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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)

Learning objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Define and distinguish between scalar and vector quantities.
  • Assign a coordinate system for a scenario involving one-dimensional motion.

The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:

  • 3.A.1.2 The student is able to design an experimental investigation of the motion of an object.

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.

Questions & Answers

Determine the total force and the absolute pressure on the bottom of a swimming pool 28.0m by 8.5m whose uniform depth is 1 .8m.
Henny Reply
how solve this problem?
Foday
P(pressure)=density ×depth×acceleration due to gravity Force =P×Area(28.0x8.5)
Fomukom
for the answer to complete, the units need specified why
muqaddas Reply
That's just how the AP grades. Otherwise, you could be talking about m/s when the answer requires m/s^2. They need to know what you are referring to.
Kyle
Suppose a speck of dust in an electrostatic precipitator has 1.0000×1012 protons in it and has a net charge of –5.00 nC (a very large charge for a small speck). How many electrons does it have?
Alexia Reply
how would I work this problem
Alexia
how can you have not an integer number of protons? If, on the other hand it supposed to be 1e12, then 1.6e-19C/proton • 1e12 protons=1.6e-7 C is the charge of the protons in the speck, so the difference between this and 5e-9C is made up by electrons
Igor
what is angular velocity
Obaapa Reply
angular velocity can be defined as the rate of change in radian over seconds.
Fidelis
Why does earth exert only a tiny downward pull?
Mya Reply
hello
Islam
Why is light bright?
Abraham Reply
what is radioactive element
Attah Reply
an 8.0 capacitor is connected by to the terminals of 60Hz whoes rms voltage is 150v. a.find the capacity reactance and rms to the circuit
Aisha Reply
thanks so much. i undersooth well
Valdes Reply
what is physics
Nwafor Reply
is the study of matter in relation to energy
Kintu
physics can be defined as the natural science that deals with the study of motion through space,time along with its related concepts which are energy and force
Fidelis
a submersible pump is dropped a borehole and hits the level of water at the bottom of the borehole 5 seconds later.determine the level of water in the borehole
Obrian Reply
what is power?
aron Reply
power P = Work done per second W/ t. It means the more power, the stronger machine
Sphere
e.g. heart Uses 2 W per beat.
Rohit
A spherica, concave shaving mirror has a radius of curvature of 32 cm .what is the magnification of a persons face. when it is 12cm to the left of the vertex of the mirror
Alona Reply
did you solve?
Shii
1.75cm
Ridwan
my name is Abu m.konnek I am a student of a electrical engineer and I want you to help me
Abu
the magnification k = f/(f-d) with focus f = R/2 =16 cm; d =12 cm k = 16/4 =4
Sphere
what do we call velocity
Kings
A weather vane is some sort of directional arrow parallel to the ground that may rotate freely in a horizontal plane. A typical weather vane has a large cross-sectional area perpendicular to the direction the arrow is pointing, like a “One Way” street sign. The purpose of the weather vane is to indicate the direction of the wind. As wind blows pa
Kavita Reply
hi
Godfred
what about the wind vane
Godfred
If a prism is fully imersed in water then the ray of light will normally dispersed or their is any difference?
Anurag Reply
the same behavior thru the prism out or in water bud abbot
Ju
If this will experimented with a hollow(vaccum) prism in water then what will be result ?
Anurag
Practice Key Terms 2

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Source:  OpenStax, College physics for ap® courses. OpenStax CNX. Nov 04, 2016 Download for free at https://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11844/1.14
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