Integration Example: Disk (Washer Method) vs. Shell Method

Here is an example to help you understand and visualize the difference between the disk method and the shell method.  I will do the same problem twice: once using disk method and once using shell method.  Keep in mind: not all problems are equally as easily solved with both methods — that’s why we have multiple methods!  Some problems may be easy to do with the shell method but nearly impossible with the disk method, or vice versa.

If you haven’t read the blog posts that discuss the basic differences between the disk method and the shell method, read those first:

To get the most out of this problem, grab a pen and paper and do the problem along with me: draw each picture and write each equation.

Q:  Find the volume obtained by rotating the area contained by y = √(x), y = 0, and x = 4 around the y-axis.

A:  First, draw a picture of the area that is to be rotated.




Visualize the rotation.  Actually give the shape a name to help solidify it in your mind.  I think of this shape as a cinder cone:


Obviously this isn’t a perfect visual match, but giving a real image to an abstract shape really helps with mentally processing the steps.

Method 1:  Disk (washer) Method.  Remember, the disk and washer method are the same thing.  In the disk method, we visualize stacked circles (or pancakes, as I like to say).  The washer method is the same stacked pancakes with holes (like washers or donuts).

I like to complete every problem with the same thought process.  Follow these steps for all volume/integration problems and you will get the hang of it!

Step 1.  Determine if this is a dx or a dy problem.

Which way are we stacking our pancakes?


Pancakes are being stacked vertically, so this is a “dy problem”.  This means the limits of integration and the equations used will all be in terms of y.

?? ____?____  dy

Step 2.  Find the limits of integration.

Where does the pancake stacking start?  Where does it end?  Remember — in terms of y since this is a dy problem.

Pancakes start at y=0 and end at the place where y = √(x) and x = 4 intersect (the top of the cinder cone).  These bounds intersect at the point (4, 2).

So, pancake stacking starts at y=0 and end at y=2.

02 ____?____  dy

Step 3.  Find the equation of the areas that are being stacked.

We’ve pre-decided that we are going to use the disk (washer) method.  There are definitely washers happening, because there is a big outer circle minus a hole (to create the cinder cone).  So, we need to stack outer pancakes minus inner pancakes (big circles minus small circles):

Area = πR2 – πr2

Let’s start with the area of the big circles, which I’ve called πR2.  What is the radius, R, of the big circles?  Is it changing throughout the problem or is it constant?


The radius of the larger circles is constant.  The larger circles have a radius of 4 throughout the entire cinder cone:  R = 4

Now look at the smaller circles.  Is the radius, r, constant or changing?


Notice the radius of the smaller circles is changing.  This radius is a horizontal distance, starting from the y-axis and moving on out.  The radius is x: r = x.

BUT WAIT…. remember, this is a dy problem.  All equations need to be in terms of y!  So, using r = x will not help.  We need to find a way to represent x in terms of y.  Fortunately, we have the equation to help: y = √(x), so, x = y2

Good.  So, R = 4 and r = y2

Our equation is now complete and ready to solve:

02 π(4)2 – π(y2)2 dy

I will leave the solving to you… but as a final answer I get 128π/5 (approx = 80.425)

Now… Are we ready to solve this same problem using the shell method?

Method 2:  Shell method.  Instead of visualizing stacked pancakes to create our cinder cone, we will visualize stacked “Russian Dolls” (cylinders).  We are going to stack these cylinders so tightly together that the lateral area of the cylinders will stack to create volume.


Back to our steps:

Step 1.  Determine if this is a dx or a dy problem.

The dolls are being stacked inside of each other and on outward, expanding along the x-axis.  This is a “dx problem”.  This means the limits of integration and the equations used will all be in terms of x.

?? ____?____  dx

Step 2.  Find the limits of integration.

Where does the cylinder stacking start and where does it end?  In other words: what is the radius of our smallest cylinder and what is the radius of our largest cylinder?

The smallest cylinder has a radius of x=0 and the largest cylinder has a radius of x=4

04 ____?____  dx

Step 3.  Find the equation of the areas that are being stacked.

We are stacking lateral areas of a cylinder, which has equation: 2πrh (r is the radius of the cylinder, h is the height).

Let’s figure out the radius, r, of a random cylinder/doll in our shape.  The radius does change, so it is a variable.


But, it does not necessarily depend on the functions.  The radius is simply an x-value that continues to grow until we hit the wall of x = 4.

So, r = x.

Now, let’s figure out the height, h, of a random cylinder/doll in our shape.  The height is changing and it is definitely affected by the functions.  The height is the y-value of the bounding function: h = y…. BUT WAIT… remember, this is a dx problem — no y’s allowed. So, use the equation: y = √(x).  Therefore, h = √(x)

So, we have:

04  2π(x)(√(x)) dx

I will leave the solving to you… but as a final answer I get 128π/5 (approx = 80.425) — no coincidence that this is the same answer obtained by method 1!

Same shape, two methods, same answer.  Phew.


Determining the End Behavior of a Function

How do you determine the end behavior of a function?  And, what does this mean?

When looking at a graph, the “end behavior” is referring to what is happening all the way to the far left of the graph and all the way to the far right of the graph.  Your goal is to analyze the y-value (height) of the function when x is really large and negative, and then again when x is really large and positive.  What is the pattern on each end?  What is the “end behavior”?

Notationally, we are thinking:

  1. As x → -∞, y → ?
  2. As x → +∞, y → ?

OK, so let’s try this on a polynomial example:

Q:  What is the end behavior of the function y=5x3+7x2-2x-1

A:  OK.  Let’s look at the left end behavior first:

As  x approaches -∞, what is the function (y-value) doing?

Imagine x=-1000000 (some super large and super negative number, like the idea of -∞), we have:


Don’t do the actual math.  Just think:

Is this number large or small?

Is it positive or negative?

I can look at the x3 term and see that it dominates this function. x2 and x are small peanuts compared to x3. So, in reaity, in polynomials, I can focus on the term of the largest degree:



This number gives y = negative and super large.

So, I can jump to conclusions here…

As x → -∞, y → -∞

(As x approaches negative infinity, y approaches negative infinity).

Now, let’s look at the right end behavior:

As  x approaches +∞, what is the function (y-value) doing?

Imagine x=+1000000 (some super large and super positive number, like the concept of +∞), we have:


And, by the same reasoning, we can focus on the term of largest degree:


y=5(+1000000)3 = super large and super positive

So, as x → +∞, y → +∞

(As x approaches positive infinity, y approaches positive infinity)

Note: in this example, y behavior mimicked x behavior, this isn’t always the case!

Visualizing limits vs values

Look at the function f(x) in orange below:


We are going to answer 4 questions about this graph.  They are all related to each other, but different questions.  Seeing the difference will help us sort out the difference between a function value and a limit.

Q1:  Find f(1)

Q2:  Find  limx→1 f(x)

Q3:  Find  limx→1+ f(x)

Q4:  Find  limx→1 f(x)

OK….. Try to answer these questions with what you know… Then continue reading to see the answers and explanations!

Read More »

Covert Radians to Degrees & Convert Degrees to Radians

Here is what we know:

360° = 2π Radians

Divide both sides by 360:

1° = π/180 Radians

Or, if we had divided both sides by 2π we get:

1 Radian = 180°/π

These equations give us our conversion factors…

To convert from degrees to radians:

degrees * (π/180) = radians

Example: Covert 120 degrees to radians:

120 * π/180 = 120π/180 = 2π/3

So, 120 degrees = 2π/3 radians.

To convert from radians to degrees:

radians * (180/π) = degrees

Example:  Covert 5π/6 radians to degrees:

5π/6 * (180/π) = 900π/(6π) = 150

So, 5π/6 radians = 150 degrees.

Exact Values for Trig Functions

If you are in trigonometry or pre-calculus, the below is something you want to memorize, write down, something! Here is a table with the “exact values” for the important angles we use:

Degrees Radians sin(x) cos(x) tan(x)
0 (or 360) 0 (or 2π) 0 1 0
30 π/6 1/2 √(3)/2 √(3)/3
45 π/4 √(2)/2 √(2)/2 1
60 π/3 √(3)/2 1/2 √(3)
90 π/2 1 0 Undefined
180 π 0 -1 0
270 3π/2 -1 0 Undefined

Remember:  If you ever need to find csc, sec, or cot values, they are just reciprocals.  Csc is the reciprocal of sin, sec is the reciprocal of cos, and cot is the reciprocal of tan.