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Physics Definitions

Contents
Contents ................................................................................................................................. 1
2. Mechanics ......................................................................................................................... 2
3. Thermal Physics .............................................................................................................. 2
4. Oscillations and Waves ................................................................................................ 3
5. Electric Currents............................................................................................................ 3
6. Fields and Forces........................................................................................................... 4
7. Atomic & Nuclear Physics ............................................................................................ 4
8. Energy, Power and Climate Change ......................................................................... 6
E. Astrophysics .................................................................................................................... 6

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2. Mechanics
Term

st

Newtons 1st law of motion

Definition



nd

Newtons 2nd law of motion




An object continues in uniform


motion in a straight line unless a
resultant external force acts on it.
Resultant force causes
acceleration.
acceleration
The resultant force is proportional
to the rate of change of momentum.
momentum
The resultant force is proportional
to acceleration.
acceleration

F=ma
rd

Newtons 3rd law of motion

For every action on one object there is


an equal but opposite reaction on
another object.

Linear momentum

The total linear momentum of a system


interacting particles remains constant
provided there is no resultant external
forces.
forces

Power (P)

The rate of which energy is


transferred.

Efficiency

The ratio of useful energy to the total


energy transferred .

3. Thermal Physics
Term

Definition

Specific heat capacity

The energy required to raise the


temperature by 1K per 1kg of the
substance.

Thermal capacity (C)

The energy required to raise the


temperature by 1K of a substance.

Specific latent heat (L)

The amount of energy per unit mass


absorbed or released during a change
of phase.
phase

L=Q/m

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4. Oscillations and Waves


Term

Definition

Simple harmonic motion

The motion that takes place when the


acceleration of an object is always
directed towards, and is proportional
to, its displacement from a fixed point

a= x2
Damping

The presence of resistance forces on


oscillations.

Under-damping

When the oscillations continue with a


decreased amplitude until eventually
the amplitude reaches zero and the
oscillations stop.

Resonance

The state in which the frequency of the


externally applied periodic force equals
the natural frequency of the system.

5. Electric Currents
Ter
Term

Definition

Electric potential difference (V)

The work done per unit charge moving a


positive test charge between two
points in a circuit.

Electronvolt

Resistance

Ohms Law

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Electrical energy per unit charge.


A unit of energy.
energy The energy gained by
an electron accelerated through a
potential difference of 1 volt.
volt
The ratio of the voltage across a
conductor to the current flowing
through it.
R=V/I
The current through a resistor is
proportional to the voltage across it
(as long as temperature remains
constant)

6. Fields and Forces


Term

Definition

Newtons law of gravitation

Every single particle of mass in the


universe exerts a force on every other
particle of mass.

Gravitational Field Strength

The force per unit mass on a small test


mass in a gravitational field.

Law of conservation of charge

Electric charge cannot be created or


destroyed. It can be moved from one
destroyed
place to another.
The force between two point charges is
directly proportional to the product of
their charge and inversely proportional
to the square of their separation.
separation

Coulombs Law

Electric Field

An area around an electric charge


char
where a force exists if another charge
enters the field.

Electric field strength

The force per unit charge on a tiny


positive test charge.

7. Atomic & Nuclear Physics


Term

Definition

Nucleon

The constituents of a nucleus. Protons


and nucleons.

Atomic number Z

The number of protons in the nucleus.

Mass Number A

The number of nucleons (protons and


nucleons) in the nucleus.

Radioactive Half-life

The time taken for half of the


undecayed nuclei, remaining in a given
sample, to decay.
The time taken for the activity of a
given sample to fall to half of its
original value.
value

Unified mass unit

1/12 of the mass of a neutral carbon-12


carbon 12
atom

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Mass defect

The difference between the mass of an


atom and the mass of its individual
nucleons.
nucleons

Binding Energy

The work (energy) required to


completely separate the nucleons
nucleons of an
atom.
The amount of energy that is released
when a nucleus is assembled from its
component nucleons.

Binding Energy per nucleon

The work (energy) required to


completely separate the nucleons
nucleons of an
atom divided by the total number of
nucleons.

Fission

A heavy nucleus splits up into lighter


nuclei and release energy in the
process.

Fusion

Combining two light nuclei into one


heavier nuclei and release energy in the
process.

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8. Energy, Power and Climate Change


Term
nd

Definition

2nd Law of Thermodynamics

It is impossible to take heat from an


object and use it all to do work without
losing some to the surroundings.

Degraded energy

Energy that is released to its


surroundings after any process.

Energy Density

The amount of energy that can be


extracted per kg of fuel.

Critical Mass

Minimum mass required for a chain


reaction.
reaction

Albedo

The fraction of radiation that is


reflected back by a planet into space.

Emissivity

The ratio of power radiated per unit


area by an object to the power
radiated power unit area by a black
body at the same temperature.
1 is a good emitter
0 is a bad emitter

Surface Heat capacity CS

The energy required to raise the


temperature of unit area of a planets
surface by one degree.
-2
-1
Jm K

Coefficient of volume expansion

The fractional change in volume per


unit temperature change

E. Astrophysics
Term

Definition

Light Year (ly)

The distance light travels in a year.


year.

Stellar Cluster

A concentrated group of stars of


similar age because they formed from
the same collapsing gas cloud.

Luminosity (L)

The total amount of energy emitted by


the star per second.
second

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Apparent Brightness (b)

The amount of energy per second


received per unit area on earth.

Black body

A black body absorbs all wavelengths


of light and reflects none.
none

Parsec (Pc)

The distance to a star that has a


parallax angle of 1 arc second.
second

Apparent magnitude (m)

The measure of how bright a star is


from Earth
Earth.
rth

Absolute Magnitude (M)

The apparent magnitude a star would


have it were located 10 parsecs away
from earth.

Critical Density

The density required to create a flat


universe
i.e density of universe = critical density

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