A vector-valued function, also referred to as a vector function, is a mathematical function of one or more variables whose range is a set of multidimensional vectors or infinite-dimensional vectors. The input of a vector-valued function could be a scalar or a vector. Vector-valued functions provide a useful method for studying various curves both in the plane and in three-dimensional space. We can apply this concept to calculate the velocity, acceleration, arc length, and curvature of an object’s trajectory. In this chapter, we examine these methods and show how they are used.
- 13.0: Prelude to Vector-Valued Functions
- Halley’s Comet follows an elliptical path through the solar system, with the Sun appearing at one focus of the ellipse. This motion is predicted by Johannes Kepler’s first law of planetary motion, which we mentioned briefly previously. Kepler’s third law of planetary motion can be used with the calculus of vector-valued functions to find the average distance of Halley’s Comet from the Sun.
- 13.1: Vector-Valued Functions and Space Curves
- Our study of vector-valued functions combines ideas from our earlier examination of single-variable calculus with our description of vectors in three dimensions from the preceding chapter. In this section, we extend concepts from earlier chapters and also examine new ideas concerning curves in three-dimensional space. These definitions and theorems support the presentation of material in the rest of this chapter and also in the remaining chapters of the text.
- 13.2: Calculus of Vector-Valued Functions
- To study the calculus of vector-valued functions, we follow a similar path to the one we took in studying real-valued functions. First, we define the derivative, then we examine applications of the derivative, then we move on to defining integrals. However, we will find some interesting new ideas along the way as a result of the vector nature of these functions and the properties of space curves.
- 13.3: Arc Length and Curvature
- In this section, we study formulas related to curves in both two and three dimensions, and see how they are related to various properties of the same curve. For example, suppose a vector-valued function describes the motion of a particle in space. We would like to determine how far the particle has traveled over a given time interval, which can be described by the arc length of the path it follows.
- 13.4: Motion in Space
- We have now seen how to describe curves in the plane and in space, and how to determine their properties, such as arc length and curvature. All of this leads to the main goal of this chapter, which is the description of motion along plane curves and space curves. We now have all the tools we need; in this section, we put these ideas together and look at how to use them.
Contributors and Attributions
Gilbert Strang (MIT) and Edwin “Jed” Herman (Harvey Mudd) with many contributing authors. This content by OpenStax is licensed with a CC-BY-SA-NC 4.0 license. Download for free at http://cnx.org.