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Real-world Application of

Linear Algebra
Mohammed Al-Kalbani
Supervised by Dr Susan Lazarus
(School of Mathematics)

Personal Details
After I nished my general engineering National
Diploma in the Royal Guard of Oman Technical College, I decided to travel to Ireland to do a
degree in Physics and Mathematics in DIT. My
next step is to do research on correlated electron
systems in Switzerland. My academic interest is
in doing research on solar cell technology. My
hobbies include reading and travelling.
Project Summary
The aim of this project was to give some examples where Linear Algebra can be useful in
solving real life problems, which include physics
problems. This involved modelling those problems and then nding solutions. In the following, I will give a brief summary of some linear
algebra applications involving Physics which I
tackled.
One of the key points in physics is to relate theories to real life observations. If the real life data
does not correspond to the theoretical relations,
then one concludes that either the real life observation is wrong or that the theoretical relation has
made wrong assumptions. The real life observation data could be taken and plotted versus the
various variable factors and we could derive
relations from drawing a graph, which may not
be accurate. Another way, used by most computer
programs, is the Method of Least Squares, though
this may take time with so many data points. But
it could be solved using linear algebra.
Astrophysics is one of the physics elds that
have been growing strongly in the last decade.
Information gained from this eld has helped in
explaining many details in the solar system, one
of which is the orbital motion. The knowledge
of orbits has helped in space exploration, putting
satellites in specic orbits, position and velocity
of planets, stars or asteroids. This information is
clearly very important. By the rst of Keplers
laws of motion, the orbit of an object moving
around another in space is elliptical with the

stationary object located at one of the focal points


of the ellipse. In other words, the Earth travels
around the Sun in an ellipse, and the Sun is at a
focal point of that ellipse. Likewise for a satellite travelling around the Earth (Figrue 1). It is
possible for a satellite to travel in a circular orbit,
but that is a special case. From such information
we are able to derive the orbit of an object using
linear algebra.
The satellite-based Global Positioning System
(GPS) works by locking on to the signals of at
least three satellites to calculate a 2 dimensional
position (latitude and longitude) and track movement. With four or more satellites in view, the
receiver can determine the users 3D position
(latitude, longitude and altitude). The location
of an object could be identied using 3 satellites or more. This can be done by solving linear
equations.
To get started on understanding electronics you
have to understand how the basic circuits work,

Figure 1. Satellite communications and the satellite-based Global Positioning System (GPS) have
benetted from mathematical models using linear
algebra.

Yearbook 2005 1

such as circuits consisting of resistors and electrical sources. Using Ohms law and Kirchhoffs
current and voltage law, the system could be
analysed using linear algebra for determination
either the current or the voltage or the resistance
of the circuit.
Elastic membranes have many uses in the area
of mechanics. In addition to their uses as many
parts of mechanical equipment, they are also
used to simulate some mechanical properties.
For example, consider a tube which has the same
cross-sectional boundary as a bar. If the bar has
a solid square cross section of side dimension b,
then the tube will have a hollow square cross section of side dimension b as well. Next we stretch
an elastic membrane over the tubes cross section
and apply internal pressure. The deected shape
of the membrane helps us visualize the stress pattern in the bar under torsion. These simulations
could be carried out by solving an Eigenvalue
problem, which saves time and equipment.
In mechanics sometimes we have to nd the normal modes of vibrations of different systems, examples of which are: double pendulum, coupled
pendulum, oscillating strings, coupled strings etc.
To do this, the system of equations we are dealing
with should be diagonalised using linear algebra.
Mixing chemicals is a method used by a chemist
to provide a useful outcome (e.g. solid, gas, liquid, spark, perfume... etc.) or not useful outcome

2 DIT School of Physics

Figure 2. Chemical mixing can be modelled using


linear algebra.

(e.g. re, bad smell, explosion... etc.). Dealing


with chemicals is dangerous, but mixing chemicals is even more dangerous. The chemist has to
ensure that s/he is using the right amount of each
chemical or there may be a disaster (or by luck a
new invention). For example, when developing
photographic negatives, s/he is dealing with three
chemicals (developer, xer and stop path), each
one to be mixed with water in amounts specied by the manufacturer. Incorrect mixing will
spoil your nice negatives. Where there is a large
number of chemicals involved, computer packages can help to determine the right amounts to
be included in the mix. Those computer packages
use a technique that involves linear algebra.