In general, a matrix (plural matrices) is something that provides support or structure, especially in the sense of surrounding and/or shaping. It comes from the Latin word for "womb", which itself derived from the Latin word for "mother", which is mater. Various disciplines use the term "matrix" with differing meanings.
In biology, the word is used for the material between animal or plant cells, or generally the material (or "tissue") in which more specialized structures are embedded, and also specifically for one part of the mitochondrion. It is also used for the "medium" in which bacteria are grown (or "cultured"), so a Petri dish of agar may be the matrix for culturing a sample swabbed from someone's sore throat.
In geology, if a rock consists of larger grains embedded in a material consisting of smaller ones, this surrounding material (or "substrate") is termed matrix. For example, in Africa diamonds are often mined from a matrix of clay-like rock called "yellow ground."
In the kind of printing that involves setting type, a matrix (often called a "mat") is a mold for shaping the letters -- the mats of all the letters to go on one page are assembled, and then hot metal is poured into that matrix to make the plate to go into the printing press to print the page.
In sound recording, a matrix can refer to a disc in the early stages of processing a record for mass production; see mastering and pressing process discussion at Analogue disc record. Matrix can also refer to the encoding of several channels of audio into fewer channels to be decoded back into several channels later.
The U.S. Congress, in enacting the Federal Rules of Evidence, used the term in that sense to define a "duplicate" of a document that can be used as evidence at trial in place of the original:
- "A 'duplicate' is a counterpart produced by the same impression as the original, or from the same matrix." (Rule 1001(4))
is a 4-by-3 matrix.
Matrices in the mathematical sense are useful to record data that depend on two categories, such as the sales in three branches of a store in each of the four quarters of a year, or to keep track of the coefficients of linear expressions such as linear transformations and systems of linear equations. The field of mathematics that studies matrices is called matrix theory, a branch of linear algebra. Closely related terms from computing are "two-dimensional array" and "spreadsheet".
We can do addition, multiplication and many different operations on matrices. To learn more, see Matrix (mathematics).
See also the 1999 film The Matrix.