Physics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for active researchers, academics and students of physics. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

In the undergraduate text of physics, the equation for velocity and displacement at constant acceleration are given in scalar form. For example, my text reads

$$v^2 = v_0^2 + 2a(x-x_0)$$

But today, I am reading another text which gives the vector form for displacement. I am trying to write above equation in vector form also but how do I deal with that square in vector? I am tackling that square with dot product of two vector such that $v^2 \to \vec{v}\cdot\vec{v}$, is that correct? So what about the multiplication of acceleration and the displacement? dot product again?

This equation looks a bit confusing to me. Let's say I throw a stone upright with initial speed $v_0$ and it reaches the highest point sometimes later (so $v=0$), and the coordinate is given with y axis down and x axis horizontal. Note that the displacement is negative since the coordinate's yaxis is downward, also the gravity is along the positive y axis so the equation becomes $$ 0 = v_0^2 + 2g(-x) $$ which gives $$ x = \frac{v_0^2}{2g} $$ is that right?

share|cite|improve this question
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Here's a breakdown of the relevant vector algebra.

$ \frac{d\vec x}{dt} = \vec v, \qquad \frac{d\vec v}{dt} = \vec a $

$ \frac{d}{dt} v^2 = \frac{d}{dt} ( \vec v \cdot \vec v) = \frac{d\vec v}{dt} \cdot \vec v + \vec v \cdot \frac{d\vec v}{dt} = 2 \vec a \cdot \vec v $

$ \int_{t_0}^t dt' \frac{d}{dt'} v^2 = v^2 - v_0^2 $

$ \int_{t_0}^t 2 \vec a \cdot \vec v dt' = 2 \int_{{\vec x}_0}^{\vec x} \vec a \cdot d \vec x' = 2 \vec a \cdot \int_{{\vec x}_0}^{\vec x} d \vec x' = 2 \vec a \cdot (\vec x - {\vec x}_0 ) $

Note that in the last line the constant acceleration vector assumption is necessary for pulling the dot product outside of the integral.

Finally, if the acceleration vector is in the same direction as the displacement then it reduces to the familiar scalar equation:

$ v^2 - v_0^2 = 2 \vec a \cdot (\vec x - {\vec x}_0 ) = 2a\| \vec x - {\vec x}_0 \| $.

share|cite|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.