A-level Physics/Glossary of Terms

A-level Physics/Glossary of Terms

From Wikibooks, the open-content textbooks collection


Definitions of keywords and terms that you will need to know.

Absolute zero

Zero on the thermodynamic temperature scale, or 0 K (kelvin), where a substance has minimum internal energy, and is the coldest possible temperature. It is equal to -273.15 degrees Celsius.


The (instantaneous) rate of change of velocity in respects to time.


Two equal, opposite and parallel forces which create rotational force.


A vector quantity, the distance something is from its initial position, in a given direction


Density is the mass of a body per unit volume


The stored ability to do work

Extension (x)

The change in length of an object when a force is applied to it


A force causes a mass to change motion

Gravitational Potential Energy

the energy an object has due to its relative position above the ground. Found by mass x gravity (or gravitational field strength) x height


is a form of energy transfer, also known as ‘Thermal Energy’.

Hookes Law

an approximation that states that the extension of a spring is in direct proportion with the load added to it as long as this load does not exceed the elastic limit.


The SI unit of work done, or energy. One joule is the work done when a force of one newton moves an object one metre.

Kinetic Energy

The energy an object possesses due to its motion, given by KE = 0.5 x mass x velocity²


Unit in which force is measured. Symbol “N”. One Newton is the force required to give a mass of 1kg an acceleration of 1ms^-2

Period (T)

The time taken for one complete oscillation. Denoted by ‘T’. T=1/f


The rate at which work is done.


The load applied to an object per unit surface area.

Potential difference

The work done in moving a unit positive charge from one point to the other. The unit is volt.


A quantity with magnitude but no direction.


A scalar quantity, speed = distance / time

NB s can also mean displacement.

Stopping Distance

Stopping distance = Thinking distance + Braking distance

thinking distance (distance traveled while reacting) = time taken to react X velocity

braking distance (distance traveled while braking)

Terminal Velocity

maximum velocity a body can travel. When resistive forces = driving force, acceleration = 0, so it cannot travel any faster.

Torque / moment

Moment = force x perpendicular distance from the pivot to the line of action of the force

Torque = one of the forces x the distance between them

Trasverse Wave

A progressive wave that trasfers energy as a result of oscillations/vibrations.


A force experienced due to the pressure difference of the fluid at the top and bottom of the immersed portion of the body.


A quantity with magnitude and direction.


The (instantaneous) rate of change of displacement with respect to time. Velocity is a vector.

Work Done

The energy transferred when an object is moved through a distance by a force. Can be calculated by multiplying the force involved by the distance moved in the direction of the force.

Alternatively, [work done = transfer of energy]. i.e, work is done when energy is transferred from one form to another.

Young Modulus

Stress per unit Strain, units: Pascals or N/m2


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