The definition tag is used in situations where the question is either about how some term or concept is define or where the validity of an answer depends on a subtle definition of some term or concept used in the question.

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26
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4answers
6k views

Are matrices and second rank tensors the same thing?

Tensors are mathematical objects that are needed in physics to define certain quantities. I have a couple of questions regarding them that need to be clarified: Are matrices and second rank tensors ...
25
votes
1answer
441 views

Identification of particles and anti-particles

The identification of an electron as a particle and the positron as an antiparticle is a matter of convention. We see lots of electrons around us so they become the normal particle and the rare and ...
24
votes
4answers
2k views

The physical definition of work seems paradoxical

So this is possibly a misunderstanding of the meaning of work, but all the Physics texts, sites, and wiki that I've read don't clear this up for me: In the simplest case with the simplest statement, ...
22
votes
1answer
3k views

Differentiating Propagator, Greens function, Correlation function, etc

For the following quantities respectively, could someone write down the common definitions, their meaning, the field of study in which one would typically find these under their actual name, and most ...
18
votes
5answers
4k views

What does it mean for a Hamiltonian or system to be gapped or gapless?

I've read some papers recently that talk about gapped Hamiltonians or gapless systems, but what does it mean? Edit: Is an XX spin chain in a magnetic field gapped? Why or why not?
16
votes
10answers
14k views

What is the difference between weight and mass?

My science teacher is always saying the words "weight of an object" and "mass of an object," but then my physics book (that I read on my own) tells me completely different definitions from the way ...
14
votes
6answers
2k views

What is a tensor?

I have a pretty good knowledge of physics but couldn't understand what a tensor is. I just couldn't understand it, and the wiki page is very hard to understand as well. Can someone refer me to a good ...
14
votes
1answer
2k views

What is the definition of how to count degrees of freedom?

This question resulted, rather as by-product, the discussion on how to count degrees of freedom (DOF). I extend that question here: Are necessary1 derivatives such as velocities counted as ...
13
votes
7answers
3k views

What is a general definition of impedance?

Impedance is a concept that shows up in any area of physics concerning waves. In transmission lines, impedance is the ratio of voltage to current. In optics, index of refraction plays a role similar ...
13
votes
1answer
867 views

What is a general definition of the spin of a particle?

In quantum field theory, one defines a particle as a unitary irreducible representations of the Poincaré group. The study of these representations allows to define the mass and the spin of the ...
12
votes
7answers
2k views

What is the current status of Pluto?

Pluto has been designated a planet in our solar system for years (ever since it was discovered in the last century), but a couple of years ago it was demoted. What caused this decision? And is there ...
12
votes
3answers
2k views

Why are quark types known as flavors?

There are six types of quarks, known as flavors. Why where these types called flavors? Why do the flavors have such odd names (up, down, charm, strange, top, and bottom)?
12
votes
2answers
12k views

Is the moon a planet?

Can our moon qualify as a planet? With regard or without regard to the exact definition of the planet, can the moon be considered as planet as Mercury, Venus and Earth etc. not as the satellite of the ...
12
votes
2answers
473 views

What accounts for the discrepancies in my calculations of year lengths?

A common exercise in many introductory astronomy texts is to use the lengths of various kinds days to calculate the approximate length of the corresponding year. For example, ratio $k$ of the length ...
11
votes
5answers
8k views

What is an asterism compared to a constellation?

I'm doing an astronomy exam tomorrow and in the practice paper it asks for the difference between constellation and asterism. It seems asterism is a group of recognizable stars; however I thought that ...
11
votes
4answers
636 views

A common definition of a scalar

Some dictionaries define a scalar as follows: A quantity, such as mass, length, or speed, that is completely specified by its magnitude and has no direction. -- The Free Dictionary However, it ...
11
votes
4answers
1k views

Why is the space-time interval squared?

The space-time interval equation is this: $$\Delta s^2=\Delta x^2+\Delta y^2+\Delta z^2-(c\Delta t)^2$$ Where, $\Delta x, \Delta y, \Delta z$ and $\Delta t$ represent the distances along various ...
11
votes
3answers
2k views

Why are they called “cyclic” coordinates?

In Lagrangian formalism, when $\frac{\partial L}{\partial q} = 0$, the coordinate $q$ is called cyclic and a corresponding conserved quantity exists. But why is it called cyclic?
11
votes
2answers
887 views

Unitary quantum field theory

What do physicists mean when they refer to a quantum field theory being unitary? Does this mean that all the symmetry groups of the theory act via unitary representations? I would appreciate if one ...
9
votes
1answer
3k views

Are all central forces conservative? Wikipedia must be wrong

It might be just a simple definition problem but I learned in class that a central force does not necessarily need to be conservative and the German Wikipedia says so too. However, the English ...
9
votes
3answers
368 views

What does Feynman mean when he says that $F=ma$ is not exact?

Chapter 12-2 in Feynman Lectures Vol. 1 states: In fact the law, $F=ma$ is not exactly true; if it were a definition we should have to say that it is always true; but it is not ... First, ...
9
votes
4answers
683 views

Two planets in same orbit - not planets?

Let us pretend for a moment that there are two identical planets that are exactly opposite their star from each other and are the same distance from said star. (This would make them, at all times, ...
9
votes
4answers
12k views

What is sound and how is it produced?

I've been using the term "sound" all my life, but I really have no clue as to what sound exactly is or how it is created. What is sound? How is it produced? Can it be measured?
8
votes
6answers
10k views

Simple explanation of quantum mechanics

Can you please describe quantum mechanics in simple words? When ever I read this word (quantum computers, quantum mechanics, quantum physics, quantum gravity etc) I feel like fantasy, myth and ...
8
votes
2answers
123 views

What distinguishes a moon from orbiting space debris? Or in other words, when is a satellite “too small” to be a moon?

The Wikipedia article on Natural Satellites doesn't really give an adequate distinction as to what distinguishes a moon from other orbiting bodies. What I am looking for is a classification that ...
8
votes
2answers
4k views

273 + degree Celsius = Kelvin. Why 273?

Temperature conversion: 273 + degree Celsius = Kelvin Actually why is that 273? How does one come up with this? My teacher mentioned Gann's law (not sure if this is the one) but I couldn't find ...
8
votes
7answers
12k views

What do people actually mean by “rolling without slipping”?

I have never understood what's the meaning of the sentence "rolling without slipping". Let me explain. I'll give an example. Yesterday my mechanics professor introduced some concepts of rotational ...
8
votes
4answers
447 views

On the definition of work

Work is defined as $$W = \vec{F}\cdot\vec{s}$$ But what what exactly is $\vec{s}$? Is it the displacement of the body on which the force is being applied? Or is it the displacement of the point of ...
8
votes
1answer
432 views

Operator Ordering Ambiguities

I have been told that $$[\hat x^2,\hat p^2]=2i\hbar (\hat x\hat p+\hat p\hat x)$$ illustrates operator ordering ambiguity. What does that mean? I tried googling but to no avail.
8
votes
1answer
389 views

Introduction to Gauge Symmetries: Good, Bad or Ugly?

I'm trying to come up with a good (as in intuitive and not 'too wrong') definition of a gauge symmetry. This is what I have right now: A dynamical symmetry is a (differentiable) group of ...
8
votes
2answers
306 views

How come the universe is made of matter and not antimatter?

Antimatter is like matter on opposite day: it has the same properties as the stuff that makes up planets, stars and galaxies, but one vital piece is different—its charge. The universe supposedly ...
7
votes
4answers
409 views

Is there a fundamental reason not to define the work vice-versa

My question arises from something which has never been really clear: in continuum mechanics, why is strain energy defined as: $$W=\int_\Omega ...
7
votes
2answers
401 views

Why is the absolute zero a rational number in Celcius?

From the question "Why is the absolute zero -273.15ºC?" I understood that 1°C is the 100th part of the difference of melting and boiling temperature of water (this is my high school physics, ...
7
votes
3answers
265 views

How was the definition and the formula of work derived? Is it the best possible?

Work done is defined as the dot product of force and displacement. However, intuitively, should it not be the product of force and the time for which the body is acted upon by the force (force * ...
7
votes
2answers
287 views

Is surface of a solid a streamline?

In fluid dynamics, streamlines are defined as line where at each point flow velocity is tangential to the line. Is it correct to say surface of a solid a streamline? On the surface the velocity vector ...
7
votes
3answers
1k views

Definitions and usage of Covariant, Form-invariant, Invariant?

Just wondering about the definitions and usage of these three terms. To my understanding so far, "covariant" and "form-invariant" are used when referring to physical laws, and these words are ...
6
votes
9answers
2k views

What is entropy really?

On this site, change in entropy is defined as the amount of energy dispersed divided by the absolute temperature. But I want to know: What is the definition of entropy? Here, entropy is defined as ...
6
votes
4answers
529 views

What exactly is $F$ in $W = \int_{a}^{b} F dx$?

I am trying to teach myself some basic physics, here is something I do not really understand about the definition of work: When moving from $a$ to $b$ (in one dimension), the work done is defined to ...
6
votes
3answers
190 views

Is a “shift in the meaning” of Accuracy and Precision occurring?

Accuracy and precision are among the most fundamental concepts in experimental physics, and, I always believed, completely unambiguous. Recently I found that the Wikipedia article on Accuracy and ...
6
votes
2answers
2k views

What is a non linear $\sigma$ model?

What exactly is a non linear $\sigma$ model? In many books one can view many different types of non linear $\sigma$ models but I don't understand what is the link between all of them and why it is ...
6
votes
2answers
135 views

Definition of the quality $(Q)$ factor?

According to Wikipedia, the Q factor is defined as: $$Q=2\pi\frac{\mathrm{energy \, \, stored}}{\mathrm{energy \, \,dissipated \, \, per \, \, cycle}}$$ Here are my questions: Does the energy ...
6
votes
2answers
931 views

In layman's terms, what is a quantum fluctuation?

What causes it and how does it occur? If you do post some mathematics, please explain what each term means too please.
6
votes
4answers
35k views

What is the difference between center of mass and center of gravity?

What is the difference between center of mass and center of gravity? These terms seem to be used interchangeably. Is there a difference between them for non-moving object on Earth, or moving objects ...
6
votes
8answers
569 views

Energy and work

I don't quite understand the concept of energy and work. We can define energy as the ability to do work. An object moving at constant speed has kinetic energy. Does the object have the ability to do ...
6
votes
0answers
139 views

What does “mathematically well defined” quantum field theory mean? [duplicate]

Reading Wald's book (page 380, end of the first paragraph of section 14.1) while the author is giving an overall discussion of quantum field theories you can read However, for the more interesting ...
5
votes
4answers
651 views

Newton's first law: is his concept of (force of ) inertia still useful and used?

The force of inertia is the property common to all bodies that remain in their state, either at rest or in motion, unless some external cause is introduced to make them alter this state. That ...
5
votes
2answers
2k views

What does the phrase “limb of the earth” or “atmospheric limb” mean?

What does the term limb of the earth (see this question, for example) or atmospheric limb mean? The phrase strikes me as very odd, since earth is nearly spherical. Do other planets with atmospheres ...
5
votes
3answers
930 views

Entanglement spectrum

What does it mean by the entanglement spectrum of a quantum system? A brief introduction and a few key references would be appreciated.
5
votes
3answers
583 views

Why do we still not have an exact definition for a kilogram?

I read that there is an effort to define a kilogram in terms that can exactly be reproduced in a lab. Why has it taken so long to get this done? It seems this would be fairly important. Edit Today I ...
5
votes
3answers
544 views

Can temperature be defined as propensity to transmit thermal energy?

I was recently surprised to learn that defining temperature isn't easy. For a long time, it was defined operationally: how much does a thermometer expand. Also surprising, temperature isn't a ...