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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) (see Physical Quantities and Units ), 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. Notice that the arrow representing his displacement is twice as long as the arrow representing the displacement of the professor (he moves twice as far) in [link] .

Questions & Answers

Calculate the work done by an 85.0-kg man who pushes a crate 4.00 m up along a ramp that makes an angle of 20.0º20.0º with the horizontal. (See [link] .) He exerts a force of 500 N on the crate parallel to the ramp and moves at a constant speed. Be certain to include the work he does on the crate an
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What is thermal heat all about
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why uniform circular motion is called a periodic motion?.
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when a train start from A & it returns at same station A . what is its acceleration?
Mwdan Reply
what is distance of A to B of the stations and what is the time taken to reach B from A
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the information provided is not enough
aliyu
Hmmmm maybe the question is logical
yusuf
where are the parameters for calculation
HENRY
there is enough information to calculate an AVERAGE acceleration
Kwok
mistake, there is enough information to calculate an average velocity
Kwok
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Abel
what is the unit of momentum
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wha are the types of radioactivity ?
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what are the types of radioactivity
Worku
what is static friction
Golu Reply
It is the opposite of kinetic friction
Mark
static fiction is friction between two surfaces in contact an none of sliding over on another, while Kinetic friction is friction between sliding surfaces in contact.
MINDERIUM
I don't get it,if it's static then there will be no friction.
author
It means that static friction is that friction that most be overcome before a body can move
kingsley
static friction is a force that keeps an object from moving, and it's the opposite of kinetic friction.
author
It is a force a body must overcome in order for the body to move.
Eboh
If a particle accelerator explodes what happens
Eboh
why we see the edge effect in case of the field lines of capacitor?
Arnab
what is wave
Muhammed Reply
what is force
Muhammed
force is something which is responsible for the object to change its position
MINDERIUM
more technically it is the product of mass of an object and Acceleration produced in it
MINDERIUM
wave is disturbance in any medium
iqra
energy is distributed in any medium through particles of medium.
iqra
If a particle accelerator explodes what happens
Eboh Reply
we have to first figure out .... wats a particle accelerator first
Teh
What is surface tension
Subi Reply
The resistive force of surface.
iqra
Who can tutor me on simple harmonic motion
yusuf Reply
on both a string and peldulum?
Anya
spring*
Anya
Yea
yusuf
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yusuf
I dont have social media but i do have an email?
Anya
Which is
yusuf
Where are you chatting from
yusuf
I don't understand the basics of this group
Jimmy
teach him SHM init
Anya
Simple harmonic motion
yusuf
how.an.equipotential.line is two dimension and equipotential surface is three dimension ?
syed Reply
definition of mass of conversion
umezurike Reply
Force equals mass time acceleration. Weight is a force and it can replace force in the equation. The acceleration would be gravity, which is an acceleration. To change from weight to mass divide by gravity (9.8 m/s^2).
Marisa
how many subject is in physics
Adeshina Reply
the write question should be " How many Topics are in O- Level Physics, or other branches of physics.
effiom
how many topic are in physics
Praise
Praise what level are you
yusuf
If u are doing a levels in your first year you do AS topics therefore you do 5 big topic i.e particles radiation, waves and optics, mechanics,materials, electricity. After that you do A level topics like Specific Harmonic motion circular motion astrophysics depends really
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Yeah basics of physics prin8
yusuf
Heat nd Co for a level
yusuf
yh I need someone to explain something im tryna solve . I'll send the question if u down for it
Tamdy Reply
a ripple tank experiment a vibrating plane is used to generate wrinkles in the water .if the distance between two successive point is 3.5cm and the wave travel a distance of 31.5cm find the frequency of the vibration
Tamdy
hallow
Boniface
please send the answer
Boniface
the range of objects and phenomena studied in physics is
Bethel Reply
I don't know please give the answer
Boniface
Practice Key Terms 5

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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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