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Helix vs. Spiral: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
A helix is a three-dimensional curve like a spring or DNA strand; a spiral is a two-dimensional or three-dimensional curve that winds around a central point.
Helix vs. Spiral

Key Differences

A helix is a three-dimensional shape that extends in the z-axis, like a corkscrew or DNA strand. In contrast, a spiral can be a two-dimensional or three-dimensional curve that winds around a center point, like a galaxy or whirlpool.
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The helix is exemplified in structures like the DNA double helix or a coil spring. Spirals are seen in natural phenomena such as hurricanes or in man-made objects like spiral staircases.
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Mathematically, a helix has a uniform diameter and a constant pitch, moving upwards or downwards as it circles. A spiral, however, may have a changing radius and can be flat or volumetric, expanding or contracting as it moves around its center.
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In symbolism, the helix often represents growth, progress, or life due to its association with DNA. The spiral symbolizes continuity, evolution, and the notion of cycles in nature and the cosmos.
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In engineering, helices are crucial in the design of springs, screws, and helical gears. Spirals are significant in architecture and design, seen in structures like spiral staircases and in artistic patterns.
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Comparison Chart

Dimensions

Three-dimensional.
Two or three-dimensional.
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Shape

Uniform diameter, constant pitch.
Radius may change, can be flat or volumetric.
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Examples

DNA strand, coil spring.
Galaxy, spiral staircase.
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Symbolism

Growth, progress, life.
Continuity, cycles, evolution.
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Use in Design

Springs, screws, helical gears.
Architectural elements, artistic patterns.
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Helix and Spiral Definitions

Helix

In a helix, the curve maintains a uniform diameter throughout its length.
The metal coil in a mattress is an example of a helix.
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Spiral

A spiral can expand or contract in radius as it winds.
The spiral pattern on the pottery expanded outward from the center.
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Helix

A helix progresses upward or downward while circling around an axis.
The helix-shaped staircase in the museum provides a unique architectural feature.
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Spiral

Spirals often symbolize evolution, growth, or the cyclical nature of life.
The spiral in ancient art represented the journey of life.
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Helix

A helix is a three-dimensional curve that resembles a corkscrew or spring.
The DNA molecule is structured as a double helix.
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Spiral

A curve on a plane that winds around a fixed center point at a continuously increasing or decreasing distance from the point.
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Helix

A helix is a twisted shape that turns around a central axis.
The helix of a screw allows it to penetrate and secure materials.
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Spiral

A three-dimensional curve that turns around an axis at a constant or continuously varying distance while moving parallel to the axis; a helix.
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Helix

(Mathematics) A three-dimensional curve that lies on a cylinder or cone, so that its angle to a plane perpendicular to the axis is constant.
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Spiral

Something having the form of such a curve
A spiral of black smoke.
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Helix

A spiral form or structure.
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Spiral

(Printing) A spiral binding.
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Helix

(Anatomy) The folded rim of skin and cartilage around most of the outer ear.
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Spiral

The course or flight path of an object rotating on its longitudinal axis.
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Helix

(Architecture) A volute on a Corinthian or Ionic capital.
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Spiral

A continuously accelerating increase or decrease
The wage-price spiral.
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Helix

To move or position (something) into the shape of a helix.
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Spiral

Of or resembling a spiral.
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Helix

To have the shape of a helix.
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Spiral

Circling around a center at a continuously increasing or decreasing distance.
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Helix

To move along a helical course; spiral.
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Spiral

Coiling around an axis in a constantly changing series of planes; helical.
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Helix

(mathematics) A curve on the surface of a cylinder or cone such that its angle to a plane perpendicular to the axis is constant; the three-dimensional curve seen in a screw or a spiral staircase. Category:en:Curves
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Spiral

(Printing) Relating to or having a spiral binding
A spiral notebook.
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Helix

(architectural element) A small volute under the abacus of a Corinthian capital.
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Spiral

To take a spiral form or course.
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Helix

(anatomy) The incurved rim of the external ear.
Helix piercing
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Spiral

To rise or fall with steady acceleration.
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Helix

An upside down midair 360° spin in playboating.
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Spiral

To cause to take a spiral form or course.
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Helix

To form or cause to form a helix.
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Spiral

(geometry) A curve that is the locus of a point that rotates about a fixed point while continuously increasing its distance from that point. Category:en:Curves
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Helix

A nonplane curve whose tangents are all equally inclined to a given plane. The common helix is the curve formed by the thread of the ordinary screw. It is distinguished from the spiral, all the convolutions of which are in the plane.
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Spiral

(informal) A helix.
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Helix

A caulicule or little volute under the abacus of the Corinthian capital.
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Spiral

A self-sustaining process with a lot of momentum involved, so it is difficult to accelerate or stop it at once.
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Helix

The incurved margin or rim of the external ear. See Illust. of Ear.
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Spiral

(rail) A section of track that forms a circle and crosses over itself, used for gaining height in mountainous territory.
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Helix

A genus of land snails, including a large number of species.
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Spiral

Helical, like a spiral.
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Helix

A curve that lies on the surface of a cylinder or cone and cuts the element at a constant angle
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Spiral

(intransitive) To move along the path of a spiral or helix.
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Helix

A structure consisting of something wound in a continuous series of loops;
A coil of rope
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Spiral

(transitive) To cause something to spiral.
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Helix

Type genus of the family Helicidae
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Spiral

To increase continually.
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Helix

The helix often symbolizes continuity and progression.
Artists use the helix to represent the complexity and continuity of life.
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Spiral

Winding or circling round a center or pole and gradually receding from it; as, the spiral curve of a watch spring.
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Spiral

Winding round a cylinder or imaginary axis, and at the same time rising or advancing forward; winding like the thread of a screw; helical.
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Spiral

Of or pertaining to a spiral; like a spiral.
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Spiral

A plane curve, not reëntrant, described by a point, called the generatrix, moving along a straight line according to a mathematical law, while the line is revolving about a fixed point called the pole. Cf. Helix.
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Spiral

Anything which has a spiral form, as a spiral shell.
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Spiral

A plane curve traced by a point circling about the center but at ever-greater distances from it
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Spiral

A curve that lies on the surface of a cylinder or cone and cuts the element at a constant angle
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Spiral

Ornament consisting of a curve on a plane that winds around a center with an increasing distance from the center
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Spiral

A structure consisting of something wound in a continuous series of loops;
A coil of rope
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Spiral

Flying downward in a helical path with a large radius
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Spiral

To wind or move in a spiral course;
The muscles and nerves of his fine drawn body were coiling for action
Black smoke coiling up into the sky
The young people gyrated on the dance floor
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Spiral

Form a spiral;
The path spirals up the mountain
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Spiral

Move in a spiral or zigzag course
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Spiral

In the shape of a coil
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Spiral

A spiral is a curve that winds around a central point, either in a flat plane or in three dimensions.
The spiral design of the galaxy is both vast and mesmerizing.
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Spiral

Spirals are frequently used in architecture, like in spiral staircases.
The old lighthouse featured a magnificent spiral staircase.
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Spiral

The spiral is a popular motif in art and design, representing movement and fluidity.
The artist used spiral patterns to convey motion in her painting.
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Repeatedly Asked Queries

Are DNA strands helix or spiral?

DNA strands are structured as a double helix.
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What is a helix?

A helix is a three-dimensional curve that resembles a spring or corkscrew.
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Can spirals be found in nature?

Yes, spirals are common in nature, like in galaxies or shell patterns.
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Is a helix always uniform in diameter?

Typically, a helix maintains a uniform diameter throughout.
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Can a spiral be three-dimensional?

Yes, spirals can be both two-dimensional and three-dimensional.
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Are helices used in engineering?

Yes, helices are used in engineering for springs, screws, and gears.
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Do spirals have a constant radius?

No, the radius of a spiral can expand or contract.
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What is an example of a spiral in art?

Spirals in art can be seen in patterns, designs, and depictions of galaxies.
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What does a spiral symbolize?

Spirals often symbolize evolution, growth, and the cyclical nature of life.
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What is a spiral?

A spiral is a curve that winds around a central point, in two or three dimensions.
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How is a helix different from a circle?

A helix extends in three dimensions with a height component, unlike a circle.
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Do helices appear in architecture?

Yes, helices can be seen in architectural elements like spiral staircases and sculptures.
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What is the difference in symbolism between a helix and a spiral?

A helix often symbolizes continuity and progression, while a spiral symbolizes cycles and evolution.
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Are helices found in machines?

Yes, many machines use helical components like springs and gears.
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Can a spiral be flat?

Yes, spirals can be flat, like in a spiral drawing or design.
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Are spiral staircases an example of a helix or spiral?

Spiral staircases are an example of a spiral, especially when viewed from above.
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Can a helix change its pitch?

Typically, a helix has a constant pitch, but variable pitch helices also exist.
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Do spirals always wind in the same direction?

No, spirals can wind in either clockwise or counterclockwise directions.
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Are helices and spirals used in mathematics?

Yes, both helices and spirals are important shapes studied in mathematics and geometry.
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Is a helix a type of spiral?

A helix is a specific type of spiral, but with three-dimensional properties.
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Shumaila Saeed
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Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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