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Scalar (mathematics)

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Title: Scalar (mathematics)  
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Subject: Linear algebra, Inner product space, Eigenvalues and eigenvectors, Backstepping, Blade (geometry)
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Scalar (mathematics)

Scalars are real numbers used in linear algebra, as opposed to vectors. This image shows a Euclidean vector. Its coordinates x and y are scalars, as is its length, but v is not a scalar.

In linear algebra, real numbers are called scalars and relate to vectors in a vector space through the operation of scalar multiplication, in which a vector can be multiplied by a number to produce another vector.[1][2][3] More generally, a vector space may be defined by using any field instead of real numbers, such as complex numbers. Then the scalars of that vector space will be the elements of the associated field.

A scalar product operation – not to be confused with scalar multiplication – may be defined on a vector space, allowing two vectors to be multiplied to produce a scalar. A vector space equipped with a scalar product is called an inner product space.

The real component of a quaternion is also called its scalar part.

The term is also sometimes used informally to mean a vector, matrix, tensor, or other usually "compound" value that is actually reduced to a single component. Thus, for example, the product of a 1×n matrix and an n×1 matrix, which is formally a 1×1 matrix, is often said to be a scalar.

The term scalar matrix is used to denote a matrix of the form kI where k is a scalar and I is the identity matrix.


The word scalar derives from the Latin word scalaris, adjectival form from scala (Latin for "ladder"). The English word "scale" is also derived from scala. The first recorded usage of the word "scalar" in mathematics was by François Viète in Analytic Art (In artem analyticen isagoge)(1591):[4]

Magnitudes that ascend or descend proportionally in keeping with their nature from one kind to another are called scalar terms.
(Latin: Magnitudines quae ex genere ad genus sua vi proportionaliter adscendunt vel descendunt, vocentur Scalares.)

According to a citation in the Oxford English Dictionary the first recorded usage of the term in English was by W. R. Hamilton in 1846, to refer to the real part of a quaternion:

The algebraically real part may receive, according to the question in which it occurs, all values contained on the one scale of progression of numbers from negative to positive infinity; we shall call it therefore the scalar part.

Definitions and properties

Scalars of vector spaces

A vector space is defined as a set of vectors, a set of scalars, and a scalar multiplication operation that takes a scalar k and a vector v to another vector kv. For example, in a coordinate space, the scalar multiplication k(v_1, v_2, \dots, v_n) yields (kv_1, kv_2, \dots, k v_n). In a (linear) function space, is the function xk(ƒ(x)).

The scalars can be taken from any field, including the rational, algebraic, real, and complex numbers, as well as finite fields. a number by the elements inside the brackets.

Scalars as vector components

According to a fundamental theorem of linear algebra, every vector space has a basis. It follows that every vector space over a scalar field K is isomorphic to a coordinate vector space where the coordinates are elements of K. For example, every real vector space of dimension n is isomorphic to n-dimensional real space Rn.

Scalars in normed vector spaces

Alternatively, a vector space V can be equipped with a norm function that assigns to every vector v in V a scalar ||v||. By definition, multiplying v by a scalar k also multiplies its norm by |k|. If ||v|| is interpreted as the length of v, this operation can be described as scaling the length of v by k. A vector space equipped with a norm is called a normed vector space (or normed linear space).

The norm is usually defined to be an element of V's scalar field K, which restricts the latter to fields that support the notion of sign. Moreover, if V has dimension 2 or more, K must be closed under square root, as well as the four arithmetic operations; thus the rational numbers Q are excluded, but the surd field is acceptable. For this reason, not every scalar product space is a normed vector space.

Scalars in modules

When the requirement that the set of scalars form a field is relaxed so that it need only form a ring (so that, for example, the division of scalars need not be defined, or the scalars need not be commutative), the resulting more general algebraic structure is called a module.

In this case the "scalars" may be complicated objects. For instance, if R is a ring, the vectors of the product space Rn can be made into a module with the n×n matrices with entries from R as the scalars. Another example comes from manifold theory, where the space of sections of the tangent bundle forms a module over the algebra of real functions on the manifold.

Scaling transformation

The scalar multiplication of vector spaces and modules is a special case of scaling, a kind of linear transformation.

Scalar operations (computer science)

Operations that apply to a single value at a time.

See also


  1. ^ Lay, David C. (2006). Linear Algebra and Its Applications (3rd ed.).  
  2. ^  
  3. ^ Axler, Sheldon (2002). Linear Algebra Done Right (2nd ed.).  
  4. ^ Lincoln Collins. Biography Paper: Francois Viete

External links

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