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  • Define position, displacement, distance, and distance traveled.
  • Explain the relationship between position and displacement.
  • Distinguish between displacement and distance traveled.
  • Calculate displacement and distance given initial position, final position, and the path between the two.
Three people cycling along a canal. The blurred buildings in the background convey a sense of motion of the cyclists.
These cyclists in Vietnam can be described by their position relative to buildings and a canal. Their motion can be described by their change in position, or displacement, in the frame of reference. (credit: Suzan Black, Fotopedia)

Position

In order to describe the motion of an object, you must first be able to describe its position    —where it is at any particular time. More precisely, you need to specify its position relative to a convenient reference frame. Earth is often used as a reference frame, and we often describe the position of an object as it relates to stationary objects in that reference frame. For example, a rocket launch would be described in terms of the position of the rocket with respect to the Earth as a whole, while a professor’s position could be described in terms of where she is in relation to the nearby white board. (See [link] .) In other cases, we use reference frames that are not stationary but are in motion relative to the Earth. To describe the position of a person in an airplane, for example, we use the airplane, not the Earth, as the reference frame. (See [link] .)

Displacement

If an object moves relative to a reference frame (for example, if a professor moves to the right relative to a white board or a passenger moves toward the rear of an airplane), then the object’s position changes. This change in position is known as displacement    . The word “displacement” implies that an object has moved, or has been displaced.

Displacement

Displacement is the change in position of an object:

Δ x = x f x 0 , size 12{Δx=x rSub { size 8{f} } - x rSub { size 8{0} } } {}

where Δ x size 12{Δx} {} is displacement, x f size 12{x rSub { size 8{f} } } {} is the final position, and x 0 size 12{x rSub { size 8{0} } } {} is the initial position.

In this text the upper case Greek letter Δ size 12{Δ} {} (delta) always means “change in” whatever quantity follows it; thus, Δ x size 12{Δx} {} means change in position . Always solve for displacement by subtracting initial position x 0 size 12{x rSub { size 8{0} } } {} from final position x f size 12{x rSub { size 8{f} } } {} .

Note that the SI unit for displacement is the meter (m), but sometimes kilometers, miles, feet, and other units of length are used. Keep in mind that when units other than the meter are used in a problem, you may need to convert them into meters to complete the calculation.

The initial and final position of a professor as she moves to the right while writing on a whiteboard. Her initial position is 1 point 5 meters. Her final position is 3 point 5 meters. Her displacement is given by the equation delta x equals x sub f minus x sub 0 equals 2 point 0 meters.
A professor paces left and right while lecturing. Her position relative to Earth is given by x size 12{x} {} . The + 2 . 0 m size 12{+2 "." 0`m} {} displacement of the professor relative to Earth is represented by an arrow pointing to the right.

View of an airplane with an inset of the passengers sitting inside. A passenger has just moved from his seat and is now standing in the back. His initial position was 6 point 0 meters. His final position is 2 point 0 meters. His displacement is given by the equation delta x equals x sub f minus x sub 0 equals 4 point zero meters.
A passenger moves from his seat to the back of the plane. His location relative to the airplane is given by x size 12{x} {} . The 4 . 0 -m size 12{ - 4 "." 0"-m"} {} displacement of the passenger relative to the plane is represented by an arrow toward the rear of the plane.

Note that displacement has a direction as well as a magnitude. The professor’s displacement is 2.0 m to the right, and the airline passenger’s displacement is 4.0 m toward the rear. In one-dimensional motion, direction can be specified with a plus or minus sign. When you begin a problem, you should select which direction is positive (usually that will be to the right or up, but you are free to select positive as being any direction). The professor’s initial position is x 0 = 1 . 5 m size 12{x rSub { size 8{0} } =1 "." 5`m} {} and her final position is x f = 3 . 5 m size 12{x rSub { size 8{f} } =3 "." 5`m} {} . Thus her displacement is

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.

Distance

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.

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.

Problems&Exercises

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 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} {}

Questions & Answers

Is there any normative that regulates the use of silver nanoparticles?
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Stoney Reply
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biomolecules are e building blocks of every organics and inorganic materials.
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Damian Reply
research.net
kanaga
sciencedirect big data base
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Introduction about quantum dots in nanotechnology
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nano basically means 10^(-9). nanometer is a unit to measure length.
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Anassong
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
NANO
what is fullerene does it is used to make bukky balls
Devang Reply
are you nano engineer ?
s.
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.
Tarell
what is the actual application of fullerenes nowadays?
Damian
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.
Tarell
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.
Virgil
is Bucky paper clear?
CYNTHIA
carbon nanotubes has various application in fuel cells membrane, current research on cancer drug,and in electronics MEMS and NEMS etc
NANO
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.
Harper
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s.
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for screen printed electrodes ?
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s. Reply
of graphene you mean?
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or in general
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in general
s.
Graphene has a hexagonal structure
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Source:  OpenStax, Kinematics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 11, 2015 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11878/1.5
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