Vector (mathematics and physics)

In mathematics and physics, vector is a term that refers colloquially to some quantities that cannot be expressed by a single number, or to elements of some vector spaces.

Historically, vectors were introduced in geometry and physics (typically in mechanics) for quantities that have both a magnitude and a direction, such as displacements, forces and speed. Such quantities are represented by geometric vectors in the same way as distances, masses and time are represented by real numbers.

The term vector is also used, in some contexts, for tuples, which are finite sequences of numbers of a fixed length.

Both geometric vectors and tuples can be added and scaled, and these vector operations led to the concept of a vector space, which is a set equipped with a vector addition and a scalar multiplication that satisfy some axioms generalizing the main properties of operations on above sorts of vectors. A vector space formed by geometric vectors is called a Euclidean vector space, and a vector space formed by tuples is called a coordinate vector space.

There are many vector spaces that are considered in mathematics, such as extension field, polynomial rings, algebras and function spaces. The term vector is generally not used for elements of these vectors spaces, and is generally reserved for geometric vectors, tuples, and elements of unspecified vector spaces (for example, when discussing general properties of vector spaces).

A vector is what is needed to "carry" the point A to the point B; the Latin word vector means "carrier".[4] It was first used by 18th century astronomers investigating planetary revolution around the Sun.[5] The magnitude of the vector is the distance between the two points, and the direction refers to the direction of displacement from A to B. Many algebraic operations on real numbers such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and negation have close analogues for vectors,[6] operations which obey the familiar algebraic laws of commutativity, associativity, and distributivity. These operations and associated laws qualify Euclidean vectors as an example of the more generalized concept of vectors defined simply as elements of a vector space.

In mathematics, physics, and engineering, a vector space (also called a linear space) is a set whose elements, often called vectors, may be added together and multiplied ("scaled") by numbers called scalars. Scalars are often real numbers, but can be complex numbers or, more generally, elements of any field. The operations of vector addition and scalar multiplication must satisfy certain requirements, called vector axioms. The terms real vector space and complex vector space are often used to specify the nature of the scalars: real coordinate space or complex coordinate space.

Vector spaces generalize Euclidean vectors, which allow modeling physical quantities, such as forces and velocity, that have not only a magnitude, but also a direction. The concept of vector spaces is fundamental for linear algebra, together with the concept of matrix, which allows computing in vector spaces. This provides a concise and synthetic way for manipulating and studying systems of linear equations.

Vector spaces are characterized by their dimension, which, roughly speaking, specifies the number of independent directions in the space. This means that, for two vector spaces with the same dimension, the properties that depend only from the vector-space structure are exactly the same (technically the vector spaces are isomorphic). A vector space is finite-dimensional if its dimension is a natural number. Otherwise, it is infinite-dimensional, and its dimension is an infinite cardinal. Finite-dimensional vector spaces occur naturally in geometry and related areas. Infinite-dimensional vector spaces occur in many areas of mathematics. For example, polynomial rings are countably infinite-dimensional vector spaces, and many function spaces have the cardinality of the continuum as a dimension.

Every algebra over a field is a vector space, but elements of an algebra are generally not called vectors. However, in some cases, they are called vectors, mainly due to historical reasons.

A vector field is a vector-valued function that, generally, has a domain of the same dimension (as a manifold) as its codomain,