Cross Product - History

History

In 1773, Joseph Louis Lagrange introduced the component form of both the dot and cross products in order to study the tetrahedron in three dimensions. In 1843 the Irish mathematical physicist Sir William Rowan Hamilton introduced the quaternion product, and with it the terms "vector" and "scalar". Given two quaternions and, where u and v are vectors in R3, their quaternion product can be summarized as . James Clerk Maxwell used Hamilton's quaternion tools to develop his famous electromagnetism equations, and for this and other reasons quaternions for a time were an essential part of physics education.

In 1878 William Kingdon Clifford published his Elements of Dynamic which was an advanced text for its time. He defined the product of two vectors to have magnitude equal to the area of the parallelogram of which they are two sides, and direction perpendicular to their plane.

Oliver Heaviside in England and Josiah Willard Gibbs, a professor at Yale University in Connecticut, also felt that quaternion methods were too cumbersome, often requiring the scalar or vector part of a result to be extracted. Thus, about forty years after the quaternion product, the dot product and cross product were introduced—to heated opposition. Pivotal to (eventual) acceptance was the efficiency of the new approach, allowing Heaviside to reduce the equations of electromagnetism from Maxwell's original 20 to the four commonly seen today.

Largely independent of this development, and largely unappreciated at the time, Hermann Grassmann created a geometric algebra not tied to dimension two or three, with the exterior product playing a central role. William Kingdon Clifford combined the algebras of Hamilton and Grassmann to produce Clifford algebra, where in the case of three-dimensional vectors the bivector produced from two vectors dualizes to a vector, thus reproducing the cross product.

The cross notation and the name "cross product" began with Gibbs. Originally they appeared in privately published notes for his students in 1881 as Elements of Vector Analysis. The utility for mechanics was noted by Aleksandr Kotelnikov. Gibbs's notation and the name "cross product" later reached a wide audience through Vector Analysis, a textbook by Edwin Bidwell Wilson, a former student. Wilson rearranged material from Gibbs's lectures, together with material from publications by Heaviside, Föpps, and Hamilton. He divided vector analysis into three parts:

First, that which concerns addition and the scalar and vector products of vectors. Second, that which concerns the differential and integral calculus in its relations to scalar and vector functions. Third, that which contains the theory of the linear vector function.

Two main kinds of vector multiplications were defined, and they were called as follows:

  • The direct, scalar, or dot product of two vectors
  • The skew, vector, or cross product of two vectors

Several kinds of triple products and products of more than three vectors were also examined. The above mentioned triple product expansion was also included.

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