Main content

# Worked example: finding unit vector with given direction

Learn what a unit vector is and how to find a unit vector in the direction of a given vector. Created by Sal Khan.

## Want to join the conversation?

- As Sal Sir said that a unit vector has magnitude one , can it has magnitude -1?(56 votes)
- Magnitude is the length of something. If you had a ruler and measured it, that would be the magnitude. Lengths cannot be negative, so they must always be positive.(30 votes)

- What is the use of using unit vector ? why do we Consider unit vector for any vector ?(29 votes)
- A unit vector contains directional information. If you multiply a positive scalar by a unit vector, then you produce a vector with magnitude equal to that scalar in the direction of the unit vector.(76 votes)

- What is the significance of finding a unit vector? What does it allow you to do? I'm in an engineering course(10 votes)
- Did you ever see the movie Despicable Me 1? Remember the character Vector, who has both "Magnitude" and "Direction".

Well this is precisely what a vector is, a mathematical object with magnitude and direction.

When we talk about a unit vector, we are talking about a vector whose magnitude is 1 in a given direction. Sometimes you may here the unit vector called a direction vector, because all it really does is tell you what direction the object is going in.

Once we have the unit vector, or direction, we can multiply it by the magnitude to describe the properties of the object with that particular vector, that is, with that particular magnitude and direction. This is VERY HANDY

Try this: https://www.mathsisfun.com/algebra/vector-unit.html

and this: http://www.anselm.edu/internet/physics/cbphysics/downloadsi/unitvectors.pdf

and this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unit_vector(39 votes)

- The unit vector in this example ends up being the cos and sin of the angle formed by the original vector and the x-axis. Will this always be the case? If it is, how useful is this?(12 votes)
- That will always be the case, much of trigonometry is based around this relationship.(12 votes)

- At 3: 08, (When he made a unit vector U,) why did he divide 3 and 4 by the magnitude of vector A?(7 votes)
- Because a unit vector, by definition, has a magnitude of 1, so if you want a unit vector in the direction of A you need to divide by its magnitude.(8 votes)

- In earlier videos when Sal used the hat with i and j e.g. 7i^ + 8j^ does that just mean 7+8 because the hat is just 1 unit?

Thanks(3 votes)- i^ is usually defined as a unit vector that goes along positive x-axis for one unit, while j^ is usually used to denote a unit vector that goes along positive y-axis for one unit. So, 7i^ + 8j^ is representing a vector that goes 7 units to the right in the horizontal direction and 8 units up in the vertical direction from its initial point to its terminal point. Since i^ and j^ represent different vectors from the first place, we can't just add their coefficients.(10 votes)

- In the last video "Unit vectors intro", Sal uses
`i^ = (1, 0)`

and`j^ = (0, 1)`

to make`vector v = 2i^ + 3j^`

(and`vector v = (2,3)`

). As the unit vector taught in this video has the denominator to be ||vector||, why wasn't`vector v = (2/sqrt(13), 3/sqrt(13))`

instead?(6 votes)- Sal never claims that v is a unit vector. The unit vectors he introduces are just î and j-hat.(5 votes)

- Can the magnitude be a negative number?(2 votes)
- no since +ve or -ve signs only indicate direction.(6 votes)

- What is a unit vector?(2 votes)
- a unit vector is a vector with a magnitude (length) of 1(8 votes)

- Why do we use ^ to denote a unit vector?(4 votes)
- When written in hand we denote a vector v by putting an arrow over the variable. When we put the hat (^) over it it means v is a unit vector. Why? Easy to draw and in keeping with using a symbol above the variable(2 votes)

## Video transcript

What I want to do in this video is explore the idea of a unit vector. A unit vector is just
a vector that goes in a particular direction that
has a magnitude of one. Let's take an example. Let's say that I have the
vector, let's say the vector A, and in the horizontal
direction for every three that it moves in the vertical
direction it moves up four. What else do we know about this? We could figure out A's magnitude, we can denote it like this. The magnitude of vector A, well this would just be the length of it. Let's try to visualize A. For every three that we go
in the horizontal direction we're going to go four in
the vertical direction. Vector A would look something like this. It would look like that. That is vector A. What's its magnitude? The magnitude is just the length of this vector right over here and we can use the Pythagorean theorem to figure this out. This length is going to
be the square root of the sum of the squares
of the other two sides. This is just the hypotenuse
of this right triangle. This is going to be three
squared plus four squared or this is going to be the
square root of nine plus 16, square root of 25, or it's going to be equal to five. You might have just recognized that this would be a three, four,
five right triangle. The length of this side
right over here is five so I could say the magnitude
of A is equal to five. This is clearly not a unit
vector. It has a length, it has a magnitude of
something other than one. Let's say we wanted to
construct a unit vector that has the same direction as A but
has a length of only one. Another way of thinking about it, let's say we wanted to figure out a vector that goes in the
exact same direction but it has one fifth the magnitude, it only has a magnitude of one. What could we do? If we scale everything down by a fifth, if we were to multiply each
of these components of our vector A by a fifth, or another
way of thinking about it, if we divide each of these
by the magnitude of A then we can construct this unit vector. I'm going to call that unit
vector, I'll call it A but instead of putting an arrow
on top I'm going to put -- Actually just to not confuse ourselves let's call it U for a unit vector. To also make it clear it's
a unit vector and not just a normal vector I'm going
to put this little hat. Instead of this little
arrow when you put this hat this denotes that you're
dealing with a unit vector, a vector with magnitude of one. The unit vector, we could write it down. It's going to be equal to
each of these components, for A we just divide
by the magnitude of A. It's three in the horizontal direction, four in the vertical direction. Once again we just
divide by the magnitude, magnitude of our vector. This is going to be equal
to, the magnitude we already figured out is five so it's going to be three fifths in
the horizontal direction and four fifths in the vertical direction. You can verify. This is
going to have, one way to think about it the ratio between these two numbers is the exact
same thing as the ratio up here so we're going
in the same direction but the magnitude here is now
going to be equal to one. You can verify that, let's do that. What's the magnitude
now of our unit vector? Let me write that hat a little bit, that hat got a little crooked. What's the magnitude of unit vector U? It's going to be the square root of the sum of the squares of
these two components. It's going to be the, the square of three fifths is nine over 25 plus the square of four
fifths is 16 over 25. What's that going to be? Well nine plus 16 is 25 so it's going to be the square root of 25. That plus that is 25. 25 over 25 which is just
going to be equal to the square root, or I guess
we're doing the principal root, the positive square root of one, which is just equal to one,
which is exactly what we wanted. It goes in the same direction
but magnitude is one, that's why it's a unit vector.