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Multiplication of vectors and scalars

If we decided to walk three times as far on the first leg of the trip considered in the preceding example, then we would walk ×  27 . 5 m size 12{"3 " times " 27" "." "5 m"} {} , or 82.5 m, in a direction 66 . 0 º size 12{"66" "." 0 { size 12{º} } } {} north of east. This is an example of multiplying a vector by a positive scalar    . Notice that the magnitude changes, but the direction stays the same.

If the scalar is negative, then multiplying a vector by it changes the vector’s magnitude and gives the new vector the opposite direction. For example, if you multiply by –2, the magnitude doubles but the direction changes. We can summarize these rules in the following way: When vector A size 12{A} {} is multiplied by a scalar c size 12{c} {} ,

  • the magnitude of the vector becomes the absolute value of c size 12{c} {} A size 12{A} {} ,
  • if c size 12{A} {} is positive, the direction of the vector does not change,
  • if c size 12{A} {} is negative, the direction is reversed.

In our case, c = 3 size 12{c=3} and A = 27.5 m size 12{"A= 27.5 m"} . Vectors are multiplied by scalars in many situations. Note that division is the inverse of multiplication. For example, dividing by 2 is the same as multiplying by the value (1/2). The rules for multiplication of vectors by scalars are the same for division; simply treat the divisor as a scalar between 0 and 1.

Resolving a vector into components

In the examples above, we have been adding vectors to determine the resultant vector. In many cases, however, we will need to do the opposite. We will need to take a single vector and find what other vectors added together produce it. In most cases, this involves determining the perpendicular components of a single vector, for example the x - and y -components, or the north-south and east-west components.

For example, we may know that the total displacement of a person walking in a city is 10.3 blocks in a direction 29 .0º size 12{"29" "." 0º} } {} north of east and want to find out how many blocks east and north had to be walked. This method is called finding the components (or parts) of the displacement in the east and north directions, and it is the inverse of the process followed to find the total displacement. It is one example of finding the components of a vector. There are many applications in physics where this is a useful thing to do. We will see this soon in Projectile Motion , and much more when we cover forces in Dynamics: Newton’s Laws of Motion . Most of these involve finding components along perpendicular axes (such as north and east), so that right triangles are involved. The analytical techniques presented in Vector Addition and Subtraction: Analytical Methods are ideal for finding vector components.

Phet explorations: maze game

Learn about position, velocity, and acceleration in the "Arena of Pain". Use the green arrow to move the ball. Add more walls to the arena to make the game more difficult. Try to make a goal as fast as you can.

Maze Game


  • The graphical method of adding vectors A size 12{A} {} and B size 12{B} {} involves drawing vectors on a graph and adding them using the head-to-tail method. The resultant vector R size 12{A} {} is defined such that A + B = R . The magnitude and direction of R size 12{A} {} are then determined with a ruler and protractor, respectively.
  • The graphical method of subtracting vector B from A involves adding the opposite of vector B , which is defined as B size 12{ - B} {} . In this case, A B = A + ( –B ) = R . Then, the head-to-tail method of addition is followed in the usual way to obtain the resultant vector R .
  • Addition of vectors is commutative    such that A + B = B + A size 12{"A + B = B + A"} {} .
  • The head-to-tail method    of adding vectors involves drawing the first vector on a graph and then placing the tail of each subsequent vector at the head of the previous vector. The resultant vector is then drawn from the tail of the first vector to the head of the final vector.
  • If a vector A size 12{A} {} is multiplied by a scalar quantity c size 12{A} {} , the magnitude of the product is given by cA size 12{ ital "cA"} {} . If c size 12{c} {} is positive, the direction of the product points in the same direction as A size 12{A} {} ; if c size 12{c} {} is negative, the direction of the product points in the opposite direction as A size 12{A} {} .

Questions & Answers

Water is flowing in a pipe with a varying cross-sectional area, and at all points the water completely fills the pipe. At point 1 the cross-sectional area of the pipe is 0.077 m2, and the magnitude of the fluid velocity is 3.50 m/s. (a) What is the fluid speed at points in the pipe where the cross
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the branch of science concerned with the nature and properties of matter and energy. The subject matter of physics includes mechanics, heat, light and other radiation, sound, electricity, magnetism, and the structure of atoms.
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