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Glossary of Key Symbols and Notation

In this glossary, key symbols and notation are briefly defined.

Symbol Definition
\overline{\text{any symbol}} average (indicated by a bar over a symbol—e.g., \overline{v} is average velocity)
°\text{C} Celsius degree
°\text{F} Fahrenheit degree
\text{//} parallel
\perp perpendicular
\propto proportional to
± plus or minus
{\phantom{\rule{0.25em}{0ex}}}_{0} zero as a subscript denotes an initial value
\alpha alpha rays
\alpha angular acceleration
\alpha temperature coefficient(s) of resistivity
\beta beta rays
\beta sound level
\beta volume coefficient of expansion
{\beta }^{-} electron emitted in nuclear beta decay
{\beta }^{+} positron decay
\gamma gamma rays
\gamma surface tension
\gamma =1/\sqrt{1-{v}^{2}/{c}^{2}} a constant used in relativity
\Delta change in whatever quantity follows
\delta uncertainty in whatever quantity follows
\mathrm{\Delta E} change in energy between the initial and final orbits of an electron in an atom
\mathrm{\Delta E} uncertainty in energy
\mathrm{\Delta m} difference in mass between initial and final products
\mathrm{\Delta N} number of decays that occur
\mathrm{\Delta p} change in momentum
\mathrm{\Delta p} uncertainty in momentum
\Delta {\text{PE}}_{\text{g}} change in gravitational potential energy
\mathrm{\Delta \theta } rotation angle
\mathrm{\Delta s} distance traveled along a circular path
\mathrm{\Delta t} uncertainty in time
{\mathrm{\Delta t}}_{0} proper time as measured by an observer at rest relative to the process
\mathrm{\Delta V} potential difference
\mathrm{\Delta x} uncertainty in position
{\epsilon }_{0} permittivity of free space
\eta viscosity
\theta angle between the force vector and the displacement vector
\theta angle between two lines
\theta contact angle
\theta direction of the resultant
{\theta }_{b} Brewster’s angle
{\theta }_{c} critical angle
\kappa dielectric constant
\lambda decay constant of a nuclide
\lambda wavelength
{\lambda }_{n} wavelength in a medium
{\mu }_{0} permeability of free space
{\mu }_{\text{k}} coefficient of kinetic friction
{\mu }_{\text{s}} coefficient of static friction
{v}_{e} electron neutrino
{\pi }^{+} positive pion
{\pi }^{-} negative pion
{\pi }^{0} neutral pion
\rho density
{\rho }_{\text{c}} critical density, the density needed to just halt universal expansion
{\rho }_{\text{fl}} fluid density
{\overline{\rho }}_{\text{obj}} average density of an object
\rho /{\rho }_{\text{w}} specific gravity
\tau characteristic time constant for a resistance and inductance \left(\text{RL}\right) or resistance and capacitance \left(\text{RC}\right) circuit
\tau characteristic time for a resistor and capacitor \left(\text{RC}\right) circuit
\tau torque
Υ upsilon meson
\Phi magnetic flux
\varphi phase angle
\Omega ohm (unit)
\omega angular velocity
A ampere (current unit)
A area
A cross-sectional area
A total number of nucleons
a acceleration
{a}_{\text{B}} Bohr radius
{a}_{\text{c}} centripetal acceleration
{a}_{\text{t}} tangential acceleration
\text{AC} alternating current
\text{AM} amplitude modulation
\text{atm} atmosphere
B baryon number
B blue quark color
\overline{B} antiblue (yellow) antiquark color
b quark flavor bottom or beauty
B bulk modulus
B magnetic field strength
{\text{B}}_{\text{int}} electron’s intrinsic magnetic field
{\text{B}}_{\text{orb}} orbital magnetic field
\text{BE} binding energy of a nucleus—it is the energy required to completely disassemble it into separate protons and neutrons
\text{BE}/A binding energy per nucleon
\text{Bq} becquerel—one decay per second
C capacitance (amount of charge stored per volt)
C coulomb (a fundamental SI unit of charge)
{C}_{\text{p}} total capacitance in parallel
{C}_{\text{s}} total capacitance in series
\text{CG} center of gravity
\text{CM} center of mass
c quark flavor charm
c specific heat
c speed of light
\text{Cal} kilocalorie
\text{cal} calorie
{\text{COP}}_{\text{hp}} heat pump’s coefficient of performance
{\text{COP}}_{\text{ref}} coefficient of performance for refrigerators and air conditioners
\text{cos}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\theta cosine
\text{cot}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\theta cotangent
\text{csc}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\theta cosecant
D diffusion constant
d displacement
d quark flavor down
\text{dB} decibel
{d}_{\text{i}} distance of an image from the center of a lens
{d}_{\text{o}} distance of an object from the center of a lens
\text{DC} direct current
E electric field strength
\epsilon emf (voltage) or Hall electromotive force
\text{emf} electromotive force
E energy of a single photon
E nuclear reaction energy
E relativistic total energy
E total energy
{E}_{0} ground state energy for hydrogen
{E}_{0} rest energy
\text{EC} electron capture
{E}_{\text{cap}} energy stored in a capacitor
\text{Eff} efficiency—the useful work output divided by the energy input
{\text{Eff}}_{\text{C}} Carnot efficiency
{E}_{\text{in}} energy consumed (food digested in humans)
{E}_{\text{ind}} energy stored in an inductor
{E}_{\text{out}} energy output
e emissivity of an object
{e}^{+} antielectron or positron
\text{eV} electron volt
\text{F} farad (unit of capacitance, a coulomb per volt)
\text{F} focal point of a lens
\mathbf{\text{F}} force
F magnitude of a force
F restoring force
{F}_{\text{B}} buoyant force
{F}_{\text{c}} centripetal force
{F}_{\text{i}} force input
{\mathbf{\text{F}}}_{\text{net}} net force
{F}_{\text{o}} force output
\text{FM} frequency modulation
f focal length
f frequency
{f}_{0} resonant frequency of a resistance, inductance, and capacitance \left(\text{RLC}\right) series circuit
{f}_{0} threshold frequency for a particular material (photoelectric effect)
{f}_{1} fundamental
{f}_{2} first overtone
{f}_{3} second overtone
{f}_{\text{B}} beat frequency
{f}_{\text{k}} magnitude of kinetic friction
{f}_{\text{s}} magnitude of static friction
G gravitational constant
G green quark color
\overline{G} antigreen (magenta) antiquark color
g acceleration due to gravity
g gluons (carrier particles for strong nuclear force)
h change in vertical position
h height above some reference point
h maximum height of a projectile
h Planck’s constant
\text{hf} photon energy
{h}_{\text{i}} height of the image
{h}_{\text{o}} height of the object
I electric current
I intensity
I intensity of a transmitted wave
I moment of inertia (also called rotational inertia)
{I}_{0} intensity of a polarized wave before passing through a filter
{I}_{\text{ave}} average intensity for a continuous sinusoidal electromagnetic wave
{I}_{\text{rms}} average current
\text{J} joule
J/\text{Ψ} Joules/psi meson
\text{K} kelvin
k Boltzmann constant
k force constant of a spring
{K}_{\alpha } x rays created when an electron falls into an n=1 shell vacancy from the n=3 shell
{K}_{\beta } x rays created when an electron falls into an n=2 shell vacancy from the n=3 shell
\text{kcal} kilocalorie
\text{KE} translational kinetic energy
\text{KE}+\text{PE} mechanical energy
{\text{KE}}_{e} kinetic energy of an ejected electron
{\text{KE}}_{\text{rel}} relativistic kinetic energy
{\text{KE}}_{\text{rot}} rotational kinetic energy
\overline{\text{KE}} thermal energy
\text{kg} kilogram (a fundamental SI unit of mass)
L angular momentum
\text{L} liter
L magnitude of angular momentum
L self-inductance
\ell angular momentum quantum number
{L}_{\alpha } x rays created when an electron falls into an n=2 shell from the n=3 shell
{L}_{e} electron total family number
{L}_{\mu } muon family total number
{L}_{\tau } tau family total number
{L}_{\text{f}} heat of fusion
{L}_{\text{f}}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\text{and}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}{L}_{\text{v}} latent heat coefficients
{\text{L}}_{\text{orb}} orbital angular momentum
{L}_{\text{s}} heat of sublimation
{L}_{\text{v}} heat of vaporization
{L}_{z} z – component of the angular momentum
M angular magnification
M mutual inductance
\text{m} indicates metastable state
m magnification
m mass
m mass of an object as measured by a person at rest relative to the object
\text{m} meter (a fundamental SI unit of length)
m order of interference
m overall magnification (product of the individual magnifications)
m\left({\text{}}^{A}\text{X}\right) atomic mass of a nuclide
\text{MA} mechanical advantage
{m}_{\text{e}} magnification of the eyepiece
{m}_{e} mass of the electron
{m}_{\ell } angular momentum projection quantum number
{m}_{n} mass of a neutron
{m}_{\text{o}} magnification of the objective lens
\text{mol} mole
{m}_{p} mass of a proton
{m}_{\text{s}} spin projection quantum number
N magnitude of the normal force
\text{N} newton
\mathbf{\text{N}} normal force
N number of neutrons
n index of refraction
n number of free charges per unit volume
{N}_{\text{A}} Avogadro’s number
{N}_{\text{r}} Reynolds number
\text{N}\cdot \text{m} newton-meter (work-energy unit)
\text{N}\cdot \text{m} newtons times meters (SI unit of torque)
\text{OE} other energy
P power
P power of a lens
P pressure
\mathbf{\text{p}} momentum
p momentum magnitude
p relativistic momentum
{\mathbf{\text{p}}}_{\text{tot}} total momentum
{\mathbf{\text{p}}}_{\text{tot}}^{\text{'}} total momentum some time later
{P}_{\text{abs}} absolute pressure
{P}_{\text{atm}} atmospheric pressure
{P}_{\text{atm}} standard atmospheric pressure
\text{PE} potential energy
{\text{PE}}_{\text{el}} elastic potential energy
{\text{PE}}_{\text{elec}} electric potential energy
{\text{PE}}_{\text{s}} potential energy of a spring
{P}_{\text{g}} gauge pressure
{P}_{\text{in}} power consumption or input
{P}_{\text{out}} useful power output going into useful work or a desired, form of energy
Q latent heat
Q net heat transferred into a system
Q flow rate—volume per unit time flowing past a point
+Q positive charge
-Q negative charge
q electron charge
{q}_{p} charge of a proton
q test charge
\text{QF} quality factor
R activity, the rate of decay
R radius of curvature of a spherical mirror
R red quark color
\overline{R} antired (cyan) quark color
R resistance
\text{R} resultant or total displacement
R Rydberg constant
R universal gas constant
r distance from pivot point to the point where a force is applied
r internal resistance
{r}_{\perp } perpendicular lever arm
r radius of a nucleus
r radius of curvature
r resistivity
\text{r or rad} radiation dose unit
\text{rem} roentgen equivalent man
\text{rad} radian
\text{RBE} relative biological effectiveness
\text{RC} resistor and capacitor circuit
\text{rms} root mean square
{r}_{n} radius of the nth H-atom orbit
{R}_{\text{p}} total resistance of a parallel connection
{R}_{\text{s}} total resistance of a series connection
{R}_{\text{s}} Schwarzschild radius
S entropy
\mathbf{\text{S}} intrinsic spin (intrinsic angular momentum)
S magnitude of the intrinsic (internal) spin angular momentum
S shear modulus
S strangeness quantum number
s quark flavor strange
\text{s} second (fundamental SI unit of time)
s spin quantum number
\mathbf{\text{s}} total displacement
\text{sec}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\theta secant
\text{sin}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\theta sine
{s}_{z} z-component of spin angular momentum
T period—time to complete one oscillation
T temperature
{T}_{\text{c}} critical temperature—temperature below which a material becomes a superconductor
T tension
\text{T} tesla (magnetic field strength B)
t quark flavor top or truth
t time
{t}_{1/2} half-life—the time in which half of the original nuclei decay
\text{tan}\phantom{\rule{0.20em}{0ex}}\theta tangent
U internal energy
u quark flavor up
\text{u} unified atomic mass unit
\mathbf{\text{u}} velocity of an object relative to an observer
{\mathbf{\text{u}}}^{\mathbf{\text{'}}} velocity relative to another observer
V electric potential
V terminal voltage
\text{V} volt (unit)
V volume
\mathbf{\text{v}} relative velocity between two observers
v speed of light in a material
\mathbf{\text{v}} velocity
\overline{\mathbf{\text{v}}} average fluid velocity
{V}_{\text{B}}-{V}_{\text{A}} change in potential
{\mathbf{\text{v}}}_{\text{d}} drift velocity
{V}_{\text{p}} transformer input voltage
{V}_{\text{rms}} rms voltage
{V}_{\text{s}} transformer output voltage
{\mathbf{\text{v}}}_{\text{tot}} total velocity
{v}_{\text{w}} propagation speed of sound or other wave
{\mathbf{\text{v}}}_{\text{w}} wave velocity
W work
W net work done by a system
\text{W} watt
w weight
{w}_{\text{fl}} weight of the fluid displaced by an object
{W}_{\text{c}} total work done by all conservative forces
{W}_{\text{nc}} total work done by all nonconservative forces
{W}_{\text{out}} useful work output
X amplitude
\text{X} symbol for an element
{\text{}}^{Z}{X}_{N} notation for a particular nuclide
x deformation or displacement from equilibrium
x displacement of a spring from its undeformed position
x horizontal axis
{X}_{\text{C}} capacitive reactance
{X}_{\text{L}} inductive reactance
{x}_{\text{rms}} root mean square diffusion distance
y vertical axis
Y elastic modulus or Young’s modulus
Z atomic number (number of protons in a nucleus)
Z impedance


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College Physics by OSCRiceUniversity is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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