Where will engineers use vector spaces ?

In summary, the importance of vector spaces in engineering goes beyond just theoretical mathematics. Engineers use vector spaces in various applications such as circuit theory, electromagnetic field theory, computer memory, computer graphics, cryptography, and solving linear differential equations. Additionally, vector spaces are also used in adaptive beamforming, solving nonhomogeneous PDEs, and understanding integral transforms. Overall, having a strong understanding of vector spaces is crucial for engineers in various fields.
  • #1
Hey All,

I am tutoring a mixed class of (mostly) engineers and physicists and I am trying to get across how important the concept of a vector space is - that its not just some abstract problem that only pure mathematicians need to worry about.

Its easy to highlight the need for linear algebra for physicists - Quantum Mechanics is entirely based on it. I am finding it harder to justify to engineers where they will use vector spaces - I know its important for time domain (state space) control theory and you describe stresses in materials using tensors.

Can anyone think of other applications of vector spaces for engineers ?

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  • #2
I'm studying electrical engineering. In circuit theory, we use matrices to solve for current or voltage. In electromagnetic field theory which is a fundamental course for communication engineering, conception of divergence, curl are important.
For other fields of engineering, computer memory extensively uses the conception of partition of matrices. If the matrices size gets larger than the space of computer memory it divides the matrices into submatrices and does calculation.
Again linear operator plays a key role in computer graphics. For many CAD software generates drawing using linear operators.
And don't forget about cryptography. Matrices can be cleverly used in cryptography. Exchanging secret information using matrix is very robust and easy in one sense.
How about MATLAB? This software is widely used in engineering fields and MATLAB's default data type is matrix.
  • #3
And, of course, Linear Algebra is the underlying theory for all of linear differential equations.
  • #4
I am an electrical engineer, and find that vector spaces and matrix algebra come up often. Examples:

1) Least square estimation has a nice subspace interpretation. Many linear algebra texts show this. This kind of estimation is used a lot in digital filter design, tracking (Kalman filters), control systems, etc.

2) FOURIER ANALYSIS! The discrete Fourier transform is a nice finite dimensional example, and the FFT algorithm is just fun to learn about. Continuous time is nice too, but then you are in infinite dimensional space of course ...

3) incidence matrices from graphs that represent circuit topology. The kirchof voltage and current laws can then be nicely represented in matrix form. Yes, I had an undergrad electrical engineering class that covered this stuff, and included state-space analysis, matrix exponentials, etc.

4) We use orthogonal projections all the time. For example, in adaptive beamforming, if the interference signals have a very high signal to noise, we essentially project the data orthogonal to the interference subspace in order to maximize the signal to noise of the desired signals. In the limit of infinite interference to noise, you get exactly the subspace projection.

5) Solving nonhomogeneous PDEs using eigenfunction expansions. I know, this is infinite dimension again, but relating sturm-liouville to symmetric matrices, and solving Ax=c by eigenvector expansions is fun. This kind of problem comes up in electrodynamics (electrical engineering), fluids (mechanical/civil/chemical engr.), quantum mechanics (electrical/materials/chemical engr). etc.

6) ODEs, of course. Basic signals and systems courses are basically based on the fact that complex exponentials are the eigenfunctions of constant coefficient ODEs. Fourier transform is basically a projection onto this space. 7) SVD is used everywhere for things like compressing images, decomposing 2-D filters into simple outer products of 1-D filters (much more efficient to implement). SVD for numerics is also important ...

jasonEDIT: the book "linear algebra and its applications" by Strang has nice examples that relate to engineering, included a bunch of those above. The "applications" edition of Anton's "elementary linear algebra" book has a bunch of chapters with nice applications.
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  • #5
Integral transforms made sense in an entirely new way to me, once I understood them in terms of generalizing vector spaces to an infinite dimensional limit.

Related to Where will engineers use vector spaces ?

What are vector spaces?

Vector spaces are mathematical structures that are used to represent and operate on vectors, which are quantities that have both magnitude and direction. They consist of a set of vectors and a set of operations that can be performed on those vectors.

Why do engineers use vector spaces?

Engineers use vector spaces because they provide a powerful tool for representing and manipulating physical quantities, such as force, velocity, and displacement. They also allow engineers to solve complex problems by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable parts.

How are vector spaces used in engineering?

Vector spaces are used in engineering for a variety of applications, including computer graphics, robotics, control systems, and signal processing. They are also used in physics, particularly in the study of mechanics and electromagnetism.

What are some real-world examples of vector spaces in engineering?

Some examples of vector spaces in engineering include the use of 3D vector spaces in computer graphics to represent and manipulate 3D objects, the use of vector spaces in designing control systems for robots, and the use of vector spaces in analyzing and designing electrical circuits.

How do engineers learn about vector spaces?

Engineers typically learn about vector spaces through their undergraduate studies in mathematics and physics. They also may encounter vector spaces in more specialized courses related to their specific field of engineering, such as linear algebra or control systems engineering.

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