Physics deals with a great many quantities that have both size and direction, and it
needs a special mathematical language—the language of vectors—to describe
those quantities. This language is also used in engineering, the other sciences, and
even in common speech. If you have ever given directions such as “Go five blocks
down this street and then hang a left,” you have used the language of vectors. In
fact, navigation of any sort is based on vectors, but physics and engineering also
need vectors in special ways to explain phenomena involving rotation and magnetic forces, which we get to in later chapters. In this chapter, we focus on the basic
language of vectors.
A particle moving along a straight line can move in only two directions. We can
take its motion to be positive in one of these directions and negative in the other.
For a particle moving in three dimensions, however, a plus sign or minus sign is no
longer enough to indicate a direction. Instead, we must use a vector
A vector has magnitude as well as direction, and vectors follow certain
(vector) rules of combination. A vector quantity is a quantity that has both a magnitude and a direction and thus can be
represented with a vector. Some physical quantities that are vector quantities are
displacement, velocity, and acceleration. Mathematicians and scientists call a quantity which depends on the direction a vector quantity. Vector quantities have two characteristics, magnitude and direction.
Not all physical quantities involve a direction.Temperature, pressure, energy,
mass, and time, for example, do not “point” in the spatial sense. We call such
, and we deal with them by the rules of ordinary algebra. A single value, with a sign (as in a temperature of $40℉$), specifies a scalar.
A scalar is a quantity that has magnitude and no direction. It is a one dimensional measurement of a quantity. Examples of scalars are volume, density, speed, energy, mass, and time. Scalars don’t have direction, due to this feature, the scalar quantity can be said to be represented in one dimension.
The simplest vector quantity is displacement, or change of position. A vector that represents a displacement
is called, reasonably, a displacement vector. (Similarly, we have velocity vectors and acceleration vectors.) If a particle changes
its position by moving from A to B, we say that it undergoes a displacement from A to B, which we represent with an arrow pointing from A to B. The arrow specifies the vector graphically.