Basics of Vector Representation

Not so long ago, I started reading some linear algebra, just out of interest. I was uncertain about whether or not I would understand the concepts, or if it would be worth it to go through all the trouble. I can now say that it was worth it. Honestly, it was the most frustrating, but at the same time rewarding, experience. I have come to realise that there are things that we often have to accept without knowing the beauty of the logic behind their existence, and the idea presented here is one of them. This post answers a simple question about vector notation.

You might have asked yourself at some point in your life (… or maybe you haven’t, but you should): Why is it “legal” to write a vector,A, as { A=(a_{1},a_{2},\ldots,a_{n}) }, and why can we switch between different notations without finding trouble (for example, we can represent the vector in the form: {A = \sum\ a_ia^*_i} ) ?…

By | October 25th, 2017|Uncategorized|3 Comments

UCT MAM1000 lecture notes part 45 – 3D geometry and vectors part viii

We will discuss mostly three dimensions here, but what we have will be applicable to any number of dimensions (greater than or equal to 1). We want to be able to describe a straight line – a one dimensional object, infinitely long in both directions. We will see that vectors give us a perfect language with which to do this.

Remember that in three dimensions, a line can be defined by the intersection of two planes as in the intersection of the blue and the green planes defining the red line:


Each plane is specified by a single equation, and thus a line is specified by two equations (one for each plane). Here we will see that sometimes you just need one equation to specify a line, if you are using vectors, and sometimes it will seem that you need three equations, if you are using a parametric equation.

Let’s take a line, and specify some point on it.…

UCT MAM1000 lecture notes part 44 – 3D geometry and vectors part vii

In the following, I’m going to miss out quite a few details which I think are very nicely laid out in Stewart. I will try and add a slightly more pedagogical tone to some of it, and some nice diagrams along the way.

So we saw in the last post that we can write the cross product of two vectors, which itself gives a vector, in terms of the determinant of a 3 by 3 array. We can use this to both find a vector perpendicular to two given vectors (unless they are parallel to one another) and also to find the area of a parallelogram formed by two vectors (the area of which is zero if the vectors are parallel to one another).

The second of these is easy enough to do in two dimensions, but in three dimensions that’s not an easy prospect. Using the cross  (otherwise called the vector) product makes this easy.…

UCT MAM1000 lecture notes part 43 – 3D geometry and vectors part vi


The idea of determinants have been about since around the 3rd century when it first appeared in an ancient Chinese book of Mathematics called The Nine Chapters on the Mathematical Art. It was used originally to define certain properties of systems of linear equations, as we will see later in the section on linear algebra, however for now we will simply use it as a particular way to easily calculate the cross product. Let’s take a two by two array of numbers and define the determinant for this.


\left|\begin{array}{cc}a & b \\ c & d \\\end{array}\right|=ad-bc


The vertical lines on the left and right are the sign that the we are taking a determinant. For now this is just a definition and we will work with it in what follows. Don’t worry too much about where it comes from, but we will see later where it comes from and we will see now why it is useful.…

UCT MAM1000 lecture notes part 42 – 3D geometry and vectors part v

The vector, or cross product

When we took two vectors previously and found a way to multiply them together using the dot product, we ended up with a scalar. However, there is also a way that we can take two vectors and multiply them together to give a vector, but a vector with very specific properties with respect to the first two. What we will define here will be in three dimensions, and, unlike the dot product, does not generalise easily to other dimensions, (other than 7) though it can in fact be extended.

We are going to define the cross product such that it gives a vector which is perpendicular to the two vectors being crossed. This might sound a bit arbitrary but it shows up in a huge number of different situations in physics in particular and can help us to understand the geometric relation between vectors very simply.…