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Δ x = x f x 0 = 3 .5 m 1.5 m = + 2 .0 m . size 12{Δx=x"" lSub { size 8{f} } - x rSub { size 8{0} } =3 "." 5`m - 1 "." 5`"m "= +2 "." "0 m"} {}

In this coordinate system, motion to the right is positive, whereas motion to the left is negative. Similarly, the airplane passenger’s initial position is x 0 = 6 . 0 m and his final position is x f = 2 . 0 m size 12{x rSub { size 8{f} } =2 "." 0`m} {} , so his displacement is

Δ x = x f x 0 = 2 . 0 m 6 . 0 m = 4 . 0 m . size 12{Δx=x"" lSub { size 8{f} } - x rSub { size 8{0} } =2 "." 0`m - 6 "." 0`m= - 4 "." 0`m} {}

His displacement is negative because his motion is toward the rear of the plane, or in the negative x size 12{x} {} direction in our coordinate system.


Although displacement is described in terms of direction, distance is not. Distance is defined to be the magnitude or size of displacement between two positions . Note that the distance between two positions is not the same as the distance traveled between them. Distance traveled is the total length of the path traveled between two positions . Distance has no direction and, thus, no sign. For example, the distance the professor walks is 2.0 m. The distance the airplane passenger walks is 4.0 m.

Misconception alert: distance traveled vs. magnitude of displacement

It is important to note that the distance traveled , however, can be greater than the magnitude of the displacement (by magnitude, we mean just the size of the displacement without regard to its direction; that is, just a number with a unit). For example, the professor could pace back and forth many times, perhaps walking a distance of 150 m during a lecture, yet still end up only 2.0 m to the right of her starting point. In this case her displacement would be +2.0 m, the magnitude of her displacement would be 2.0 m, but the distance she traveled would be 150 m. In kinematics we nearly always deal with displacement and magnitude of displacement, and almost never with distance traveled. One way to think about this is to assume you marked the start of the motion and the end of the motion. The displacement is simply the difference in the position of the two marks and is independent of the path taken in traveling between the two marks. The distance traveled, however, is the total length of the path taken between the two marks.

A cyclist rides 3 km west and then turns around and rides 2 km east. (a) What is her displacement? (b) What distance does she ride? (c) What is the magnitude of her displacement?

Two diagrams side by side. To the left is a horizontal line, or x axis, with points for final position and initial position. Displacement 1, shown by an arrow pointing leftward, equals negative 3 kilometers. Displacement 2, shown by an arrow pointing rightward, equals 2 kilometers. To the right is a pair of x and y axes, showing that east is the positive x direction and west is the negative x direction.

(a) The rider’s displacement is Δ x = x f x 0 = −1 km . (The displacement is negative because we take east to be positive and west to be negative.)

(b) The distance traveled is 3 km + 2 km = 5 km size 12{"3 km "+" 2 km "=" 5 km"} {} .

(c) The magnitude of the displacement is 1 km size 12{1" km"} {} .

Section summary

  • Kinematics is the study of motion without considering its causes. In this chapter, it is limited to motion along a straight line, called one-dimensional motion.
  • Displacement is the change in position of an object.
  • In symbols, displacement Δ x is defined to be
    Δ x = x f x 0 ,
    where x 0 is the initial position and x f is the final position. In this text, the Greek letter Δ (delta) always means “change in” whatever quantity follows it. The SI unit for displacement is the meter (m). Displacement has a direction as well as a magnitude.
  • When you start a problem, assign which direction will be positive.
  • Distance is the magnitude of displacement between two positions.
  • Distance traveled is the total length of the path traveled between two positions.

Conceptual questions

Give an example in which there are clear distinctions among distance traveled, displacement, and magnitude of displacement. Specifically identify each quantity in your example.

Under what circumstances does distance traveled equal magnitude of displacement? What is the only case in which magnitude of displacement and displacement are exactly the same?

Bacteria move back and forth by using their flagella (structures that look like little tails). Speeds of up to 50 μm/s 50 × 10 6 m/s size 12{"50 μm/s " left ("50" times "10" rSup { size 8{ - 6} } " m/s" right )} {} have been observed. The total distance traveled by a bacterium is large for its size, while its displacement is small. Why is this?


An x axis starts at 0 meters and ends at 12 meters. There are four points on the graph with displacement paths. Path A starts at 0 and stops at 7. Path B starts at 12 and ends at 7. Path C starts at 2, goes to 10, turns around and goes back to 8, then turns around again and stops at 11. Path D starts at 9, goes to 3, then turns around and stops at 5.

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

(a) 7 m

(b) 7 m

(c) + 7 m size 12{+7`m} {}

Find the following for path B in [link] : (a) The distance traveled. (b) The magnitude of the displacement from start to finish. (c) The displacement from start to finish.

Find the following for path C in [link] : (a) The distance traveled. (b) The magnitude of the displacement from start to finish. (c) The displacement from start to finish.

(a) 13 m

(b) 9 m

(c) + 9 m size 12{+9`m} {}

Find the following for path D in [link] : (a) The distance traveled. (b) The magnitude of the displacement from start to finish. (c) The displacement from start to finish.

Questions & Answers

Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
Praveena Reply
what does nano mean?
Anassong Reply
nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
do you think it's worthwhile in the long term to study the effects and possibilities of nanotechnology on viral treatment?
Damian Reply
absolutely yes
how to know photocatalytic properties of tio2 nanoparticles...what to do now
Akash Reply
it is a goid question and i want to know the answer as well
characteristics of micro business
for teaching engĺish at school how nano technology help us
Do somebody tell me a best nano engineering book for beginners?
s. Reply
there is no specific books for beginners but there is book called principle of nanotechnology
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
fullerene is a bucky ball aka Carbon 60 molecule. It was name by the architect Fuller. He design the geodesic dome. it resembles a soccer ball.
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
That is a great question Damian. best way to answer that question is to Google it. there are hundreds of applications for buck minister fullerenes, from medical to aerospace. you can also find plenty of research papers that will give you great detail on the potential applications of fullerenes.
what is the Synthesis, properties,and applications of carbon nano chemistry
Abhijith Reply
Mostly, they use nano carbon for electronics and for materials to be strengthened.
is Bucky paper clear?
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
so some one know about replacing silicon atom with phosphorous in semiconductors device?
s. Reply
Yeah, it is a pain to say the least. You basically have to heat the substarte up to around 1000 degrees celcius then pass phosphene gas over top of it, which is explosive and toxic by the way, under very low pressure.
Do you know which machine is used to that process?
how to fabricate graphene ink ?
for screen printed electrodes ?
What is lattice structure?
s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
or in general
in general
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
On having this app for quite a bit time, Haven't realised there's a chat room in it.
what is biological synthesis of nanoparticles
Sanket Reply
what's the easiest and fastest way to the synthesize AgNP?
Damian Reply
types of nano material
abeetha Reply
I start with an easy one. carbon nanotubes woven into a long filament like a string
many many of nanotubes
what is the k.e before it land
what is the function of carbon nanotubes?
I'm interested in nanotube
what is nanomaterials​ and their applications of sensors.
Ramkumar Reply
what is nano technology
Sravani Reply
what is system testing?
how did you get the value of 2000N.What calculations are needed to arrive at it
Smarajit Reply
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