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Determinants explained

Joakim Strandberg January 2004

Introduction to determinants

What is a determinant? First we must know what a matrix is. For example a 2 2 matrix is written: a b A= (1) c d We assume that the entries in A are real, in other words a, b, c, d are real. Now to answer the question posed earlier, what is a determinant? A determinant is a function that assigns a n n matrix with a real number. For example, the determinant of the 2 2 matrix A is written: a b c d and is dened as: a b = ad cb c d Example: Calculate the determinant: 1 3 Solution: 4 2 (4) (3) (2)

According to the denition of 2 2 determinants (3): 1 3 4 =1234 2 = 10 The end.


We can now see how a 22 determinant assigns a 22 matrix with a real number. But why is the 2 2 determinant dened as (3)? Determinants originates from the following problem:

Problem: Lets assume we are given two arbitrary real vectors u = (a, b) and v = (c, d). For example, lets assume they could be drawn like in the coordinate system below: y

x For any given two vectors u and v, we can construct a parallellogram. How we do this is shown in the picture below (the parallellogram is shown in blue): y

x What is the area of the parallellogram? Solution: Lets assume that there exists an area function A = A(u, v) where we insert the two vectors u, v into A and A gives us the area which is constructed by the vectors u, v. We shall assume that the area which the area function gives us is the area with sign. By this we mean that the area function 2

A gives the correct area, but with a plus or minus sign in front (this is highly counter-intuitive but this is the kind of area function we shall search for). Now, lets assume that the area function changes sign when we switch places of u and v (this is the 1:st property out of 6 we shall give the area function A and we shall denote them by (i)-(vi)): (i) A(u, v) = A(v, u) Assume the following: Let ex and ey denote the unit vectors of the x- and y-axes. Let u, v and w be three arbitrary vectors. Let k be an arbitrary real number. The remaining 5 properties we shall give the area function A is: (ii) A(u + v, w) = A(u, w) + A(v, w) (iii) A(ex , ex ) = 0 (iv) A(ey , ey ) = 0 (v) A(ex , ey ) = 1 (vi) A(ku, v) = kA(u, v) How do we motivate searching for an area function with the properties (ii)-(vi)? Here follows the motivation: Motivation for property (ii): Assume for example that the arbitrary vectors u, v and w can be drawn like in the coordinate system below: y

In the coordinate system below, the area of A(u, w) + A(v, w) is shown in blue: y

A(v, w)

A(u, w) w

x And in the coordinate system below the area of A(u + v, w) is shown in blue: y u+v

x By inspection of the two pictures above we nd: A(u + v, w) = A(u, w) + A(v, w) (6)

Motivation for property (iii)-(v): The area spanned by two parallell vectors is 0, which explains why A(ex , ex ) = A(ey , ey ) = 0. Also, the area of a square with side lenght 1 has the area 1 area-unit, which explains A(ex , ey ) = 1.

Motivation for property (vi): As an example, in the coordinate system below the vectors u, 3u and v are drawn: y

v 3u u x Notice that the area spanned by the vectors 3u and v is 3 times larger than the area spanned by the vectors u and v shown in blue. By inspection we therefore nd: A(3u, v) = 3A(u, v) (7) This is generelized to: A(ku, v) = kA(u, v) Calculation of the area: Write: u = (a, b) = aex + bey v = (c, d) = cex + dey We use the properties (i)-(iv) and nally calculate the area (with sign)! A(u, v) = A(aex + bey , v) = A(aex , v) + A(bey , v) = A(v, aex ) A(v, bey ) = A(cex + dey , aex ) A(cex + dey , bey ) = [A(cex , aex ) + A(dey , aex )] [A(cex , bey ) + A(dey , bey )] = [c A(ex , aex ) +d A(ey , aex )] [c A(ex , bey ) +d A(ey , bey )]
=0 a b =0


(9) (10)


= [da] [cb] = ad bc