Glossary of physics

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This glossary of physics is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to physics, its sub-disciplines, and related fields, including mechanics, materials science, nuclear physics, particle physics, and thermodynamics.

For more inclusive glossaries concerning related fields of science and technology, see Glossary of chemistry terms, Glossary of astronomy, Glossary of areas of mathematics, and Glossary of engineering.


ab initio
A mathematical model which seeks to describe atomic nuclei by solving the non-relativistic Schrödinger equation for all constituent nucleons and the forces that exist between them. Such methods yield precise results for very light nuclei but become more approximate for heavier nuclei.
Abbe number

Also called the V-number or constringence.

In optics and lens design, a measure of a transparent material's dispersion (a variation of refractive index versus wavelength). High values of V indicate low dispersion.
absolute electrode potential
In electrochemistry, the electrode potential of a metal measured with respect to a universal reference system (without any additional metal–solution interface).
absolute humidity
The ratio of the water vapor in a sample of air to the volume of the sample.
absolute magnitude
Is a measure of the luminosity of a celestial object, on a logarithmic astronomical magnitude scale. An object's absolute magnitude is defined to be equal to the apparent magnitude that the object would have if it were viewed from a distance of exactly 10 parsecs (32.6 light-years), with no extinction (or dimming) of its light due to absorption by interstellar dust particles.
absolute motion
absolute pressure
Is zero-referenced against a perfect vacuum, using an absolute scale, so it is equal to gauge pressure plus atmospheric pressure.
absolute scale
Is a system of measurement that begins at a minimum, or zero point, and progresses in only one direction. An absolute scale differs from an arbitrary, or "relative," scale, which begins at some point selected by a person and can progress in both directions. An absolute scale begins at a natural minimum, leaving only one direction in which to progress.
absolute zero
The theoretical lowest possible temperature, understood by international agreement as equivalent to 0 Kelvin or −273.15 °C (−459.67 °F). More formally, it is the theoretical lower limit of the thermodynamic temperature scale, at which enthalpy and entropy of a cooled ideal gas reach their minimum values and the fundamental particles of nature have minimal vibrational motion.
absorption spectroscopy
Refers to spectroscopic techniques that measure the absorption of radiation, as a function of frequency or wavelength, due to its interaction with a sample. The sample absorbs energy, i.e., photons, from the radiating field. The intensity of the absorption varies as a function of frequency, and this variation is the absorption spectrum. Absorption spectroscopy is performed across the electromagnetic spectrum.
accelerating expansion of the universe
Is the observation that the expansion of the universe is such that the velocity at which a distant galaxy is receding from the observer is continuously increasing with time.[1][2][3][4]
The rate at which the velocity of a body changes with time.
acceleration due to gravity
The acceleration on an object caused by the force of gravitation.
An instrument used to measure the proper acceleration of a body irrespective of other forces.
The branch of physics dealing with the production, transmission and effects of sound.
The tendency of dissimilar particles or surfaces to cling to one another. Contrast cohesion.
adiabatic cooling
adiabatic heating
Is the study of the motion of air, particularly its interaction with a solid object, such as an airplane wing. It is a sub-field of fluid dynamics and gas dynamics, and many aspects of aerodynamics theory are common to these fields.
afocal system
air mass
air mass (astronomy)
air mass (solar energy)
The fraction of the total light incident on a reflecting surface, especially a celestial body, which is reflected back in all directions.
A chemical mixture of a metal with one or more other metals or other elements.
alpha decay
alpha particle (α)

Also symbolized by α2+, He2+
, and 4

A type of subatomic particle consisting of two protons and two neutrons bound together into a particle identical to the nucleus of a helium-4 ion. Alpha particles are classically produced in the process of radioactive alpha decay, but may also be produced in other ways and given the same name.
alternating current (AC)
A form of electric current in which the movement of electric charge periodically reverses direction. Contrast direct current.
An instrument that is used to measure electric current.
amorphous solid
A type of solid which does not have a definite geometrical shape. Or its non-crystalline solid.
ampere (A)

Often abbreviated as amp.

The SI base unit of electric current, defined as one coulomb of electric charge per second.
The height of a wave measured from its center (normal) position.
angle of incidence
angle of reflection
ångström (Å)
A unit of length primarily used to measure subatomic particles that is equal to 10-10 meters (one ten-billionth of a meter) or 0.1 nanometers.
angular acceleration
angular displacement
angular frequency
angular momentum
angular velocity
A negatively charged ion. Contrast cation.
The electrode through which a conventional electric current flows into a polarized electrical device; the direction of current flow is, by convention, opposite to the direction of electron flow, and so electrons flow out of the anode. In a galvanic cell, the anode is the negative terminal or pole which emits electrons toward the external part of an electrical circuit. However, in an electrolytic cell, the anode is the wire or plate having excess positive charge, so named because negatively charged anions tend to move towards it. Contrast cathode.
arc length
Archimedes' principle
area moment of inertia
astronomical unit
The branch of astronomy that deals with the physics of the Universe, especially with the nature of celestial bodies rather than their positions or motions in space.
attenuation coefficient
A basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons.
atomic line filter
atomic mass
atomic mass unit
One-twelfth the mass of an atom of the isotope 12
atomic number (Z)
The number of protons found in the nucleus of an atom. It is most often used to classify elements within the periodic table.
atomic orbital
atomic packing factor
atomic physics
A branch of physics that studies atoms as isolated systems of electrons and an atomic nucleus. Compare nuclear physics.
atomic structure
atomic weight (A)
The sum total of protons (or electrons) and neutrons within an atom.
audio frequency
average speed
Avogadro constant
(6.02214086 × 1023 mol−1) In chemistry and physics, the Avogadro constant (named after the scientist Amedeo Avogadro) is the number of constituent particles, usually atoms or molecules, that are contained in the amount of substance given by one mole.
Avogadro's law
A physical law which states that volumes of gases which are equal to each other at the same temperature and pressure will contain equal numbers of molecules.
Avogadro's number
The number of molecules in exactly 12g of carbon-12, equaling 6.022 x 1023.
A hypothetical subatomic particle postulated to account for the rarity of processes that break charge-parity symmetry. It is very light, electrically neutral, and pseudoscalar.
azimuthal quantum number


Babinet's principle
A theorem concerning diffraction which states that the diffraction pattern from an opaque body is identical to that from a hole of the same size and shape except for the overall forward beam intensity.
background radiation
The ubiquitous ionising radiation to which the general population is exposed.
Balmer series
A scientific instrument used in meteorology to measure atmospheric pressure. Pressure tendency can forecast short-term changes in the weather.
A combination of two or more electrical cells which produces electricity.
A structural element that is capable of withstanding load primarily by resisting bending.Beams are traditionally descriptions of building or civil engineering structural elements, but smaller structures such as truck or automobile frames, machine frames, and other mechanical or structural systems contain beam structures that are designed and analyzed in a similar fashion.

Also known as flexure.

The behavior of a slender structural element subjected to an external load applied perpendicularly to a longitudinal axis of the element.
bending moment
Bernoulli equation
Bernoulli's principle
Bessel function
beta decay
beta particle
A high-energy, high-speed electron or positron emitted by certain types of radioactive atomic nuclei.
Big Bang
The prevailing cosmological model that describes the early development of the Universe.
binding energy
The mechanical energy required to disassemble a whole into separate parts. A bound system typically has a lower potential energy than the sum of its constituent parts.
binomial random variable
An interdisciplinary science using methods of and theories from physics to study biological systems.
black body
A hypothetical idealized physical body that completely absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation, regardless of frequency or angle of incidence. Perfect black bodies are imagined as substitutes for actual physical bodies in many theoretical discussions of thermodynamics, and the construction of nearly perfect black bodies in the real world remains a topic of interest for materials engineers. Contrast white body.
black-body radiation
The type of electromagnetic radiation within or surrounding a body in thermodynamic equilibrium with its environment, or emitted by a black body (an opaque and non-reflective body) held at constant, uniform temperature. The radiation has a specific spectrum and intensity that depends only on the temperature of the body.
block and tackle
A system of two or more pulleys with a rope or cable threaded between them, usually used to lift or pull heavy loads.
Bohr model
boiling point
The temperature at which a liquid undergoes a phase change into a gas; the vapour pressure of liquid and gas are equal at this temperature.
boiling point elevation
Boltzmann constant
A physical constant relating the average kinetic energy of the particles in a gas with the temperature of the gas. It is the gas constant R divided by the Avogadro constant NA.
Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC)
A type of particle that behaves according to Bose–Einstein statistics and possesses integer spin. Bosons include elementary particles such as photons, gluons, W and Z bosons, Higgs bosons, and the hypothetical graviton, as well as certain composite particles such as mesons and stable nuclides of even mass number. Bosons constitute one of two main classes of particles, the other being fermions. Unlike fermions, there is no limit to the number of bosons that can occupy the same quantum state.
Boyle's law
The volume of a given mass of a gas at constant temperature is inversely proportional to the pressure.
Bra–ket notation
Bragg's law
Radiation emitted by the acceleration of unbound charged particles.
Brewster's angle
british thermal unit (btu)
An Imperial unit of energy defined as the amount of energy needed to heat one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit; 1 btu is equal to about 1055 joules. In scientific contexts the btu has largely been replaced by the SI unit of energy, the joule.
The tendency of a material to break without significant plastic deformation when subjected to stress. Brittle materials absorb relatively little energy prior to fracture, even those of high strength. Breaking is often accompanied by a snapping sound.
Brownian motion

Also called pedesis.

The presumably random movement of particles suspended in a fluid (liquid or gas) resulting from their bombardment by the fast-moving atoms or molecules in the gas or liquid.
Bulk modulus
A measure of a substance's resistance to uniform compression defined as the ratio of the infinitesimal pressure increase to the resulting relative decrease of the volume. Its base unit is the pascal.
An upward force exerted by a fluid that opposes the weight of an immersed object.


A branch of mathematics that studies change and has two major sub-fields: differential calculus (concerning rates of change and slopes of curves), and integral calculus (concerning accumulation of quantities and the areas under and between curves). These two branches are related to each other by the fundamental theorem of calculus.
capacitive reactance
Carnot cycle
Cartesian coordinates
The electrode through which a conventional electric current flows out of a polarized electrical device; the direction of current flow is, by convention, opposite to the direction of electron flow, and so electrons flow into the cathode. In a galvanic cell, the cathode is the positive terminal or pole which accepts electrons flowing from the external part of an electrical circuit. However, in an electrolytic cell, the cathode is the wire or plate having excess negative charge, so named because positively charged cations tend to move towards it. Contrast anode.
cathode ray
A positively charged ion. Contrast anion.
celestial mechanics
Celsius scale
A scale and unit of measurement of temperature, also known as Centigrade.
center of curvature
center of gravity
The point in a body around which the resultant torque due to gravity forces vanish. Near the surface of the earth, where the gravity acts downward as a parallel force field, the center of gravity and the center of mass are the same.
center of mass
A distribution of mass in space is the unique point where the weighted relative position of the distributed mass sums to zero.
center of pressure
A scale and unit of measurement of temperature, also known as Celsius.
central force motion
central limit theorem
centrifugal force
The apparent outward force that draws a rotating body away from the centre of rotation. It is caused by the inertia of the body as the body's path is continually redirected.
centripetal force
A force which keeps a body moving with a uniform speed along a circular path and is directed along the radius towards the centre.
cGh physics
chain reaction
A sequence of reactions in which a reactive product or byproduct causes additional similar reactions to take place.
change of base rule
charge carrier
chemical physics
A branch of chemistry and physics that studies chemical processes from the point of view of physics by investigating physicochemical phenomena using techniques from atomic and molecular physics and condensed matter physics.
chromatic aberration
circular motion
classical mechanics

Also called Newtonian mechanics.

A sub-field of mechanics concerned with the set of physical laws describing the motion of bodies under the collective actions of a system of forces.
coefficient of friction
The tendency of similar particles or surfaces to cling to one another. Contrast adhesion.
cold fusion
complex harmonic motion
composite particle
Compton scattering
concave lens
condensation point
condensed matter physics
A branch of physics that studies the physical properties of condensed phases of matter.
conservation of momentum
conservation law
constructive interference
continuous spectrum
continuum mechanics
The transfer of heat by the actual transfer of matter.
convex lens
coulomb (C)
The SI derived unit of electric charge, defined as the charge transported by a constant current of one ampere in one second.
Coulomb's law
converging lens
cosmic background radiation
covalent bond
The point on a wave with the maximum value or upward displacement within a cycle.
crest factor
critical angle
critical mass
The smallest amount of fissile material needed for a sustained nuclear chain reaction.
Curie temperature
current density
current length
curvilinear motion
A type of particle accelerator in which charged particles accelerate outwards from the center along a spiral path.


Dalton's law
damped vibration
Darcy–Weisbach equation
dark energy
dark matter
DC motor
A mechanically commutated electric motor powered by direct current.
definite integral
The degree to which a structural element is displaced under a load. It may refer to an angle or a distance.
1.  (mechanics)
2.  (engineering)

Also called mass density.

A physical property of a substance defined as its mass per unit volume.
destructive interference
direct current (DC)
displacement (fluid)
Occurs when an object is immersed in a fluid, pushing it out of the way and taking its place. The volume of the fluid displaced can then be measured, and from this the volume of the immersed object can be deduced (the volume of the immersed object will be exactly equal to the volume of the displaced fluid).
displacement (vector)
The shortest distance from the initial to the final position of a point. Thus, it is the length of an imaginary straight path, typically distinct from the path actually travelled by.
A numerical description of how far apart objects are.
drift velocity
Doppler effect
The change in frequency of a wave (or other periodic event) for an observer moving relative to its source.The received frequency is higher (compared to the emitted frequency) during the approach, it is identical at the instant of passing by, and it is lower during the recession.
Forces which act on a solid object in the direction of the relative fluid flow velocity. Unlike other resistive forces, such as dry friction, which is nearly independent of velocity, drag forces depend on velocity.
A solid material's ability to deform under tensile stress; this is often characterized by the material's ability to be stretched into a wire.
The branch of classical mechanics that studies forces and torques and their effects on motion, as opposed to kinematics, which studies motion without reference to these forces.


elastic collision
elastic energy
elastic instability
elastic modulus
The tendency of a material to return to its original shape after it is deformed.
electric charge
A physical property of matter that causes it to experience a force when near other electrically charged matter. There are two types of electric charge: positive and negative.
electric circuit
An electrical network consisting of a closed loop, giving a return path for the current.
electric current
A flow of electric charge through a conductive medium.
electric displacement field
electric field
The region of space surrounding electrically charged particles and time-varying magnetic fields. The electric field depicts the force exerted on other electrically charged objects by the electrically charged particle the field is surrounding.
electric field gradient
electric field intensity
electric generator
electric motor
electric potential
electric power
The rate at which electric energy is transferred by an electric circuit.
electrical conductor
Any material which contains movable electric charges and therefore can conduct an electric current under the influence of an electric field.
electrical insulator
Any material whose internal electric charges do not flow freely and which therefore does not conduct an electric current under the influence of an electric field.
electrical potential energy
electrical and electronics engineering
electrical network
An interconnection of electrical elements such as resistors, inductors, capacitors, voltage sources, current sources and switches.
electrical resistance
The opposition to the passage of an electric current through an electrical element.
The set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.
electro-optic effect
electrochemical cell
electrolytic cell
A type of magnet in which the magnetic field is produced by the flow of electric current.
electromagnetic field

Also abbreviated EM field or EMF.

A physical field produced by moving electrically charged objects.
electromagnetic induction
electromagnetic radiation

Also abbreviated EM radiation or EMR.

A form of energy emitted and absorbed by charged particles, which exhibits wave-like behavior as it travels through space.
electromagnetic spectrum
electromagnetic wave equation
electromotive force ()

Also abbreviated emf.

The electrical intensity or "pressure" developed by a source of electrical energy such as a battery or generator and measured in volts. Any device that converts other forms of energy into electrical energy provides electromotive force as its output.
A subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge.
electron capture
electron cloud
electron pair
electron paramagnetic resonance

Also called electron spin resonance (ESR) and electron magnetic resonance (EMR).

A method for studying materials with unpaired electrons which makes use of the Zeeman effect. It shares some basic principles with nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR).
electronvolt (eV)
A unit of energy equal to approximately 1.6×10−19 joule. By definition, it is the amount of energy gained by the charge of a single electron moved across an electric potential difference of one volt.
A chemical property that describes the tendency of an atom or a functional group to attract electrons (or electron density) towards itself.
A field that deals with electrical circuits that involve active electrical components such as vacuum tubes, transistors, diodes and integrated circuits, and associated passive interconnection technologies.
elementary charge
elementary particle
emission spectrum
The ability to do work.
energy level
An adjective used to refer to a process or reaction in which a system absorbs energy from its surroundings, usually in the form of heat but also in the form of light, electricity, or sound. Contrast exothermic.
engineering physics
A quantity which describes the randomness of a substance or system.
equilibrant force
escape velocity
The velocity at which the kinetic energy plus the gravitational potential energy of an object is zero. It is the speed needed to "escape" from a gravitational field without further propulsion.
excited state
An adjective used to refer to a process or reaction that releases energy from a system, usually in the form of heat but also in the form of light, electricity, or sound. Contrast endothermic.
experimental physics


falling bodies
Objects that are moving towards a body with greater gravitational influence, such as a planet.
Faraday constant
Fermat's principle
Fermi surface
A type of particle that behaves according to Fermi–Dirac statistics, obeys the Pauli exclusion principle, and possesses half-integer spin. Fermions include all quarks and leptons, as well as all composite particles made of an odd number of these (such as all baryons and many atoms and nuclei). Fermions constitute one of two main classes of particles, the other being bosons.
field line
An organization founded by inventor Dean Kamen in 1989 in order to develop ways to inspire students in engineering and technology fields.
first law of thermodynamics
Either a nuclear reaction or a radioactive decay process in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts (lighter nuclei), often producing free neutrons and photons (in the form of gamma rays), and releasing a, relatively, very large amount of energy.
fluid mechanics
fluid physics
fluid statics
flux density
focal length
force (F)
Any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of a physical body. A force has both magnitude and direction, making it a vector quantity. The SI unit used to measure force is the newton.
force carrier
frame of reference
Fraunhofer lines
free body diagram
frequency modulation
free fall
Any motion of a body where its own weight is the only force acting upon it.
freezing point
The temperature at which a substance changes state from liquid to solid.
fundamental forces

Also called fundamental interactions.

fundamental frequency
fundamental theorem of calculus
A nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei join together, or "fuse", to form a single heavier nucleus.


gamma ray
A form of electromagnetic radiation of high frequency and therefore high energy.
general relativity
Graham's law of diffusion

Also called gravity.

A natural phenomenon by which physical bodies attract each other with a force proportional to their masses.
gravitational constant (G)

Also called the universal gravitational constant and Newton's constant.

A physical constant involved in the calculation of gravitational force between two bodies.
gravitational energy
The potential energy associated with the gravitational field.
gravitational field
A model used to explain the influence that a massive body extends into the space around itself, producing a force on another massive body. Thus, a gravitational field is used to explain gravitational phenomena. It is measured in newtons per kilogram (N/kg).
gravitational potential
The gravitational potential at a location is equal to the work (energy transferred) per unit mass that is done by the force of gravity to move an object to a fixed reference location.
gravitational wave
A ripple in the curvature of spacetime that propagates as a wave and is generated in certain gravitational interactions, travelling outward from their source.
See gravitation.
ground reaction force
ground state
group velocity


The time required for a quantity to fall to half its value as measured at the beginning of the time period. In physics, half-life typically refers to a property of radioactive decay, but may be refer to any quantity which follows an exponential decay.
Hamilton's principle
Hamiltonian mechanics
harmonic mean
A form of energy transferred from one body to another by thermal interaction.
heat transfer
Helmholtz free energy
Henderson–Hasselbalch equation
Henry's law
The SI unit of frequency defined as the number of cycles per second of a periodic phenomenon.
Higgs boson
The physics of complex, self-organizing systems.
Huygens–Fresnel principle


ice point
A physical process that results in the phase transition of a substance from a liquid to a solid.
The measure of the opposition that a circuit presents to a current when a voltage is applied.
indefinite integral
The resistance of any physical object to a change in its state of motion or rest, or the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion.
inductive reactance
integral transform
International System of Units
The International System of Units (abbreviated SI) is the modern form of the metric system. It comprises a system of units of measurement devised around seven base units and the convenience of the number ten.
invariant mass
An atom or molecule in which the total number of electrons is not equal to the total number of protons, giving the atom a net positive or negative electric charge.
ionic bond
A type of chemical bond formed through an electrostatic attraction between two oppositely charged ions.
The process of converting an atom or molecule into an ion by adding or removing charged particles such as electrons or other ions.
ionization chamber
ionizing radiation
A variant of a particular chemical element. While all isotopes of a given element share the same number of protons, each isotope differs from the others in its number of neutrons.


Josephson effect
A derived unit of energy, work, or amount of heat in the International System of Units.


A scale and unit of measurement of temperature. The Kelvin scale is an absolute thermodynamic temperature scale which uses absolute zero as its null point.
The branch of classical mechanics that describes the motion of points, bodies (objects) and systems of bodies (groups of objects) without consideration of the causes of motion. The study of kinematics is often referred to as the "geometry of motion".
kinetic energy
The energy that a physical body possesses due to its motion, defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. The body continues to maintain this kinetic energy unless its velocity changes. Contrast potential energy.
Kirchhoff's circuit laws
Two approximate equalities that deal with the current and voltage in electrical circuits.also called Kirchhoff's rules or simply Kirchhoff's laws (see also Kirchhoff's laws for other meanings of that term).
Kirchhoff's equations
In fluid dynamics, the Kirchhoff equations describe the motion of a rigid body in an ideal fluid.


Lagrangian mechanics
laminar flow

Also called streamline flow.

Occurs when a fluid flows in parallel layers with no disruption between the layers.
Laplace transform
Laplace–Runge–Lenz vector

Also abbreviated LRL vector.

A vector used chiefly to describe the shape and orientation of the orbit of one astronomical body around another, such as a planet revolving around a star. For two bodies interacting by Newtonian gravity, the LRL vector is a constant of motion, meaning that it is the same no matter where it is calculated on the orbit; equivalently, the LRL vector is said to be conserved.
law of universal gravitation
LC circuit
Lenz's law
An elementary particle which does not undergo strong interactions but is subject to the Pauli exclusion principle. Two main classes of leptons exist: charged leptons (also known as the electron-like leptons) and neutral leptons (better known as neutrinos).
A type of machine consisting of a beam or rigid rod pivoted at a fixed hinge or fulcrum; one of six classical simple machines.
A form of electromagnetic radiation that occupies a certain range of wavelengths within the electromagnetic spectrum. In physics, the term sometimes refers collectively to electromagnetic radiation of any wavelength, in which case light includes gamma rays, X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves, but in common usage "light" more often refers specifically to visible light.
linear actuator
A form of motor that generates a linear movement directly.
linear algebra
The branch of mathematics concerning vector spaces, often finite or countably infinite dimensional, as well as linear mappings between such spaces.
line of force
linear elasticity
The mathematical study of how solid objects deform and become internally stressed due to prescribed loading conditions. Linear elasticity is a simplification of the more general nonlinear theory of elasticity and is a branch of continuum mechanics.
Liouville's theorem
Phase space volume is conserved.
One of four classical states of matter having a definite volume but no fixed shape.
liquid crystal (LC)
A matter in a state that has properties between those of a conventional liquid and those of a solid crystal. For instance, an LC may flow like a liquid, but its molecules may be oriented in a crystal-like way.
longitudinal wave


An extension of string theory that attempts to unify seemingly contradictory mathematical formulations and which identifies 11 dimensions.
Mach number
A dimensionless quantity representing the ratio of the speed of an object moving through a fluid to the local speed of sound.
Any powered tool consisting of one or more parts that is constructed to achieve a particular goal. Machines are usually powered by mechanical, chemical, thermal or electrical means, and are frequently motorised.
machine element
An elementary component of a machine. There are three basic types: structural components, mechanisms and control components.
Maclaurin series
A representation of a function as an infinite sum of terms that are calculated from the values of the function's derivatives at a single point.
magnetic field
A mathematical description of the magnetic influence of electric currents and magnetic materials. The magnetic field at any given point is specified by both a direction and a magnitude (or strength); as such it is a vector field.
A property of materials that respond to an applied magnetic field.
mass balance

Also called material balance.

An application of the law of conservation of mass to the analysis of physical systems.
mass density
See density.
mass flux
The rate of mass flow per unit area. The common symbols are j, J, φ, or Φ, sometimes with subscript m to indicate mass is the flowing quantity. Its SI units are kg s−1 m−2.
mass moment of inertia
A property of a distribution of mass in space that measures its resistance to rotational acceleration about an axis.
mass number

Also called atomic mass number or nucleon number.

The total number of protons and neutrons (together known as nucleons) in an atomic nucleus.
mass spectrometry
material properties
materials science
An interdisciplinary field incorporating elements of physics, chemistry, and engineering that is concerned with the design and discovery of new materials, particularly solids.
mathematical physics
The application of mathematics to problems in physics and the development of mathematical methods suitable for such applications and for the formulation of physical theories.
The abstract study of topics encompassing quantity, structure, space, change, and other properties.
A rectangular array of numbers, symbols, or expressions arranged in rows and columns. The individual items in a matrix are called its elements or entries.
Any substance (often a particle) that has rest mass and (usually) also volume.
Maxwell's equations
A set of partial differential equations that, together with the Lorentz force law, form the foundation of classical electrodynamics, classical optics, and electric circuits. Maxwell's equations describe how electric and magnetic fields are generated and altered by each other and by charges and currents.
measure of central tendency
A term which relates to the way in which quantitative data tend to cluster around some value. A measure of central tendency is any of a number of ways of specifying this "central value".
mechanical energy
mechanical filter
mechanical equilibrium
mechanical wave
The branch of science concerned with the behaviour of physical bodies when subjected to forces or displacements and the subsequent effects of the bodies on their environment.

Also called fusion.

A physical process that results in the phase transition of a substance from a solid to a liquid.
A type of hadronic subatomic particle composed of one quark and one antiquark bound together by the strong interaction. All mesons are unstable, with the longest-lived lasting for only a few hundredths of a microsecond.
modulus of elasticity
The mathematical description of an object's or substance's tendency to be deformed elastically (i.e., non-permanently) when a force is applied to it. The elastic modulus of an object is defined as the slope of its stress–strain curve in the elastic deformation region. As such, a stiffer material will have a higher elastic modulus.
molar concentration
molar mass
A physical property of matter defined as the mass of a given substance divided by the amount of substance and expressed in grams per mole.
An electrically neutral group of two or more atoms held together by covalent chemical bonds. Molecules are distinguished from ions by their lack of electrical charge.
molecular physics
A branch of physics that studies the physical properties of molecules and the chemical bonds between atoms as well as their molecular dynamics. It is closely related to atomic physics and overlaps greatly with theoretical chemistry, physical chemistry and chemical physics.
moment of inertia
A property of a distribution of mass in space that measures its resistance to rotational acceleration about an axis.
monochromatic light
Any change in the position of an object over time. Motion can be mathematically described in terms of displacement, distance, velocity, speed, acceleration, and momentum, and is observed by attaching a frame of reference to an observer and measuring the change in an object's position relative to that frame. An object's motion cannot change unless it is acted upon by a force.
An elementary particle, technically classified as a lepton, that is similar to the electron, with unitary negative electric charge (−1) and a spin of 1⁄2. Muons are not believed to have any sub-structure.


The practice of engineering on the nanoscale. Nanoengineering is largely a synonym for nanotechnology, but emphasizes the applied rather than the pure science aspects of the field.

Also abbreviated as nanotech.

The manipulation of matter on an atomic and molecular scale. A more generalized description of nanotechnology is "the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers".
A type of electrically neutral subatomic particle denoted by the Greek letter ν (nu). All evidence suggests that neutrinos have mass but that their mass is tiny even by the standards of subatomic particles. Their mass has never been measured accurately.
neutron cross-section
newton (N)
Newton's laws of motion
A set of three physical laws which describe the relationship between the forces acting on a body and its motion due to those forces. Together they form the basis for classical or Newtonian mechanics.
Newton's law of universal gravitation
Newtonian fluid
Newtonian mechanics
normal force
nth root
nuclear force
nuclear physics
The branch of physics that studies the constituents and interactions of atomic nuclei.
nuclear reaction
nuclear transmutation
Either a proton or a neutron in its role as a component of an atomic nucleus.

Also spelled nucleide.

An atomic species characterized by the specific composition of its nucleus, i.e. by its number of protons, its number of neutrons, and its nuclear energy state.


The SI derived unit of electrical resistance.
Ohm's law
States that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the potential difference across the two points.
optical tweezers
An optomechanical device used for the capture, analysis and manipulation of dielectric objects or particles, which operates via the application of force by the electric field of light.
optically detected magnetic resonance
An optical technique for the initialisation and readout of quantum spin in some crystal defects.
The branch of physics which involves the behaviour and properties of light, including its interactions with matter and the construction of instruments that use or detect it. Optics usually describes the behaviour of visible, ultraviolet, and infrared light; however, because light is one of several forms of electromagnetic radiation, other forms such as X-rays, microwaves, and radio waves exhibit similar properties.


parallel circuit
1.  (mathematics)
2.  (physics)
particle accelerator
particle displacement
particle physics
A branch of physics that studies the nature of particles, which are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter and radiation.
Pascal's law
A principle in fluid mechanics which states that pressure exerted anywhere in a confined incompressible fluid is transmitted equally in all directions throughout the fluid such that the initial pressure variations remain the same.
Pauli exclusion principle
periodic table of the elements

Also simply called the periodic table.

A tabular display of the chemical elements organised on the basis of their atomic numbers, electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. Elements are presented in order of increasing atomic number (number of protons).
phase (matter)
phase (waves)
phase equilibrium
photoelectric effect
An elementary particle, the quantum of light and all other forms of electromagnetic radiation, and the force carrier for the electromagnetic force.
physical chemistry
The study of macroscopic, atomic, subatomic, and particulate phenomena in chemical systems in terms of laws and concepts of physics.
physical constant
physical quantity
The natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through space and time, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.
Planck constant (h)

Also called Planck's constant.

A physical constant that is the quantum of action in quantum mechanics.
Planck units
Planck's law
plasma physics
The study and control of mechanical force and movement generated by the application of compressed gas.
potential energy
The ratio of force to the area over which that force is distributed.
A measure of the expectation that an event will occur or that a statement is true. Probabilities are given a value between 0 (will not occur) and 1 (will occur). The higher the probability of an event, the more certain one can be that the event will occur.
probability distribution
probability theory
psi particle
A wheel on an axle that is designed to support movement of a cable or belt along its circumference; one of six classical simple machines. Pulleys are used in a variety of ways to lift loads, apply forces, and transmit power.
pulse wave


quantum chromodynamics
quantum electrodynamics
The relativistic quantum field theory of electrodynamics. In essence, it describes how light and matter interact and is the first theory where full agreement between quantum mechanics and special relativity is achieved. QED mathematically describes all phenomena involving electrically charged particles interacting by means of exchange of photons and represents the quantum counterpart of classical electromagnetism, giving a complete account of matter and light interaction.
quantum field theory
A theoretical framework for constructing quantum mechanical models of subatomic particles in particle physics and quasiparticles in condensed matter physics.
quantum gravity
quantum mechanics
A branch of physics dealing with physical phenomena at microscopic scales, where the action is on the order of the Planck constant. Quantum mechanics departs from classical mechanics primarily at the quantum realm of atomic and subatomic length scales. Quantum mechanics provides a mathematical description of much of the dual particle-like and wave-like behavior and interactions of energy and matter.
quantum number
quantum physics
quantum state
An elementary particle and a fundamental constituent of matter. Quarks combine to form composite particles called hadrons, the most stable of which are protons and neutrons, the components of atomic nuclei.


radiant energy
radioactive decay

Also called a radioactive nuclide, radioisotope, or radioactive isotope.

Any nuclide possessing excess nuclear energy to the point that it is unstable. Such excess energy is emitted through any of several processes of radioactive decay, resulting in a stable nuclide or sometimes another unstable radionuclide which can then undergo further decay. Certain radionuclides can occur naturally; many others can be produced artificially in nuclear reactors, cyclotrons, particle accelerators, or radionuclide generators.
radius of curvature
A phenomenon which occurs when light seen coming from an object that is moving away is proportionally increased in wavelength or "shifted" to the red end of the visible light spectrum.
The change in direction of a wave as it passes from one transmission medium to another or as a result of a gradual change in the medium. Though most commonly used in the context of refraction of light, other waves such as sound waves and fluid waves also experience refraction.
refractive index
relative atomic mass
relativistic mechanics
rigid body
An idealization of a solid body in which deformation is neglected. In other words, the distance between any two given points of a rigid body remains constant in time regardless of the external forces exerted on it. Even though such an object cannot physically exist due to relativity, objects can normally be assumed to be perfectly rigid if they are not moving near the speed of light.
rotational energy

Also called angular kinetic energy.

The kinetic energy due to the rotation of an object and forms part of its total kinetic energy.
rotational speed

Also called speed of revolution.

The number of complete rotations or revolutions a rotating body makes per unit time.
Rydberg formula
A formula used in atomic physics to describe the wavelengths of spectral lines of many chemical elements.


Any simple physical quantity that can be described by a single number (as opposed to vectors, tensors, etc., which are described by several numbers such as magnitude and direction) and is unchanged by coordinate system rotations or translations (in Newtonian mechanics) or by Lorentz transformations or central-time translations (in relativity).
The general physical process by which some forms of radiation, such as light, sound, or moving particles, are forced to deviate from a straight trajectory by one or more localised non-uniformities in the medium through which they pass.
A systematic enterprise that builds and organises knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.
A mechanism that converts rotational motion to linear motion, and a torque (rotational force) to a linear force; one of six classical simple machines.
second law of thermodynamics
Seebeck effect
series circuit
shadow matter
shear modulus

Also called modulus of rigidity.

shear strength
shear stress
shortwave radiation
Schrödinger equation
A mathematical equation which describes the time evolution of wave functions in quantum mechanics.
simple harmonic motion
simple machine
A mechanical device that changes the direction or magnitude of a force. In general, a set of six classical simple machines identified by Renaissance scientists drawing from Greek texts on technology are collectively defined as the simplest mechanisms that can provide mechanical advantage (also called leverage).
A tube in an inverted U shape that causes a liquid to flow uphill without pumps, powered by the fall of the liquid as it flows down the tube under the pull of gravity. The term may also more generally refer to a wide variety of devices involving the flow of liquids through tubes.
Snell's law
solar cell
solid mechanics
solid-state physics
The tendency of a solid, liquid, or gaseous chemical substance (called a solute) to dissolve in another solid, liquid, or gaseous substance (called a solvent) to form a homogeneous solution of the solute in the solvent. The solubility of a solute fundamentally depends on the specific solvent as well as on temperature and pressure.
A mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas and composed of frequencies within the range of human hearing.
special relativity
specific activity
speed of light (c)
A universal physical constant defined as exactly 299,792,458 metres per second, a figure that is exact because the length of the metre is defined from this constant and the international standard for time. When not otherwise qualified, the term "speed of light" usually refers to the speed of light in a vacuum as opposed to the speed of light through some physical medium.
speed of sound
spherical aberration
spin quantum number
stable isotope ratio
stable nuclide
Any nuclide that is not radioactive and does not spontaneously undergo radioactive decay, as opposed to a radionuclide. When such nuclides are referred to in relation to specific elements, they are usually termed stable isotopes.
standard atomic weight
Standard Model
The theory of particle physics which describes three of the four known fundamental forces (the electromagnetic force, the weak force, and the strong force, but not the gravitational force) and classifies all known elementary particles.
standing wave
state of matter
The branch of mechanics concerned with the analysis of loads (force and torque, or "moment") on physical systems in static equilibrium, that is, in a state where the relative positions of subsystems do not vary over time, or where components and structures are at a constant velocity.
statistical mechanics
The rigidity of an object — the extent to which it resists deformation in response to an applied force.
The transformation of a body from a reference configuration to a current configuration.[1] A configuration is a set containing the positions of all particles of the body.
strain hardening
strength of materials
1.  An applied force or system of forces that tends to strain or deform a physical body.
2.  A measure of the internal forces acting within a deformable body.
3.  A quantitative measure of the average force per unit area of a surface within a body on which internal forces act.
stress–strain curve
string duality
string theory
structural load
subatomic particle
Any particle that is smaller than an atom.
The process of transformation directly from the solid phase to the gas phase without passing through an intermediate liquid phase. Sublimation is an endothermic phase transition that occurs at temperatures and pressures below a substance's triple point in its phase diagram.
A phenomenon of exactly zero electrical resistance and expulsion of magnetic fields occurring in certain materials when cooled below a characteristic critical temperature.
superhard material
superposition principle
supersymmetry (SUSY)
surface tension


A physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold.
tensile modulus
tensile strength
tesla (T)
test particle
theoretical physics
theory of everything
theory of relativity
thermal conduction
thermal equilibrium
A state in which there is no net flow of thermal energy between two physical systems when the systems are connected by a path permeable to heat. A system may also be said to be in thermal equilibrium with itself if the temperature within the system is spatially and temporally uniform. Systems in thermodynamic equilibrium are always in thermal equilibrium, but the converse is not always true.
thermal radiation
thermionic emission
thermodynamic equilibrium
thermodynamic free energy
An instrument used to measure temperature.
third law of thermodynamics
threshold frequency

Also called moment or moment of force.

The tendency of a force to rotate an object about an axis, fulcrum, or pivot. Just as a force is a push or a pull, a torque can be thought of as a twist to an object.
total internal reflection
The ability of a material to absorb energy and plastically deform without fracturing. Material toughness is defined as the amount of energy per unit volume that a material can absorb before rupturing. It is also defined as the resistance to fracture of a material when stressed.
The path that a moving object follows through space as a function of time.
transmission medium
transverse wave
A branch of mathematics that studies triangles and the relationships between their sides and the angles between these sides.
triple point
The temperature and pressure at which the three phases (gas, liquid, and solid) of a given substance coexist in thermodynamic equilibrium.
truncated mean


uncertainty principle
Any of a variety of mathematical inequalities asserting a fundamental limit to the precision with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position x and momentum p, can be known simultaneously.
uniform motion
uniform circular motion
unit vector
utility frequency
The frequency of the oscillations of alternating current (AC) in an electric power grid transmitted from a power plant to the end-user.


An area of space which contains no matter.
valence electron
An electron that is associated with an atom and can participate in the formation of a chemical bond.
valence shell
The outermost electron shell of an atom.
valley of stability
Van de Graaff generator
variable capacitor
variable resistor
Any quantity that has both magnitude and direction.
vector space
A mathematical structure formed by a collection of elements called vectors, which may be added together and multiplied ("scaled") by numbers called scalars.
virtual image
virtual particle
visible light
A form of electromagnetic radiation generally defined as the range of wavelengths visible to the average human eye.
volt (V)
The SI derived unit for electric potential, electric potential difference, and electromotive force, defined as the difference in electric potential between two points of a conducting wire when an electric current of one ampere dissipates one watt of power between those two points.
Volta potential
An instrument used for measuring the difference in electrical potential between two points in an electric circuit. Analog voltmeters move a pointer across a scale in proportion to the voltage of the circuit.
volt per meter


W and Z bosons
watt (W)
A derived unit of power in the International System of Units (SI) defined as one joule per second. The watt measures the rate of energy conversion or transfer.
A disturbance or oscillation that travels through spacetime accompanied by a transfer of energy.
wave equation
wave function
wave function collapse
wave–particle duality
A measure of the distance traversed by a single spatial period of a sinusoidal wave, i.e. the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.
weak interaction

Also called the weak force or weak nuclear force.

One of the four fundamental forces of nature, along with the strong nuclear force, electromagnetism, and gravitation. It is responsible for the radioactive decay of subatomic particles and initiates the process known as hydrogen fusion in stars.
weber (Wb)
A triangular round tool in the form a compound and portable inclined plane; one of six classical simple machines.
wheel and axle
A wheel attached to an axle so that these two parts rotate together in which a force is transferred from one to the other; one of six classical simple machines.
white body
A hypothetical idealized physical body that reflects all incident electromagnetic radiation completely and uniformly in all directions; the opposite of a black body.
The flow of gases on a large scale.
wind shear

Also called wind gradient.

A difference in wind speed and direction over a relatively short distance in the atmosphere. Wind shear can be broken down into vertical and horizontal components, with horizontal wind shear seen across fronts and near the coast, and vertical shear typically near the surface, though also at higher levels in the atmosphere.
work function


A high-energy photon (between 100 eV and 100 keV) with a wavelength shorter than that of ultraviolet radiation and longer than that of gamma radiation.


Young’s modulus
A measure of the stiffness of a solid material which defines the relationship between mechanical stress and strain.


Zeeman effect
The effect of splitting a spectral line into several components in the presence of a static magnetic field by the lifting of degeneracy in electronic states.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Overbye, Dennis (20 February 2017). "Cosmos Controversy: The Universe Is Expanding, but How Fast?". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 February 2017.
  2. ^ Scharping, Nathaniel (18 October 2017). "Gravitational Waves Show How Fast The Universe is Expanding". Astronomy. Retrieved 18 October 2017.
  3. ^ Weaver, Donna; Villard, Ray (11 March 2018). "Measuring universe expansion reveals mystery – Is something unpredicted going on in the depths of space?". Earth & Sky. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  4. ^ "Is the universe expanding faster than the speed of light?".