Vectors: Fundamentals and Operations

**Vectors and Direction**

A study of motion will involve the introduction of a variety of quantities that are used to describe the physical world. Examples of such quantities include distance, displacement, speed, velocity, acceleration, force, mass, momentum, energy, work, power, etc. All these quantities can by divided into two categories –vectors and scalars. A vector quantity is a quantity that is fully described by both magnitude and direction. On the other hand, a scalar quantity is a quantity that is fully described by its magnitude. The emphasis of this unit is to understand some fundamentals about vectors and to apply the fundamentals in order to understand motion and forces that occur in two dimensions.

Examples of vector quantities that have been previously discussedinclude displacement, velocity, acceleration, and force. Each of these quantities are unique in that a full description of the quantity demands that both a magnitude and a direction are listed. For example, suppose your teacher tells you “A bag of gold is located outside the classroom. To find it, displace yourself 20 meters.” This statement may provide yourself enough information to pique your interest; yet, there is not enough information included in the statement to find the bag of gold. The displacement required to find the bag of gold has not been fully described. On the other hand, suppose your teacher tells you “A bag of gold is located outside the classroom. To find it, displace yourself from the center of the classroom door 20 meters in a direction 30 degrees to the west of north.” This statement now provides a complete description of the displacement vector – it lists both magnitude (20 meters) and direction (30 degrees to the west of north) relative to a reference or starting position (the center of the classroom door). Vector quantities are not fully described unless both magnitude and direction are listed.

**Representing Vectors**

Vector quantities are often represented by scaled vector diagrams. Vector diagrams depict a vector by use of an arrow drawn to scale in a specific direction. Vector diagrams were introduced and used in earlier units to depict the forces acting upon an object. Such diagrams are commonly called as free-body diagrams. An example of a scaled vector diagram is shown in the diagram at the right. The vector diagram depicts a displacement vector. Observe that there are several characteristics of this diagram that make it an appropriately drawn vector diagram.

· a scale is clearly listed

· a vector arrow (with arrowhead) is drawn in a specified direction. The vector arrow has a *head* and a *tail*.

· the magnitude and direction of the vector is clearly labeled. In this case, the diagram shows the magnitude is 20 m and the direction is (30 degrees West of North).