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What is the best way to see that the Ricci scalar curvature of $(S^n(r),g_{round})$ is a constant $n(n-1)/r^2$ ? I essentially only see this value stated in the literature, but no computation associated with it, so I assume it is a straightforward calculation. But...

I keep doing the calculation, and it gets messy... Not sure of the best basis to view the round metric in, and whether to go straight through definitions with Riemannian/Ricci curvature or just use sectional curvature. So in particular, what's the best way to see that the sectional/Riemannian curvature is $1/r^2$ ?

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I would use the sectional curvature. Pick a point $p\in \mathbb S^{n-1}$ and a two-dimensional subspace $V\subset T_p S^{n-1}$. The geodesics starting from $p$ in directions lying in $V$ are all contained in the $3$-dimensional subspace $W\subset \mathbb R^n$ such that $T_p S^{n-1}\subset T_p W$. Therefore, the calculation of sectional curvature amounts to calculating the Gaussian curvature of $S^{n-1}\cap W$, which is just $S^2$. For that, there is a lot of explicit formulas which yield $1/r^2$ in reasonable time.

Once the sectional curvature is known to be $1/r^2$, the Ricci is determined from one version of the definition: average of sectional curvatures through a given vector (times $n-1$).

[Added] I used the definition of sectional curvature involving the exponential map, as in Helgason's Differential geometry. I quote: let $N_0$ be a normal neighborhood of $0$ in $T_pM$. Let $S$ be a two-dimensional subspace of $T_pM$. Then $\exp (N_0\cap S)$ is a 2-dimensional submanifold of $M$ with induced Riemannian structure. Its curvature at $p$ is called the sectional curvature of $M$ at $p$ along the plane section $S$.

Old-fashioned as it may be, this definition makes it as clear as possible where sectional comes from... Incidentally, Helgason defines the curvature of a 2-dimensional manifold by $$K=\lim_{r\to 0} \frac{12}{r^2}\frac{A_0(r)-A(r)}{A_0(r)}$$ where $A_0(r)$ and $A(r)$ stand for the areas of a disk $B_r(p)\subset T_pM$ and of its image under the exponential map. For the 2-sphere of radius $R$ we have $A(r)=2\pi R^2(1-\cos (r/R))=\pi r^2-\pi r^4/(12R^2)+o(r^4)$, hence $$K=\lim_{r\to 0} \frac{12}{r^2}\frac{\pi r^4 /(12R^2)}{\pi r^2}=\frac{1}{R^2}$$

Yeah... I like the exponential map and I hate tensors.

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There is a compelling way to see this using the Gauss equation. Let us consider the sphere $S^n \subset \mathbb R^{n+1}$. Choose a point $p \in S^n$ and an orthonormal basis $\{e_i\}$ of $T_pS^n$ in which the second fundamental form is diagonalized, thus $$D_{e_i}\nu = \lambda_ie_i,$$ where $\nu$ is the normal vector ($\nu$ is the position vector in this case) and $D_{e_i}$ is the usual directional derivative in $\mathbb R^n$. Then the Gauss equation reads $$\mathrm{sec_{\mathbb R^{n+1}}}(e_i,e_j) = \mathrm{sec_{S^n}}(e_i,e_j) - \lambda_i\lambda_j.$$ On the other hand it is easy to calculate that $$2\mathrm{Hess}r = \frac{2}{r} g_r,$$ where $g_r = r^2ds^2_{n}$ and $g = dr^2 + g_r$ is the Euclidean metric on $\mathbb R^{n+1}$ written in spherical coordinates. Here $ds^2_{n}$ is the round metric on $S^{n}$. Thus $\lambda_i = \frac{1}{r}$ and since $\mathrm{sec_{\mathbb R^n}(e_i,e_j)} = 0$ it follows that $$\mathrm{sec_{S^n}}(e_i,e_j)= \frac{1}{r^2}.$$

Remark: This method can be found in Chapter 3 of Peter Petersen's great book "Riemannian Geometry."

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I am not sure that this is the best way, but I find it easy: Calculate the Christoffel symbols and its derivative at the north pole $(0,...,0,r)$. Then using the formula, we can find the Riemannian curvature tensor, and hence sectional curvature and Ricci curvature at the north pole $(0,...,0,r)$. Since the calculation is done at the north pole $(0,...,0,r)$, it simplifies things a lot.

Now, note that $(S^n(r),g_{round})$ is homogenous, i.e. for any two points $p, q$ in $S^n(r)$, there exists an isometry $\sigma$ such that $\sigma(p)=q$. So every point on $(S^n(r))$ has the same Riemannian curvature tensor, and hence sectional curvature and Ricci curvature as the north pole.

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@ChrisGerig Yes, you are right. I made a mistake. I edited it. For your question, to calculate $\Gamma_{ij}^k$ we can use the formula $\Gamma_{ij}^k=\frac{1}{2}g^{kl}\left(\frac{\partial g_{il}{\partial x_j}+\frac{\partial g_{jl}{\partial x_i}-\frac{\partial g_{ij}{\partial x_l}\right)$. And $g_{ij}$ is known in this case. So we can calculate it explicitly. But as you have said, it's still kind of tedious. –  Paul Dec 22 '12 at 3:04
    
I mean $\Gamma_{ij}^k=\frac{1}{2}g^{kl}(\frac{\partial g_{il}}{\partial x_j}+\frac{\partial g_{jl}}{\partial x_i}-\frac{\partial g_{ij}}{\partial x_l})$ –  Paul Dec 22 '12 at 3:08
    
I want to accept this answer, but it rests on actually being able to compute this; I don't know what $g_{ij}$ would be in terms of coordinates on $S^n(r)$ so that I can get a nice answer. –  Chris Gerig Dec 22 '12 at 18:46
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