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Motion in Two Dimensions

In two dimensions, it is necessary to use vector notation to describe physical quantities with
both magnitude and direction. In this lecture, we recap the definitions of displacement, velocity
and acceleration as vectors in two dimensions. We also discuss the solution of projectile motion
problems in two dimensions.

A recap of Vectors
Vectors give us a simple way of handling motion when it is not in a straight line. Vectors are
specified by a magnitude and a direction. For example, if you drive down a road to the 47o
north east direction with a speed of 30 km/h; your velocity vector when will be specified by a
magnitude of 30 km/h (your speed) and a direction of 47o north of east.
Fig. 3.1 A velocity vector

Symbolically, the easiest way to represent a vector is by an arrow, where the length of the arrow
is proportional to the magnitude of the vector (say, a length of 3 cm represents a velocity of
30 km/h as in the example of Figure 3.1 above), and the direction of the arrow represents the
direction of the vector.In this course we will represent a vector quantity by an algebraic symbol
for the vectors magnitude with a small arrow above it (pointing to the right)as shown with the
velocity vector in Figure 3.1 above.
Using vectors to represent motion in 2-D
Two methods to combine vectors in order to represent motion in 2-d include: the triangle rule
and the parallelogram rule. the Triangle rule is applied whenever one vectors acts followed
by another. The parallelogram rule is applied whenever vectors act at the same time from the
same point. For an example of the triangle rule; suppose you travel 30 m due south and then 40
m due east; what is your displacement from the original position? (recall how we illustrated
this on the board in class). We find the displacement by drawing the vectors involved.
Draw an arrow 3 cm from a starting point to show a displacement of 30 m south.
Draw an arrow 4 cm from the head of the first arrow and at right angles to the first arrow
to represent a displacement of 40 m east.
Join the starting point of the first arrow with the end of the second arrow. This is your



You can then measure the distance and direction of the displacement from your scale diagram.
Or more mathematically, a method you will use in this course, you can use trigonometry.

Vector components
Recall from our first lecture that the components of a vector completely define the vector.
Where the components of the vector are the projections of a vector along the axes of a
rectangular co-ordinate system.



For an example of the parallelogram rule, take the velocity vector in Figure 3.1 above. Now,
imagine that a strong light is shining down on the velocity vector in the diagram from above;
this light would cast a shadow on the east axis. If we were to call the east direction the positive
x-direction, then we would say that the x-component of the velocity vector, denoted vx , is just
the length of this shadow along the x-axis. Likewise, if a strong light shines from the right onto
the vector, then it would cast a shadow on the north axis, which we can call the positive y-axis;
this would give us the y-component of the velocity vector, denoted vy . These two components
are shown in the revised figure below.
Fig. 3.4 The parallelogram

Note that we have also drawn in the x- and y-components of the velocity vector above and to
the right of the velocity arrow, thus forming a rectangle whose sides are the two components of
the vector, and whose diagonal is the vector itself. The vector therefore splits the rectangle into
two right triangles. It then follows that we may apply the definitions of trigonometry to either
of these two triangles, whichever is more convenient for you. (We usually know an angle from
the vector to either the x- or y-axis, since this gives us the direction of the vector. We would
then simply pick the triangle which contains the given angle!)
To see how trigonometry fits into this, consider, for example, the x-component of the velocity
vector ~v. This component is the side of the right triangle adjacent to the angle = 47o .
Fig. 3.5 Components of the velocity vector

From the definition of the cosine function, cos = ad j/hyp, we get that ad j = (hyp) cos .
But, for our triangle, adj is just vx , and hyp is just v (the magnitude of the velocity vector; no
arrow above the symbol!), so that vx = v cos .
Likewise, from the definition of the sine function, we get that opp = (hyp) sin , so that, since
opp = vy , and hyp = v, we have that vy = v sin . Using the numbers from above (v = 30 km/h
and = 47o ), you should be able to use your calculator to show that
vx = (30km/h) cos(47o ) = 36.1km/h and vy = (30km/h) sin(47o ) = 38.8km/h.
(Ask your group partners or your instructor if you dont know how to use your calculator to
evaluate trigonometric functions - this will be very important in this course!)
The next two examples will give you more practice with using the trigonometric functions in
conjunction with vectors.

A recap of the Kinematic quantities and definitions

In Figure 3.2, an object is at position ~ri at time ti (point P). Some time later, t f , the object is at
position~r f (point Q). The displacement vector of the object is given by:
~r =~r f ~ri


Fig. 3.2 Displacement

Average Velocity
~v =

~r ~r f ~ri
t f ti


As with the 1-D definition, ~v is independent of the path between the end points.
Instantaneous Velocity

t0 t

~v = lim


Fig. 3.3: Instantaneous velocity in 2-D

Interpretation: When t 0, the point Q in the figure gets closer and closer to the point P
and the direction of ~r approaches the direction of a tangent to the curve at point P. Thus the
instantaneous velocity ~v is parallel to the tangent and in the same direction as the motion.
Average Acceleration



Instantaneous Acceleration

t0 t
Note: a particle can accelerate in different ways:
~a lim


1. The magnitude of ~v can change in time, while the direction of motion stays the same.
2. The magnitude of ~v , |~v| , can stay constant, while the direction of motion changes. This
only happens in more than one dimension. We will discuss this further in Unit 4..
3. Both |~v| and the direction of ~v can change.

Projectile Motion
Projectile motion is a particular kind of 2 dimensional motion. Take an example of fee fall; we
make the following assumptions:
The only force present is the force due to gravity.
The magnitude of the acceleration due to gravity is |~a| = g = 9.8 m/s 2 We choose a
coordinate system in which the positive y-axis points up perpendicular to the earths
surface. This definition gives, ay = g and ax = 0.
The rotation of the earth does not affect the motion.
Initial Conditions:
We choose the coordinate system so that the particle leaves the origin ( x0 = 0, y0 = 0 ) at time
t0 = 0 with an initial velocity of ~v0 .
Procedure for Solving Projectile Motion Problems
1. Separate the motion into the x (horizontal) part and y (vertical) part.
2. Consider each part separately using the appropriate equations. The equations of motion
x motion (ax = 0):
vx = vx0 = constant
x = vx0t
y motion ( ay = g ):
vy = vy0 gt
y = vy0t 12 gt 2
v2y = v2y0 2gy.
3. Solve the resulting system of equations for the unknown quantities.