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Geometry (Greek: geo = earth, metria = measure) arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. It was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers. In modern times, geometric concepts have become very complex and abstract and are barely recognizable as the descendants of early geometry.

Research project : history of geometry

Work in pairs or groups and investigate the history of the foundation of geometry. Describe the various stages of development and how the following cultures used geometry to improve their lives. This list should serve as a guideline and provide the minimum requirement, there are many other people who contributed to the foundation of geometry.

  1. Ancient Indian geometry (c. 3000 - 500 B.C.)
    1. Harappan geometry
    2. Vedic geometry
  2. Classical Greek geometry (c. 600 - 300 B.C.)
    1. Thales and Pythagoras
    2. Plato
  3. Hellenistic geometry (c. 300 B.C - 500 C.E.)
    1. Euclid
    2. Archimedes

Right prisms and cylinders

In this section we study how to calculate the surface areas and volumes of right prisms and cylinders. A right prism is a polygon that has been stretched out into a tube so that the height of the tube is perpendicular to the base. A square prism has a base that is a square and a triangular prism has a base that is a triangle.

Examples of a right square prism, a right triangular prism and a cylinder.

It is relatively simple to calculate the surface areas and volumes of prisms.

Surface area

The term surface area refers to the total area of the exposed or outside surfaces of a prism. This is easier to understand if you imagine the prism as a solid object.

If you examine the prisms in [link] , you will see that each face of a prism is a simple polygon. For example, the triangular prism has two faces that are triangles and three faces that are rectangles. Therefore, in order to calculate the surface area of a prism you simply have to calculate the area of each face and add it up. In the case of a cylinder the top and bottom faces are circles, while the curved surface flattens into a rectangle.

Surface Area of Prisms

Calculate the area of each face and add the areas together to get the surface area. To do this you need to determine the correct shape of each and every face of the prism and then for each one determine the surface area. The sum of the surface areas of all the faces will give you the total surface area of the prism.

Discussion : surface areas

In pairs, study the following prisms and the adjacent image showing the various surfaces that make up the prism. Explain to your partner, how each relates to the other.

Surface areas

  1. Calculate the surface area in each of the following:
  2. If a litre of paint covers an area of 2 m 2 , how much paint does a painter need to cover:
    1. A rectangular swimming pool with dimensions 4 m × 3 m × 2 , 5 m , inside walls and floor only.
    2. The inside walls and floor of a circular reservoir with diameter 4 m and height 2 , 5 m


The volume of a right prism is calculated by multiplying the area of the base by the height. So, for a square prism of side length a and height h the volume is a × a × h = a 2 h .

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Source:  OpenStax, Contemporary math applications. OpenStax CNX. Dec 15, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11559/1.6
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