Assignment 2 (Written): Investigating Curvature (Due 3/19)

The written portion of Assignment 2 can be found below. It takes a look at the curvature of smooth and discrete surfaces, which we have been talking about in lecture. Note that you are required to complete only two problems from each section!

Warning: We renumbered the Exercises in the course notes to make more sense, so you make sure you refer to the updated notes when doing these exercises.

Assignment 2 (Coding): Investigating Curvature (Due 3/19)

For the coding portion of this assignment, you will implement various expressions for discrete curvatures and surfaces normals that you will derive in the written assignment. (However, the final expressions are given below in case you want to do the coding first.) Once implemented, you will be able to visualize these geometric quantities on a mesh. For simplicity, you may assume that the mesh has no boundary.

Getting Started
Please implement the following routines in core/geometry.js:

  1. angle
  2. dihedralAngle
  3. vertexNormalAngleWeighted
  4. vertexNormalSphereInscribed
  5. vertexNormalAreaWeighted
  6. vertexNormalGaussianCurvature
  7. vertexNormalMeanCurvature
  8. angleDefect
  9. totalAngleDefect
  10. scalarMeanCurvature
  11. circumcentricDualArea
  12. principalCurvatures


1. The dihedral angle between the normals $N_{ijk}$ and $N_{ijl}$ of two adjacent faces $ijk$ and $ijl$ (respectively) is given by
$$ \theta_{ij} := \text{atan2}\left(\frac{e_{ij}}{\|e_{ij}\|} \cdot \left(N_{ijk} \times N_{jil}\right), N_{ijk} \cdot N_{jil}\right)$$

where $e_{ij}$ is the vector from vertex $i$ to vertex $j$.

2. The formulas for the angle weighted normal, sphere inscribed normal, area weighted normal, discrete Gaussian curvature normal and discrete mean curvature normal at vertex $i$ are
N_i^\phi &:= \sum_{ijk \in F} \phi_i^{jk}N_{ijk}\\
N_i^S &:= \sum_{ijk \in F} \frac{e_{ij} \times e_{ik}} {\|e_{ij}\|^2\|e_{ik}\|^2}\\
N_i^A &:= \sum_{ijk \in F} A_{ijk}N_{ijk}\\
KN_i &= \frac 12 \sum_{ij \in E} \frac{\theta_{ij}}{\|e_{ij}\|}e_{ij}\\
HN_i &= \frac 12 \sum_{ij \in E}\left(\cot\left(\alpha_k^{ij}\right) + \cot\left(\beta_l^{ij}\right)\right)e_{ij}

where $\phi_i^{jk}$ is the interior angle between edges $e_{ij}$ and $e_{ik}$, and $A_{ijk}$ is the area of face $ijk$. Note that sums are taken only over elements (edges or faces) containing vertex $i$. Normalize the final value of all your normal vectors before returning them.

3. The circumcentric dual area at vertex $i$ is given by
\[A_i := \frac 18 \sum_{ijk \in F} \|e_{ik}\|^2\cot\left(\alpha_j^{ki}\right) + \|e_{ij}\|^2\cot\left(\beta_k^{ij}\right)\]

4. The discrete scalar Gaussian curvature (also known as angle defect) and discrete scalar mean curvature at vertex $i$ are given by
K_i &:= 2\pi – \sum_{ijk \in F} \phi_i^{jk}\\
H_i &:= \frac 12 \sum_{ij \in E} \theta_{ij}\|e_{ij}\|

Note that these quantities are discrete 2-forms, i.e., they represent the total Gaussian and mean curvature integrated over a neighborhood of a vertex. They can be converted to pointwise quantities (i.e., discrete 0-forms at vertices) by dividing them by the  circumcentric dual area of the vertex (i.e., by applying the discrete Hodge star).

5. You are required to derive expressions for the principal curvatures $\kappa_1$ and $\kappa_2$ in exercise 4 of the written assignment. Your implementation of principalCurvatures should return the (pointwise) minimum and maximum principal curvature values at a vertex (in that order).

Submission Instructions

Please rename your geometry.js file to geometry.txt and put it in a single zip file called This file and your solution to the written exercises should be submitted together in a single email to with the subject line DDG19A2.

Reading 5—Curves and Surfaces (due 3/7)

Your next reading complements our in-class discussion of the geometry of curves and surfaces. In particular, you should read Chapter 3 of the course notes, pages 28–44. This reading is due next Thursday, March 7.

Handin instructions are described on the Assignments Page.

Since these notes just barely scratch the surface (literally), I am often asked for recommendations on books that provide a deeper discussion of surfaces. The honest answer is, “I don’t know; I mostly didn’t learn it from a book.” But there are a couple fairly standard references (other) people seem to like, both of which should be available digitally from the CMU library:

Lecture 11—Discrete Curves

This lecture presents the discrete counterpart of the previous lecture on smooth curves. Here we also arrive at a discrete version of the fundamental theorem for plane curves: a discrete curve is completely determined by its discrete parameterization (a.k.a. edge lengths) and its discrete curvature (a.k.a. exterior angles). Can you come up with a discrete version of the fundamental theorem for space curves? If we think of torsion as the rate at which the binormal is changing, then a natural analogue might be to (i) associate a binormal \(B_i\) with each vertex, equal to the normal of the plane containing \(f_{i-1}\), \(f_{i}\), and \(f_{i+1}\), and (ii) associate a torsion \(\tau_{ij}\) to each edge \(ij\), equal to the angle between \(B_i\) and \(B_{i+1}\). Using this data, can you recover a discrete space curve from edge lengths \(\ell_{ij}\), exterior angles \(\kappa_i\) at vertices, and torsions \(\tau_{ij}\) associated with edges? What’s the actual algorithm? (If you find this problem intriguing, leave a comment in the notes! It’s not required for class credit.)

Lecture 10—Smooth Curves

After spending a great deal of time understanding some basic algebraic and analytic tools (exterior algebra and exterior calculus), we’ll finally start talking about geometry in earnest, starting with smooth plane and space curves. Even low-dimensional geometry like curves reveal a lot of the phenomena that arise when studying curved manifolds in general. Our main result for this lecture is the fundamental theorem of space curves, which reveals that (loosely speaking) a curve is entirely determined by its curvatures. Descriptions of geometry in terms of “auxiliary” quantities such as curvature play an important role in computation, since different algorithms may be easier or harder to formulate depending on the quantities or variables used to represent the geometry. Next lecture, for instance, we’ll see some examples of algorithms for curvature flow, which naturally play well with representations based on curvature!

Assorted things about homework

  1. Here’s a piece of advice for assignment 1 which I forgot to put in the original post: You can compute the ratio of dual edge lengths to primal edge lengths using the cotan formula, which can be found on Slide 28 of the Discrete Exterior Calculus lecture, or in exercise 36 of the notes (you don’t have to do the exercise for this homework).
  2. I just emailed out grades for assignment 0. If you have questions or concerns about your graded assignment, or if you did not receive a graded assignment, please feel free to email me or to talk to me during office hours.
  3. Very few people have been attending my office hours on Fridays, so I am moving my office hours to be 2:30pm-4pm on Monday afternoons. They will still be held outside of Smith 232.
  4. If you would like to see solutions for assignment 0, we will bring some printed copies to class on Tuesday. I can also print you solutions if you stop by during office hours.

Slides—Discrete Exterior Calculus

This lecture wraps up our discussion of discrete exterior calculus, which will provide the basis for many of the algorithms we’ll develop in this class. Here we’ll encounter the same operations as in the smooth setting (Hodge star, wedge product, exterior derivative, etc.), which in the discrete setting are encoded by simple matrices that translate problems involving differential forms into ordinary linear algebra problems.

Assignment 1 (Coding): Exterior Calculus (Due 2/26)

For the coding portion of your first assignment, you will implement the discrete exterior calculus (DEC) operators $\star_0, \star_1, \star_2, d_0$ and $d_1$. Once implemented, you will be able to apply these operators to a scalar function (as depicted above) by pressing the “$\star$” and “$d$” button in the viewer. The diagram shown above will be updated to indicate what kind of differential k-form is currently displayed. These basic operations will be the starting point for many of the algorithms we will implement throughout the rest of the class; the visualization (and implementation!) should help you build further intuition about what these operators mean and how they work

Getting Started

  • For this assignment, you need to implement the following routines:
    1. in core/geometry.js
      1. cotan
      2. barycentricDualArea
    2. in core/discrete-exterior-calculus.js
      1. buildHodgeStar0Form
      2. buildHodgeStar1Form
      3. buildHodgeStar2Form
      4. buildExteriorDerivative0Form
      5. buildExteriorDerivative1Form

In practice, a simple and efficient way to compute the cotangent of the angle $\theta$ between two vectors $u$ and $v$ is to use the cross product and the dot product rather than calling any trigonometric functions directly; we ask that you implement your solution this way. (Hint: how are the dot and cross product of two vectors related to the cosine and sine of the angle between them?)

In case we have not yet covered it in class, the barycentric dual area associated with a vertex $i$ is equal to one-third the area of all triangles $ijk$ touching $i$.

EDIT: You can compute the ratio of dual edge lengths to primal edge lengths using the cotan formula, which can be found on Slide 28 of the Discrete Exterior Calculus lecture, or in exercise 36 of the notes (you don’t have to do the exercise for this homework).

Submission Instructions

Please rename your geometry.js and discrete-exterior-calculus.js files to geometry.txt and discrete-exterior-calculus.txt (respectively) and submit them in a single zip file called by email to

Assignment 1 (Written): Exterior Calculus (Due 2/26)

The written portion of assignment 1 is now available (below), which covers some of the fundamental tools we’ll be using in our class. Initially this assignment may look a bit intimidating, but keep a few things in mind:

  • The homework is not as long as it might seem: all the text in the big gray blocks contains supplementary, formal definitions that you do not need to know in order to complete the assignments.
  • Moreover, note that you are required to complete only three problems from each section.

Finally, don’t be shy about asking us questions here in the comments, via email, or during office hours.  We want to help you succeed on this assignment, so that you can enjoy all the adventures yet to come…

This assignment is due on Tuesday, February 26.

Slides—Discrete Differential Forms

In this lecture, we turn smooth differential \(k\)-forms into discrete objects that we can actually compute with. The basic idea is actually quite simple: to capture some information about a differential \(k\)-form, we integrate it over each oriented \(k\)-simplex of a mesh. The resulting values are just ordinary numbers that give us some sense of what the original \(k\)-form must have looked like.