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Multiplication of vectors and scalars

If we decided to walk three times as far on the first leg of the trip considered in the preceding example, then we would walk ×  27 . 5 m size 12{"3 " times " 27" "." "5 m"} {} , or 82.5 m, in a direction 66 . 0 º size 12{"66" "." 0 { size 12{º} } } {} north of east. This is an example of multiplying a vector by a positive scalar    . Notice that the magnitude changes, but the direction stays the same.

If the scalar is negative, then multiplying a vector by it changes the vector’s magnitude and gives the new vector the opposite direction. For example, if you multiply by –2, the magnitude doubles but the direction changes. We can summarize these rules in the following way: When vector A size 12{A} {} is multiplied by a scalar c size 12{c} {} ,

  • the magnitude of the vector becomes the absolute value of c size 12{c} {} A size 12{A} {} ,
  • if c size 12{A} {} is positive, the direction of the vector does not change,
  • if c size 12{A} {} is negative, the direction is reversed.

In our case, c = 3 size 12{c=3} and A = 27.5 m size 12{"A= 27.5 m"} . Vectors are multiplied by scalars in many situations. Note that division is the inverse of multiplication. For example, dividing by 2 is the same as multiplying by the value (1/2). The rules for multiplication of vectors by scalars are the same for division; simply treat the divisor as a scalar between 0 and 1.

Resolving a vector into components

In the examples above, we have been adding vectors to determine the resultant vector. In many cases, however, we will need to do the opposite. We will need to take a single vector and find what other vectors added together produce it. In most cases, this involves determining the perpendicular components of a single vector, for example the x - and y -components, or the north-south and east-west components.

For example, we may know that the total displacement of a person walking in a city is 10.3 blocks in a direction 29 .0º size 12{"29" "." 0º} } {} north of east and want to find out how many blocks east and north had to be walked. This method is called finding the components (or parts) of the displacement in the east and north directions, and it is the inverse of the process followed to find the total displacement. It is one example of finding the components of a vector. There are many applications in physics where this is a useful thing to do. We will see this soon in Projectile Motion , and much more when we cover forces in Dynamics: Newton’s Laws of Motion . Most of these involve finding components along perpendicular axes (such as north and east), so that right triangles are involved. The analytical techniques presented in Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods are ideal for finding vector components.

Summary

  • The graphical method of adding vectors A size 12{A} {} and B size 12{B} {} involves drawing vectors on a graph and adding them using the head-to-tail method. The resultant vector R size 12{A} {} is defined such that A + B = R . The magnitude and direction of R size 12{A} {} are then determined with a ruler and protractor, respectively.
  • The graphical method of subtracting vector B from A involves adding the opposite of vector B , which is defined as B size 12{ - B} {} . In this case, A B = A + ( –B ) = R . Then, the head-to-tail method of addition is followed in the usual way to obtain the resultant vector R .
  • Addition of vectors is commutative    such that A + B = B + A size 12{"A + B = B + A"} {} .
  • The head-to-tail method    of adding vectors involves drawing the first vector on a graph and then placing the tail of each subsequent vector at the head of the previous vector. The resultant vector is then drawn from the tail of the first vector to the head of the final vector.
  • If a vector A size 12{A} {} is multiplied by a scalar quantity c size 12{A} {} , the magnitude of the product is given by cA size 12{ ital "cA"} {} . If c size 12{c} {} is positive, the direction of the product points in the same direction as A size 12{A} {} ; if c size 12{c} {} is negative, the direction of the product points in the opposite direction as A size 12{A} {} .

Conceptual questions

What do vectors and scalars have in common? How do they differ?

Two campers in a national park hike from their cabin to the same spot on a lake, each taking a different path, as illustrated below. The total distance traveled along Path 1 is 7.5 km, and that along Path 2 is 8.2 km. What is the final displacement of each camper?

At the southwest corner of the figure is a cabin and in the northeast corner is a lake. A vector S with a length five point zero kilometers connects the cabin to the lake at an angle of 40 degrees north of east. Two winding paths labeled Path 1 and Path 2 represent the routes travelled from the cabin to the lake.

If an airplane pilot is told to fly 123 km in a straight line to get from San Francisco to Sacramento, explain why he could end up anywhere on the circle shown in [link] . What other information would he need to get to Sacramento?

A map of northern California with a circle with a radius of one hundred twenty three kilometers centered on San Francisco. Sacramento lies on the circumference of this circle in a direction forty-five degrees north of east from San Francisco.

Suppose you take two steps A and B (that is, two nonzero displacements). Under what circumstances can you end up at your starting point? More generally, under what circumstances can two nonzero vectors add to give zero? Is the maximum distance you can end up from the starting point A + B the sum of the lengths of the two steps?

Explain why it is not possible to add a scalar to a vector.

If you take two steps of different sizes, can you end up at your starting point? More generally, can two vectors with different magnitudes ever add to zero? Can three or more?

Problems&Exercises

Use graphical methods to solve these problems. You may assume data taken from graphs is accurate to three digits.

Find the following for path A in [link] : (a) the total distance traveled, and (b) the magnitude and direction of the displacement from start to finish.

A map of city is shown. The houses are in form of square blocks of side one hundred and twenty meters each. The path of A extends to three blocks towards north and then one block towards east. It is asked to find out the total distance traveled the magnitude and the direction of the displacement from start to finish.
The various lines represent paths taken by different people walking in a city. All blocks are 120 m on a side.

(a) 480 m size 12{"480 m"} {}

(b) 379 m size 12{"379 m"} {} , 18.4º size 12{"18" "." "4º east of north"} {} east of north

Suppose you walk 18.0 m straight west and then 25.0 m straight north. How far are you from your starting point, and what is the compass direction of a line connecting your starting point to your final position? (If you represent the two legs of the walk as vector displacements A size 12{A} {} and B size 12{B} {} , as in [link] , then this problem asks you to find their sum R = A + B size 12{"R = A + B"} {} .)

In this figure coordinate axes are shown. Vector A from the origin towards the negative of x axis is shown. From the head of the vector A another vector B is drawn towards the positive direction of y axis. The resultant R of these two vectors is shown as a vector from the tail of vector A to the head of vector B. This vector R is inclined at an angle theta with the negative x axis.
The two displacements A size 12{A} {} and B size 12{B} {} add to give a total displacement R size 12{R} {} having magnitude R size 12{R} {} and direction θ size 12{θ} {} .

Suppose you first walk 12.0 m in a direction 20º size 12{"20" { size 12{°} } } {} west of north and then 20.0 m in a direction 40.0º size 12{"40" { size 12{°} } } {} south of west. How far are you from your starting point, and what is the compass direction of a line connecting your starting point to your final position? (If you represent the two legs of the walk as vector displacements A size 12{A} {} and B size 12{B} {} , as in [link] , then this problem finds their sum R = A + B size 12{ bold "R = A + B"} {} .)

In the given figure coordinates axes are shown. Vector A with tail at origin is inclined at an angle of twenty degrees with the positive direction of x axis. The magnitude of vector A is twelve meters. Another vector B is starts from the head of vector A and inclined at an angle of forty degrees with the horizontal. The resultant R of the vectors A and B is also drawn from the tail of vector A to the head of vector B. The inclination of vector R is theta with the horizontal.

19 . 5 m size 12{"19" "." "5 m"} {} , 4 . 65º size 12{4 "." "65°"} {} south of west

Repeat the problem above, but reverse the order of the two legs of the walk; show that you get the same final result. That is, you first walk leg B size 12{B} {} , which is 20.0 m in a direction exactly 40º size 12{"20" { size 12{°} } } {} south of west, and then leg A size 12{A} {} , which is 12.0 m in a direction exactly 20º size 12{"20" { size 12{°} } } {} west of north. (This problem shows that A + B = B + A size 12{A+B=B+A} {} .)

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, 2d kinematics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 04, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11879/1.3
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