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  • Define and distinguish between scalar and vector quantities.
  • Assign a coordinate system for a scenario involving one-dimensional motion.
A small jet airplane flying toward the left.
The motion of this Eclipse Concept jet can be described in terms of the distance it has traveled (a scalar quantity) or its displacement in a specific direction (a vector quantity). In order to specify the direction of motion, its displacement must be described based on a coordinate system. In this case, it may be convenient to choose motion toward the left as positive motion (it is the forward direction for the plane), although in many cases, the x size 12{x} {} -coordinate runs from left to right, with motion to the right as positive and motion to the left as negative. (credit: Armchair Aviator, Flickr)

What is the difference between distance and displacement? Whereas displacement is defined by both direction and magnitude, distance is defined only by magnitude. Displacement is an example of a vector quantity. Distance is an example of a scalar quantity. A vector    is any quantity with both magnitude and direction . Other examples of vectors include a velocity of 90 km/h east and a force of 500 newtons straight down.

The direction of a vector in one-dimensional motion is given simply by a plus ( + ) size 12{ \( + \) } {} or minus ( ) size 12{ \( - \) } {} sign. Vectors are represented graphically by arrows. An arrow used to represent a vector has a length proportional to the vector’s magnitude (e.g., the larger the magnitude, the longer the length of the vector) and points in the same direction as the vector.

Some physical quantities, like distance, either have no direction or none is specified. A scalar    is any quantity that has a magnitude, but no direction. For example, a 20ºC temperature, the 250 kilocalories (250 Calories) of energy in a candy bar, a 90 km/h speed limit, a person’s 1.8 m height, and a distance of 2.0 m are all scalars—quantities with no specified direction. Note, however, that a scalar can be negative, such as a 20ºC temperature. In this case, the minus sign indicates a point on a scale rather than a direction. Scalars are never represented by arrows.

Coordinate systems for one-dimensional motion

In order to describe the direction of a vector quantity, you must designate a coordinate system within the reference frame. For one-dimensional motion, this is a simple coordinate system consisting of a one-dimensional coordinate line. In general, when describing horizontal motion, motion to the right is usually considered positive, and motion to the left is considered negative. With vertical motion, motion up is usually positive and motion down is negative. In some cases, however, as with the jet in [link] , it can be more convenient to switch the positive and negative directions. For example, if you are analyzing the motion of falling objects, it can be useful to define downwards as the positive direction. If people in a race are running to the left, it is useful to define left as the positive direction. It does not matter as long as the system is clear and consistent. Once you assign a positive direction and start solving a problem, you cannot change it.

An x y coordinate system. An arrow pointing toward the right shows the positive x direction. Negative x is toward the left. An arrow pointing up shows the positive y direction. Negative y points downward.
It is usually convenient to consider motion upward or to the right as positive ( + ) size 12{ \( + \) } {} and motion downward or to the left as negative ( ) .

A person’s speed can stay the same as he or she rounds a corner and changes direction. Given this information, is speed a scalar or a vector quantity? Explain.

Speed is a scalar quantity. It does not change at all with direction changes; therefore, it has magnitude only. If it were a vector quantity, it would change as direction changes (even if its magnitude remained constant).

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Section summary

  • A vector is any quantity that has magnitude and direction.
  • A scalar is any quantity that has magnitude but no direction.
  • Displacement and velocity are vectors, whereas distance and speed are scalars.
  • In one-dimensional motion, direction is specified by a plus or minus sign to signify left or right, up or down, and the like.

Conceptual questions

A student writes, “ A bird that is diving for prey has a speed of 10 m / s size 12{ - "10"m/s} {} .” What is wrong with the student’s statement? What has the student actually described? Explain.

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What is the speed of the bird in [link] ?

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Acceleration is the change in velocity over time. Given this information, is acceleration a vector or a scalar quantity? Explain.

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A weather forecast states that the temperature is predicted to be 5ºC the following day. Is this temperature a vector or a scalar quantity? Explain.

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Questions & Answers

Calculate the Newton's the weight of a 2.5 Kilogram of melon. What is its weight in pound?
Rialyn Reply
calculate the tension of the cable when a buoy with 0.5m and mass of 20kg
Iga Reply
what is displacement
Nyamza Reply
it's the time rate of change of distance
distance in a given direction is diplacement
Distance in a spacified direction
you shouldn't say distance,displacement and distance are two different things .distance can be lopped curved but displacement is always in a straight line so you can't use distance to define it. displacement is the change of position in a specified direction.
Well stayed josh👍
thank you gift.
well explained
what is the meaning of physics
Alausa Reply
to study objects in motion and how they interact or take part in the natural phenomenon of the universe.
an object that has a small mass and an object has a large mase have the same momentum which has high kinetic energy
Faith Reply
The with smaller mass
Since you said they have the same momentum.. So meaning that there is more like an inverse proportionality in the quantities used to find the momentum. We are told that the the is a larger mass and a smaller mass., so we can conclude that the smaller mass had higher velocity as compared to other one
Mathamaticaly correct
Mathmaticaly correct :)
I have proven it by using my own values
Larger mass=4g Smaller mass=2g Momentum of both=8 Meaning V for L =2 and V for S=4 Now find there kinetic energies using the data presented
grateful soul...thanks alot
2 stones are thrown vertically upward from the ground, one with 3 times the initial speed of the other. If the faster stone takes 10 s to return to the ground, how long will it take the slower stone to return? If the slower stone reaches a maximum height of H, how high will the faster stone go
Julliene Reply
how can i calculate it's height
is speed the same as velocity
Faith Reply
in a question i ought to find the momentum but was given just mass and speed
just multiply mass and speed then you have the magnitude of momentem
Consider speed to be velocity
it worked our . . thanks
Distinguish between semi conductor and extrinsic conductors
Okame Reply
Suppose that a grandfather clock is running slowly; that is, the time it takes to complete each cycle is longer than it should be. Should you (@) shorten or (b) lengthen the pendulam to make the clock keep attain the preferred time?
Aj Reply
I think you shorten am not sure
shorten it, since that is practice able using the simple pendulum as experiment
it'll always give the results needed no need to adjust the length, it is always measured by the starting time and ending time by the clock
it's not in relation to other clocks
wat is d formular for newton's third principle
shorten the pendulum string because the difference in length affects the time of oscillation.if short , the time taken will be adjusted.but if long ,the time taken will be twice the previous cycle.
discuss under damped
Prince Reply
resistance of thermometer in relation to temperature
Ifeanyi Reply
that resistance is not measured yet, it may be probably in the next generation of scientists
Is fundamental quantities under physical quantities?
Igwe Reply
please I didn't not understand the concept of the physical therapy
John Reply
physiotherapy - it's a practice of exercising for healthy living.
what chapter is this?
this is not in this book, it's from other experiences.
am new in the group
please I have probably with calculate please can you please and help me out
John Reply
What is Boyce law
Sly Reply
Boyles law states that the volume of a fixed amount of gas is inversely proportional to pressure acting on that given gas if the temperature remains constant which is: V<k/p or V=k(1/p)
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics. OpenStax CNX. Jul 27, 2015 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11406/1.9
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