|This article needs to be formatted and/or linked to other articles according to our style guidelines. Please remove this notice when this has been done.|
Surface area is how much exposed area an object has. It is expressed in square units. If an object has flat faces, its surface area can be calculated by adding together the areas of its faces. Even objects with smooth surfaces, such as spheres,
Surface area is important in chemical kinetics. Increasing the surface area of a substance generally increases the rate of a chemical reaction. For example, iron in a fine powder will combust, while in solid blocks it is stable enough to use in structures. For different applications a minimal or maximal surface area may be desired.
The surface area-to-volume ratio of a cell imposes upper limits on size, as the volume increases much faster than does the surface area, thus limiting the rate at which substances diffuse from the interior across the cell membrane to interstitial spaces or to other cells. If you consider the math, you'll see the relation between SA and V much more intuitively: , where r is the radius of the cell. Do the math and the resulting ratio becomes If a cell has a radius of 1 μm, the SA:V ratio is 3. Increase the cell's radius to 10 μm and the SA:V ratio becomes 0.3. With a cell radius of 100, SA:V ratio is 0.03. Using the previous simple example, we can see how the surface area falls off steeply with increasing volume.
What limitations does this place on a living cell? For small cells, SA:V ratio allows for relatively good exchange of nutrients and wastes. For larger cells and organisms, SA:V ratio forces the cell or organism to find more efficient ways to exchange nutrients and waste products, e.g. specific conduits that carry blood, hormones, lymph, etc. from deep regions to the surface of an organism.