Right-hand rule

Right-hand rule

:"For the related yet different principle relating to electromagnetic coils, see right hand grip rule".In mathematics and physics, the right-hand rule is a common mnemonic for understanding notation conventions for vectors in 3 dimensions. It was invented for use in electromagnetism by British physicist John Ambrose Fleming in the late 1800s. [cite book
last = Fleming
first = John Ambrose
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Magnets and Electric Currents, 2nd Edition
publisher = E.& F. N. Spon
date = 1902
location = London
pages = p.173-174
url = http://books.google.com/books?id=ASUYAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA173
doi =
id =
isbn =
] [cite web|title=Right and left hand rules|work=Tutorials, Magnet Lab U.|publisher=National High Magnetic Field Laboratory|url=http://www.magnet.fsu.edu/education/tutorials/java/handrules/index.html|accessdate=2008-04-30]

When choosing three vectors that must be at right angles to each other, there are two distinct solutions, so when expressing this idea in mathematics, one must remove the ambiguity of which solution is meant.

There are variations on the mnemonic depending on context, but all variations are related to the one idea of choosing a convention.

Direction associated with an ordered pair of directions

One form of the right-hand rule is used in situations in which an ordered operation must be performed on two vectors "a" and "b" that has a result which is a vector "c" perpendicular to both "a" and "b". The most common example is the vector cross product. The right-hand rule imposes the following procedure for choosing one of the two directions.

: vec{a} imes vec{b} = vec{c}

* With the thumb, index, and middle fingers at right angles to each other (with the index finger pointed straight), the middle finger points in the direction of "c" when the thumb represents "a" and the index finger represents "b".

Other (equivalent) finger assignments are possible. For example, the first (index) finger can represent "a", the first vector in the product; the second (middle) finger, "b", the second vector; and the thumb, "c", the product. [ [http://www.physics.udel.edu/~watson/phys345/Fall1998/class/1-right-hand-rule.html PHYS345 Introduction to the Right Hand Rule] , George Watson, University of Delaware, 1998]

Direction associated with a rotation

A different form of the right-hand rule is used in situations where a vector must be assigned to the "rotation" of a body, a magnetic field or a fluid. [cite web
last = Wilson
first = Adam
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Hand Rules
work = Course outline, EE2683 Electric Circuits and Machines
publisher = Faculty of Engineering, Univ. of New Brunswick
date = 2008
url = http://www.ece.unb.ca/Courses/EE2683/AW/hand_rules.pdf
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-08-11
] Alternatively, when a rotation is specified by a vector, and it is necessary to understand the way in which the rotation occurs, the right-hand rule is applicable.

In this form, the fingers of the right hand are curled to match the curvature and direction of the motion or the magnetic field. The thumb indicates the direction of the vector.


The first form of the rule is used to determine the direction of the cross product of two vectors. This leads to widespread use in physics, wherever the cross product occurs. A list of physical quantities whose directions are related by the right-hand rule is given below. (Some of these are related only indirectly to cross products, and use the second form.)

* The angular velocity of a rotating object and the rotational velocity of any point on the object
* A torque, the force that causes it, and the position of the point of application of the force
* A magnetic field, the position of the point where it is determined, and the electric current (or change in electric flux) that causes it
* A magnetic field in a coil of wire and the electric current in the wire
* The force of a magnetic field on a charged particle, the magnetic field itself, and the velocity of the object
* The vorticity at any point in the field of flow of a fluid
* The induced current from motion in a magnetic field (known as Fleming's right hand rule)

Fleming's left hand rule is a rule for finding the direction of the thrust on a conductor carrying a current in a magnetic field.

Left handedness

In certain situations, it may be useful to use the opposite convention, where one of the vectors is reversed and so creates a left-handed triad instead of a right-handed triad.

An example of this situation is for left-handed materials. Normally, for an electromagnetic wave, the electric and magnetic fields, and the direction of propagation of the wave obey the right-hand rule. However, left-handed materials have special properties - the negative refractive index. It makes the direction of propagation point in the opposite direction.

De Graaf's translation of Fleming's left-hand rule - which uses thrust, field and current - and the right-hand rule, is the FBI rule. The FBI rule changes Thrust into F (Lorentz force), B (direction of the magnetic field) and I (current). The FBI rule is easily remembered by US citizens because of the commonly known abbreviation for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


ee also

*Chirality (mathematics)
*Cross product
*Right hand grip rule
*Curl (mathematics)
*Improper rotation
*Reflection (mathematics)
*Fleming's left hand rule

External links

* [http://www.magnet.fsu.edu/education/tutorials/java/handrules/index.html Right and Left Hand Rules - Interactive Java Tutorial] National High Magnetic Field Laboratory
* [http://physics.syr.edu/courses/video/RightHandRule/index2.html A demonstration of the right-hand rule at physics.syr.edu]
* [http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Right-HandRule.html Definition at mathworld.wolfram.com]
* [http://xkcd.com/199/ Comic depicting other alternatives to the right-hand rule]


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