfaces.] (PDF) (in French). Bruxelles: F. Hayez, Imprimeur De L'Acdemie Royale De Belgique. pp. 477–510. ISBN 9781147341744. 
  6. ^ "Catenoid". Wolfram MathWorld. Retrieved 15 January 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]