5. Dot Product (aka Scalar Product) in 2 Dimensions

If we have any 2 vectors P and Q, the dot product of P and Q is given by:

P `*` Q = |P| |Q| cos θ

where

|P| and |Q| are the magnitudes of P and Q respectively, and

θ is the angle between the 2 vectors.

The dot product of the vectors P and Q is also known as the scalar product since it always returns a scalar value.

The term dot product is used here because of the notation used and because the term "scalar product" is too similar to the term "scalar multiplication" that we learned about earlier.

Example 1

a. Find the dot product of the force vectors F1 = 4 N and F2 = 6 N acting at 40° to each other as in the diagram.

dot product

b. Find the dot product of the vectors P and Q if |P| = 7 units and |Q| = 5 units and they are acting at right angles to each other.

The second example illustrates an important point about how scalar products can be used to find out if vectors are acting at right angles, as follows.

Continues below

Dot Product and Perpendicular Vectors

If 2 vectors act perpendicular to each other, the dot product (ie scalar product) of the 2 vectors has value zero.

This is a useful result when we want to check if 2 vectors are actually acting at right angles.

Dot Products of Unit Vectors

For the unit vectors i (acting in the x-direction) and j (acting in the y-direction), we have the following dot (ie scalar) products (since they are perpendicular to each other):

i `*` j = j `*` i = 0

Example 2

What is the value of these 2 dot products:

a. i `*` i

b. j `*` j

Alternative Form of the Dot Product

Recall that vectors can be written using scalar products of unit vectors.

If we have 2 vectors P and Q defined as:

P = a i + b j

Q = c i + d j,

where

a, b, c, d are constants;

i is the unit vector in the x-direction; and

j is the unit vector in the y-direction,

then it can be shown that the dot product (scalar product) of P and Q is given by:

P `*` Q = ac + bd

Example 3 - Alternative Form of the Dot Product

Find P • Q if

P = 6 i + 5 j and

Q = 2 i − 8 j

Now we see another use for the dot product − finding the angle between vectors.

Angle Between Two Vectors

We can use the dot product to find the angle between 2 vectors. For the vectors P and Q, the dot product is given by

P `*` Q = |P| |Q| cos θ

Rearranging this formula we obtain the cosine of the angle between P and Q:

`cos\ theta=(P * Q)/(|P||Q|)`

To find the angle, we just find the inverse cosine of the expression on the right.

So the angle θ between 2 vectors P and Q is given by

`theta=arccos((P * Q)/(|P||Q|))`

Example 4

Find the angle between the vectors P = 3 i − 5 j and Q = 4 i + 6 j.

top

Search IntMath, blog and Forum

Online Algebra Solver

This algebra solver can solve a wide range of math problems.

Math Lessons on DVD

 

Easy to understand math lessons on DVD. See samples before you commit.

More info: Math videos

The IntMath Newsletter

Sign up for the free IntMath Newsletter. Get math study tips, information, news and updates each fortnight. Join thousands of satisfied students, teachers and parents!

Given name: * required

Family name:

email: * required

See the Interactive Mathematics spam guarantee.