# A few words about imaginary numbers (and electronics) Mark Cohen

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1 A few words about imaginary numbers (and electronics) Mark Cohen While most of us have seen imaginary numbers in high school algebra, the topic is ordinarily taught in abstraction without any kind of meaningful application At least in my case, the algebra textbook was not very creative in convincing me that the there was anything of real value about an imaginary concept The fact is, however, that algebra of complex numbers is pervasive in engineering of all sorts and very much so in signals and signal processing Assuming that you may have chosen to ignore, or to forget, much of that material, here are a few high points in review Math is formal, and as long as we can make the rules self-consistent, there is no special requirement that we can use it to make direct measurement of the outside world For example, many people take or 3 kids to school It is sensible to talk of taking 0 kids to school, but it really quite different than the choice of or 3 Taking - kids to school makes sense only in a formal way Yet it is both comfortable and practical to deal with negative numbers The idea for complex numbers starts with the observation that the square of an ordinary (real) number is always defined to be a positive number, because both a positive times a positive and a negative times a negative are defined to be positive While the product of a negative and a positive number is negative, the two numbers making up that product must be different (because their signs are different) and therefore the negative number cannot be a perfect square None of this stops us, however, from defining anew a number whose perfect square is negative Therefore, mathematicians created a number, i, whose square is equal to -: i The number, i, is called imaginary, but it is really no more or less imaginary than -, or 0, as it is a formally defined concept, not a tangible number for counting for example An important practical note, is that the variable name, i, was adopted by electrical engineers and physicists to refer to electrical current This created an uncomfortable naming conflict In most engineering disciplines and some physics contexts, the letter, j, is used instead: j In the hope of minimizing long term confusion, the notes that follow use the latter convention We can use ordinary rules of algebra to extend this idea to the square root of other negative numbers, noting that the square of the product of two numbers, (ab) a b Thus, the square of aj is a j, but j is -, therefore (ab) is equal to -a, and therefore a ja Equivalently, c j c By definition, the product ja is an imaginary number as well Complex numbers are defined as being the sum of a real number and an imaginary number, as in a jb We consider them as having a real and an imaginary part The rules of arithmetic for complex numbers are nearly identical to those of the real numbers, except that we must keep track separately of the real and imaginary parts: Let F a jb and G c jd 00 Mark Cohen

2 It follows, therefore, that: F G a c jb jd (a c) j(b d) F G a c jb jd (a c) j(b d) FG (a jb)(c jd) ac jbc jad ( jb)( jd) ac bd jbc jad ac bd j(bc ad) F G (a jb) (c jd) (a jb) (c jd) (c jd) (c jd) (a jb)(c jd) (c d ) ac bd jbc jad (c d ) (ac bd) (bc ad) j (c d ) (c d ) You should be able to verify quickly that if bd0 then F and G are both real and that normal arithmetic rules apply: F/G a/c All real numbers are considered complex, with an imaginary part equal to 0j How large are complex numbers? In grade school we learn to think about magnitude using the number line One interpretation of this is that the numbers can be compared by their distance from 0; thus, -3 has the same magnitude as 3, leading to the concept of absolute value We can think of complex numbers in an analogous manner Since the real and imaginary parts of complex numbers are treated separately, we can consider them as two dimensional numbers Geometrically, it is common to present complex numbers on a twodimensional plane with real and imaginary axes Thus, the number A3j4 constitutes an ordered pair, (3, 4), that can be plotted as: (figure ) By analogy to the number line, we can consider the magnitude of that complex number as the distance from it to the origin (the length of the dashed line in the figure) Specifically, the magnitude of 3j4, denoted with the absolute value symbol, is A 3 j In general, the magnitude of a complex number is calculated by squaring the real and imaginary parts, adding these together and taking the square root it is no more than the Pythagorean theorem This implicitly suggests, by the way, that the magnitude of j Is this reasonable? Sure, because j -, whose absolute value is 00 Mark Cohen

3 You might also want to verify for yourself that simple arithmetic operates just as it should For example: A (3 j4) 6 j8 A The magnitude is twice as large as before You can do this for addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc Note also there is a natural translation here into polar coordinates Instead of expressing a complex number as an ordered pair, we can, and often do, treat it as magnitude and phase, where the phase is the angle, α, it makes with the real (axis) The real part is therefore equal to A cos(α) and the imaginary part is equal to A sin(α) We see elsewhere, that imaginary numbers have a deep role in Laplace and Fourier transforms, that derives from the relation, attributed to Euler, that: e jx cos(x) j sin(x) Deriving the Euler relation requires calculus, but I have restricted this note to algebra only Notice that in the Euler relation, the real part of e jx is cos(x) and the imaginary part is jsin(x) The symmetry with the geometric representation above should be obvious Physical Measurements of Complex Signals Although complex numbers contain imaginary parts, it is still possible to make measurements of complex quantities relatively easily by measuring the magnitude As an example, we can create a signal with the value Re(Ae jωt ), which is by definition real (the notation, Re(x) means the real part of x) As you can see from the Euler relation, this is equal to Acos(ωt), a sinusoid Although this is not derived formally here, if we inject this signal into a linear device, such as an electronic amplifier, the output will be a scaled version, Bcos(ωt), where B itself may be a complex number (even if A was not) If we use an instrument such as a voltmeter or oscilloscope to measure the output of our device, the signal we receive will be a sinusoid of magnitude B If B is complex, the output waveform will have a phase shift and appear as B cos(ωt ϕ), where φ denotes the phase In general then, a linear device driven by a sinusoid will create a scaled and phase-shifted output signal Note that the scaling may depend on the frequency, ω Ironically, although engineering math almost always represents angles in radian measure, the phase of a signal is usually measured in degrees Go figure 00 Mark Cohen

4 A worked example This example, using a simple circuit, requires basic circuit knowledge It is not necessary in order to understand the material presented above, though it may help you to understand it better The figure below shows a circuit consisting of a resistor, a capacitor, and a voltage source: R R C /sc The capacitor may also be represented by its Laplace equivalent, /sc Finding as a function of is simple: v out sc R src sc How can we think about this in terms of sinusoids and measurable signals? The input signal can be of the form Ae st The variable, s, is interpreted as the complex frequency, and may have a real and an imaginary part: s a jb Let s define A to be real, and set a 0 and b jω This is equivalent to saying that the that the input is a cosine wave of amplitude A The output is therefore A RCjω What we measure, however, is the magnitude of the output We calculate as follows: RCjω A multiply by RCjω RCjω RCjω (RCjω)(RCjω) RCjω (RCω) (RCω) j RCω (RCω) To find the magnitude we take: Re( ) Im( ) " % (RCω) & " RCω (RCω) ( ) ( ) " % (RCω) & (RCω) " RCω % (RCω) & % & 00 Mark Cohen

5 The power of a signal is the square of its voltage The power ratio between and is therefore just: (RCω) What about the phase of the output? Here we have to use a little more trigonometry Looking at figure, we can calculate the phase of a complex number, A, as: ϕ arctan( Im(A) Re(A) ) ) Im % ϕ arctan Re% * &, ( (RCω) & ( (RCω) - (RCω) (RCω) (RCω) (RCω) (RCω) (RCω) arctan(rcω) 00 Mark Cohen

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