Change of Coordinate Systems
Change of Coordinates 

Change of Coordinates
 The same object, here a disk, can look completely different depending on which coordinate system is used.
Contents
Basic Description
It is a common practice in mathematics to use different coordinate systems to solve different problems. An example of a switch between coordinate systems follows: suppose we take a set of points in regular xy Cartesian Coordinates, represented by ordered pairs such as (1,2), then multiply their xcomponents by two, meaning (1,2) in the old coordinates is matched with (2,2) in the new coordinates.
Under this transformation, a set of points would be stretched out in the horizontal xdirection since each point becomes further from the vertical yaxis (except for points originally on the yaxis, which remain on the axis). A set of points that was originally contained in a circle in the old coordinates would be contained by a stretchedout ellipse in the new coordinate system, as shown in the top two figures of this page's main image.
Many other such transformations exist and are useful throughout mathematics, such as mapping the points in a disk to a rectangle.
A More Mathematical Explanation
Some of these mappings can be neatly represented by vectors and matrices, in the form
Where is the coordinate vector of our point in the original coordinate system and is the coordinate vector of our point in the new coordinate system.
For example the transformation in the basic description, doubling the value of the xcoordinate, is represented in this notation by
As can be easily verified.
The ellipse that is tilted relative to the coordinate axes is created by a combination of rotation and stretching, represented by the matrix
Some very useful mappings cannot be represented in matrix form, such as mapping points from Cartesian Coordinates to Polar Coordinates. Such a mapping, as shown in this page's main image, can map a disk to a rectangle. Each origincentered ring in the disk consists of points at constant distance from the origin and angles ranging from 0 to . These points create a vertical line in Polar Coordinates. Each ring at a different distance from the origin creates its own line in the polar system, and the collection of these lines creates a rectangle.
The transformation from Cartesian coordinates to Polar Coordinate can be represented algebraically by
ThreeDimensional Coordinates
In 3 dimensions, similar coordinate systems and transformations between them exist. Three common systems are rectangular, cylindrical and spherical coordinates:
 Rectangular Coordinates use standard coordinates, where each coordinate is a distance on a coordinate axis.
 Cylindrical Coordinates use , where are the same as twodimensional polar coordinates and z is distance from the xy plane as shown on the right.
 Spherical Coordinates use , where is the distance from the origin, is rotation from the positive xaxis as in polar coordinates, and is rotation from the positive zaxis. Note that this standard varies from discipline to discipline. For example, the standard in physics is to switch the and labeling. Always be aware of what standard you should be using given a particular textbook or course. The mathematics standard noted above and shown in the image on the left is used for this page.
Converting between these coordinates
The conversion from rectangular (Cartesian) coordinates to cylindrical coordinates is almost identical to the conversion between Crtesian coordinates and polar coordinates.
 radians
The conversion from cylindrical coordinates to Cartesian coordinates is given by
 .
 .
In order to go from Cartesian to spherical coordinates, we have

 radians

 radians
The transformation from spherical coordinates to Cartesian coordinates is given by
 .
We can also write the transformation from cylindrical coordinates to spherical coordinates:
 .
Finally, the transformation from spherical to cylindrical coordinates is given by
 .
Interactive Demonstration
Future Ideas for this Page
 add examples of transformations between three dimensional coordinate systems.
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