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13.1

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13.1 Vector Functions and

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Vector Functions and Space Curves

In general, a function is a rule that assigns to each element in the domain an element in the range.

A vector-valued function, or vector function, is simply a function whose domain is a set of real numbers and whose range is a set of vectors.

We are most interested in vector functions r whose values are three-dimensional vectors.

This means that for every number t in the domain of r there

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Vector Functions and Space Curves

If f(t), g(t), and h(t) are the components of the vector r(t), then f, g, and h are real-valued functions called the

component functions of r and we can write

r(t) =

f(t), g(t), h(t)

〉

= f(t) i + g(t) j + h(t) k

We use the letter t to denote the independent variable because it represents time in most applications of vector functions.

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If r(t) =

t3, ln(3 – t),

〉

then the component functions are

f(t) = t3 g(t) = ln(3 – t) h(t) =

By our usual convention, the domain of r consists of all values of t for which the expression for r(t) is defined.

The expressions t3, ln(3 – t), and are all defined when 3 – t > 0 and t ≥ 0.

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Limits and Continuity

The limit of a vector function r is defined by taking the limits of its component functions as follows.

Limits of vector functions obey the same rules as limits of real-valued functions.

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Limits and Continuity

A vector function r is continuous at a if

In view of Definition 1, we see that r is continuous at a if and only if its component functions f, g, and h are

continuous at a.

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Space Curves

There is a close connection between continuous vector functions and space curves.

Suppose that f, g, and h are continuous real-valued functions on an interval I.

Then the set C of all points (x, y, z) in space, where x = f(t) y = g(t) z = h(t)

and t varies throughout the interval I, is called a space curve.

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Space Curves

The equations in (2) are called parametric equations of C and t is called a parameter.

We can think of C as being traced out by a moving particle whose position at time t is (f(t), g(t), h(t)).

If we now consider the vector function r(t) =

f(t), g(t), h(t)

〉

,

then r(t) is the position vector of the point P(f(t), g(t), h(t)) on C.

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Space Curves

Thus any continuous vector function r defines a space curve C that is traced out by the tip of the moving vector r(t), as shown in Figure 1.

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Example 4

Sketch the curve whose vector equation is r(t) = cos t i + sin t j + t k

Solution:

The parametric equations for this curve are x = cos t y = sin t z = t

Since x2 + y2 = cos2t + sin2t = 1, the curve must lie on the circular cylinder x2 + y2 = 1.

The point (x, y, z) lies directly above the point (x, y, 0),

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Example 4 – Solution

(The projection of the curve onto the xy-plane has vector equation r(t) =

cos t, sin t, 0

〉.)

Since z = t, the curve

spirals upward around the cylinder as t increases. The curve, shown in Figure 2, is called a helix.

cont’d

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Space Curves

The corkscrew shape of the helix in Example 4 is familiar from its occurrence in coiled springs.

It also occurs in the model of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid, the genetic material of living cells).

In 1953 James Watson and Francis Crick showed that the structure of the DNA

molecule is that of two linked,

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

Space curves are inherently more difficult to draw by hand than plane curves; for an accurate representation we need to use technology.

For instance, Figure 7 shows a computer-generated graph of the curve with parametric equations

x = (4 + sin 20t) cos t

y = (4 + sin 20t) sin t A toroidal spiral

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

Another interesting curve, the trefoil knot, with equations x = (2 + cos 1.5t) cos t

y = (2 + cos 1.5t) sin t z = sin 1.5t

is graphed in Figure 8. It wouldn’t be easy to plot either of these curves by hand.

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

Even when a computer is used to draw a space curve,

optical illusions make it difficult to get a good impression of what the curve really looks like. (This is especially true in Figure 8.)

The next example shows how to cope with this problem.

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Example 7

Use a computer to draw the curve with vector equation r(t) =

t, t2, t3

〉

. This curve is called a twisted cubic.

Solution:

We start by using the computer to plot the curve with parametric equations x = t, y = t2, z = t3 for –2 ≤ t ≤ 2.

The result is shown in Figure 9(a), but it’s hard to see the true nature of

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Example 7 – Solution

Most three-dimensional computer graphing programs allow the user to enclose a curve or surface in a box instead of displaying the coordinate axes.

When we look at the same curve in a box in Figure 9(b), we have a much clearer picture of the curve.

cont’d

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Example 7 – Solution

We can see that it climbs from a lower corner of the box to the upper corner nearest us, and it twists as it climbs.

We get an even better idea of the curve when we view it from different vantage points.

Figure 9(c) shows the result of rotating the box to give another viewpoint.

cont’d

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Example 7 – Solution

Figures 9(d), 9(e), and 9(f) show the views we get when we look directly at a face of the box.

Figure 9(d) Figure 9(e) Figure 9(f)

Views of the twisted cubic

cont’d

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Example 7 – Solution

It is the projection of the curve onto the xy-plane, namely, the parabola y = x2.

Figure 9(e) shows the projection on the xz-plane, the cubic curve z = x3.

It’s now obvious why the given curve is called a twisted cubic.

cont’d

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

Another method of visualizing a space curve is to draw it on a surface.

For instance, the twisted cubic in Example 7 lies on the

parabolic cylinder y = x2. (Eliminate the parameter from the first two parametric equations, x = t and y = t2.)

Figure 10 shows both the

cylinder and the twisted cubic, and we see that the curve

moves upward from the origin

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

We also used this method in Example 4 to visualize the helix lying on the circular cylinder.

A third method for visualizing the twisted cubic is to realize that it also lies on the cylinder z = x3.

So it can be viewed as the curve of intersection of the cylinders y = x2 and z = x3. (See Figure 11.)

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

We have seen that an interesting space curve, the helix, occurs in the model of DNA.

Another notable example of a space curve in science is the trajectory of a positively charged particle in orthogonally

oriented electric and magnetic fields E and B.

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Using Computers to Draw Space Curves

Depending on the initial velocity given the particle at the

origin, the path of the particle is either a space curve whose projection on the horizontal plane is the cycloid

[Figure 12(a)] or a curve whose projection is the trochoid [Figure 12(b)].

The physical interpretation is that the work done by a conservative force field as it moves an object around a closed path is 0.. The following theorem says that the only

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