PHYS 2211 Module 2

2: Vectors

A signpost gives information about distances and directions to towns or to other locations relative to the location of the signpost. Distance is a scalar quantity. Knowing the distance alone is not enough to get to the town; we must also know the direction from the signpost to the town. The direction, together with the distance, is a vector quantity commonly called the displacement vector. A signpost, therefore, gives information about displacement vectors from the signpost to towns. (credit: modification of work by “studio tdes”/Flickr,

Vectors are essential to physics and engineering. Many fundamental physical quantities are vectors, including displacement, velocity, force, and electric and magnetic vector fields. Scalar products of vectors define other fundamental scalar physical quantities, such as energy. Vector products of vectors define still other fundamental vector physical quantities, such as torque and angular momentum. In other words, vectors are a component part of physics in much the same way as sentences are a component part of literature.

In introductory physics, vectors are Euclidean quantities that have geometric representations as arrows in one dimension (in a line), in two dimensions (in a plane), or in three dimensions (in space). They can be added, subtracted, or multiplied. In this chapter, we explore elements of vector algebra for applications in mechanics and in electricity and magnetism. Vector operations also have numerous generalizations in other branches of physics.

2.1 Scalars and Vectors

  • Describe the difference between vector and scalar quantities.
  • Identify the magnitude and direction of a vector.
  • Explain the effect of multiplying a vector quantity by a scalar.
  • Describe how one-dimensional vector quantities are added or subtracted.
  • Explain the geometric construction for the addition or subtraction of vectors in a plane.
  • Distinguish between a vector equation and a scalar equation.

Vector Addition Simulation

2.2 Coordinate Systems and Components of a Vector

  • Describe vectors in two and three dimensions in terms of their components, using unit vectors along the axes.
  • Distinguish between the vector components of a vector and the scalar components of a vector.
  • Explain how the magnitude of a vector is defined in terms of the components of a vector.
  • Identify the direction angle of a vector in a plane.
  • Explain the connection between polar coordinates and Cartesian coordinates in a plane.

Trig Simulation

2.3 Algebra of Vectors

  • Apply analytical methods of vector algebra to find resultant vectors and to solve vector equations for unknown vectors.
  • Interpret physical situations in terms of vector expressions.

2.4 Products of Vectors

  • Explain the difference between the scalar product and the vector product of two vectors.
  • Determine the scalar product of two vectors.
  • Determine the vector product of two vectors.
  • Describe how the products of vectors are used in physics.

Module 2 Class Activities

Module 2 Self Assessment Practice Problems