Understand the rules of vector addition and subtraction using analytical methods.
Apply analytical methods to determine vertical and horizontal component vectors.
Apply analytical methods to determine the magnitude and direction of a resultant vector.
The information presented in this section supports the following AP® learning objectives and science practices:
3.A.1.1 The student is able to express the motion of an object using narrative, mathematical, and graphical representations. (S.P. 1.5, 2.1, 2.2)
Analytical methods of vector addition and subtraction employ geometry and simple trigonometry rather than the ruler and protractor of graphical methods. Part of the graphical technique is retained, because vectors are still represented by arrows for easy visualization. However, analytical methods are more concise, accurate, and precise than graphical methods, which are limited by the accuracy with which a drawing can be made. Analytical methods are limited only by the accuracy and precision with which physical quantities are known.
Resolving a Vector into Perpendicular Components
Analytical techniques and right triangles go hand-in-hand in physics because (among other things) motions along perpendicular directions are independent. We very often need to separate a vector into perpendicular components. For example, given a vector like in Figure 3.26, we may wish to find which two perpendicular vectors, and , add to produce it.
Figure 3.26The vector , with its tail at the origin of an x, y-coordinate system, is shown together with its x- and y-components, and . These vectors form a right triangle. The analytical relationships among these vectors are summarized below.
and are defined to be the components of along the x- and y-axes. The three vectors , , and form a right triangle:
Note that this relationship between vector components and the resultant vector holds only for vector quantities (which include both magnitude and direction). The relationship does not apply for the magnitudes alone. For example, if east,
north-east, then it is true that the vectors . However, it is not true that the sum of the magnitudes of the vectors is also equal. That is,
If the vector is known, then its magnitude (its length) and its angle (its direction) are known. To find and , its x- and y-components, we use the following relationships for a right triangle.
Figure 3.27The magnitudes of the vector components and can be related to the resultant vector and the angle with trigonometric identities. Here we see that and .
Figure 3.28We can use the relationships and to determine the magnitude of the horizontal and vertical component vectors in this example.
Then blocks and
, so that
Calculating a Resultant Vector
If the perpendicular components and of a vector are known, then can also be found analytically. To find the magnitude and direction of a vector from its perpendicular components and , we use the following relationships:
Figure 3.29The magnitude and direction of the resultant vector can be determined once the horizontal and vertical components and have been determined.
Note that the equation
is just the Pythagorean theorem relating the legs of a right triangle to the length of the hypotenuse. For example, if and are 9 and 5 blocks, respectively, then blocks, again consistent with the example of the person walking in a city. Finally, the direction is
, as before.
Determining Vectors and Vector Components with Analytical Methods
Equations and are used to find the perpendicular components of a vector—that is, to go from and to and . Equations and are used to find a vector from its perpendicular components—that is, to go from and to and . Both processes are crucial to analytical methods of vector addition and subtraction.
Adding Vectors Using Analytical Methods
To see how to add vectors using perpendicular components, consider Figure 3.30, in which the vectors and are added to produce the resultant .
Figure 3.30Vectors and are two legs of a walk, and is the resultant or total displacement. You can use analytical methods to determine the magnitude and direction of .
If and represent two legs of a walk (two displacements), then is the total displacement. The person taking the walk ends up at the tip of There are many ways to arrive at the same point. In particular, the person could have walked first in the x-direction and then in the y-direction. Those paths are the x- and y-components of the resultant, and . If we know
and , we can find
using the equations
. When you use the analytical method of vector addition, you can determine the components or the magnitude and direction of a vector.
Step 1. Identify the x- and y-axes that will be used in the problem. Then, find the components of each vector to be added along the chosen perpendicular axes. Use the equations
to find the components. In Figure 3.31, these components are
. The angles that vectors and make with the x-axis are and , respectively.
Figure 3.31To add vectors and , first determine the horizontal and vertical components of each vector. These are the dotted vectors , , and shown in the image.
Step 2. Find the components of the resultant along each axis by adding the components of the individual vectors along that axis. That is, as shown in Figure 3.32,
Figure 3.32The magnitude of the vectors and add to give the magnitude of the resultant vector in the horizontal direction. Similarly, the magnitudes of the vectors and add to give the magnitude of the resultant vector in the vertical direction.
Components along the same axis, say the x-axis, are vectors along the same line and, thus, can be added to one another like ordinary numbers. The same is true for components along the y-axis. (For example, a 9-block eastward walk could be taken in two legs, the first 3 blocks east and the second 6 blocks east, for a total of 9, because they are along the same direction.) So resolving vectors into components along common axes makes it easier to add them. Now that the components of are known, its magnitude and direction can be found.
Step 3. To get the magnitude of the resultant, use the Pythagorean theorem:
Step 4. To get the direction of the resultant:
The following example illustrates this technique for adding vectors using perpendicular components.
Example 3.3Adding Vectors Using Analytical Methods
Add the vector to the vector shown in Figure 3.33, using perpendicular components along the x- and y-axes. The x- and y-axes are along the east–west and north–south directions, respectively. Vector represents the first leg of a walk in which a person walks in a direction north of east. Vector represents the second leg, a displacement of in a direction north of east.
Figure 3.33Vector has magnitude and direction north of the x-axis. Vector has magnitude and direction north of the x-axis. You can use analytical methods to determine the magnitude and direction of .
The components of and along the x- and y-axes represent walking due east and due north to get to the same ending point. Once found, they are combined to produce the resultant.
Following the method outlined above, we first find the components of
along the x- and y-axes. Note that
, and .
We find the x-components by using , which gives
Similarly, the y-components are found using :
The x- and y-components of the resultant are thus
Now we can find the magnitude of the resultant by using the Pythagorean theorem:
Finally, we find the direction of the resultant:
Figure 3.34Using analytical methods, we see that the magnitude of is and its direction is north of east.
This example illustrates the addition of vectors using perpendicular components. Vector subtraction using perpendicular components is very similar—it is just the addition of a negative vector.
Subtraction of vectors is accomplished by the addition of a negative vector. That is, . Thus, the method for the subtraction of vectors using perpendicular components is identical to that for addition. The components of
are the negatives of the components of
. The x- and y-components of the resultant are thus
and the rest of the method outlined above is identical to that for addition. (See Figure 3.35.)
Analyzing vectors using perpendicular components is very useful in many areas of physics, because perpendicular quantities are often independent of one another. The next module, Projectile Motion, is one of many in which using perpendicular components helps make the picture clear and simplifies the physics.
Figure 3.35The subtraction of the two vectors shown in Figure 3.30. The components of are the negatives of the components of . The method of subtraction is the same as that for addition.
PhET Explorations: Vector Addition
Learn how to add vectors. Drag vectors onto a graph, change their length and angle, and sum them together. The magnitude, angle, and components of each vector can be displayed in several formats.