Questions tagged [definition]

The definition tag is used in situations where the question is either about how some term or concept is defined 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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91
votes
3answers
19k views

Why was carbon-12 chosen for the atomic mass unit?

The atomic mass unit is defined as 1/12th the mass of a carbon-12 atom. Was there any physical reason for such a definition? Were they trying to include electrons in the atomic mass unit? Why not ...
69
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6answers
7k views

Are Newton's “laws” of motion laws or definitions of force and mass?

If you consider them as laws, then there must be independent definitions of force and mass but I don't think there's such definitions. If you consider them as definitions, then why are they still ...
63
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3answers
10k views

Differentiating Propagator, Green's 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 ...
62
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10answers
7k views

Quantum made easy: so what *is* quantum mechanics all about? [closed]

Being a physics grad student, I got used to the weird concepts behind quantum mechanics (used to doesn't mean I fully understand it though). What I mean is that I'm not surprised anymore by the fact ...
55
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6answers
28k 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 ...
46
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9answers
12k views

What is a tensor?

I have a pretty good knowledge of physics, but couldn't deeply understand what a tensor is and why it is so fundamental.
43
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5answers
14k 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?
40
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2answers
1k 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 ...
34
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2answers
3k views

Is our definition of entropy unique?

Suppose we don't know anything about statistical mechanics, not even the existence of atoms. Why is entropy defined as $$\delta S=\frac{\delta Q}{T}$$ instead of, say, $$\delta S=\frac{\delta Q}{T^...
31
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3answers
2k views

Is there any truth to interpreting definition of a second as corresponding to oscillations?

As far as I understand the definition of a second, the Cs-133 atom has two hyperfine ground states (which I don't really understand what they are but it's not really important), with a specific energy ...
31
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4answers
3k views

The physical definition of work seems paradoxical [duplicate]

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, ...
29
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10answers
60k 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 ...
29
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5answers
3k views

Hilbert space vs. Projective Hilbert space

Hilbert space and rays: In a very general sense, we say that quantum states of a quantum mechanical system correspond to rays in the Hilbert space $\mathcal{H}$, such that for any $c∈ℂ$ the state $\...
29
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6answers
3k views

Is the Big Bang defined as before or after Inflation?

Is the Big Bang defined as before or after Inflation? Seems like a simple enough question to answer right? And if just yesterday I were to encounter this, I'd have given a definite answer. But I've ...
28
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14answers
21k 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 ...
27
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5answers
4k views

What is the definition of temperature, once and for all? [duplicate]

Can someone please explain to me what the formal definition of temperature is? Neither my textbook, nor my professor, nor any of the online sources I've checked are able to give me a proper ...
26
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5answers
5k views

What is a state in physics?

What is a state in physics? While reading physics, I have heard many a times a "___" system is in "____" state but the definition of a state was never provided (and googling brings me totally ...
26
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2answers
5k views

What is the definition of a timelike and spacelike singularity?

What is the definition of a timelike and spacelike singularity? Trying to find, but haven't yet, what the definitions are.
24
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9answers
6k views

Why does work depend on distance?

So the formula for work is$$ \left[\text{work}\right] ~=~ \left[\text{force}\right] \, \times \, \left[\text{distance}\right] \,. $$ I'm trying to get an understanding of how this represents energy. ...
24
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3answers
11k 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?
23
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3answers
4k views

How is temperature defined, and measured?

In questions like this one, temperatures of millions of degrees (Celsius, Kelvin, it doesn't really matter at that point) are mentioned. But, what does it mean exactly? What is measured, and how? As ...
23
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3answers
11k views

What is a mode?

The word mode pops up in many fields of physics, yet I can't remember ever encountering a simple but precise definition. After having searched fruitlessly on this site as well, I feel that even ...
22
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10answers
456k 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 ...
21
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4answers
108k 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 ...
20
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8answers
67k views

Inertia Vs Momentum

At my recent lesson on kinematics, my teacher taught about inertia and momentum. This is what she said. Inertia: a characteristic of an object that resists changes to its state of motion. Momentum: ...
20
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1answer
2k 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.
19
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6answers
122k views

What is the difference between stress and pressure?

What is the difference between stress and pressure? Are there any intuitive examples that explain the difference between the two? How about an example of when pressure and stress are not equal?
18
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3answers
2k views

Ambiguity in the definition of entropy

The entropy $S$ of a system is defined as $$S = k\ln \Omega.$$ What precisely is $\Omega$? It refers to "the number of microstates" of the system, but is this the number of all accessible microstates ...
18
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2answers
2k views

What is the Wilsonian definition of renormalizability?

In chapter 23.6, Schwartz's quantum field theory book defines renormalizability as follows, paraphrasing a bit for brevity: Consider a given subset $S$ of the operators and its complement $\bar{S}$....
18
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1answer
3k 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 individual ...
17
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5answers
3k views

What is the difference between a functional and an operator?

What is the difference between a functional and an operator? When we define an operator in physics, e.g. the momentum operator as $\hat{p} = i \frac{d}{dx}$, it is said this operator acts on the wave ...
17
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2answers
7k 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 ...
16
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5answers
5k views

In what sense can a complex number be a scalar?

A definition of a scalar like A scalar is a one-component quantity that is invariant under rotations of the coordinate system (see http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Scalar.html) seems to exclude ...
16
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4answers
26k views

Why is the potential energy equal to the negative integral of a force?

Why is the potential energy equals to the negative integral of a force? I am really confused with this negative sign. For example, why there is a negative sign in the gravitational potential energy ...
16
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3answers
8k views

Definition of the $Q$ 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 ...
15
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5answers
16k 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 ...
15
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1answer
1k 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 ...
14
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5answers
48k views

What is the exact difference between diffusion, convection and advection?

I have tried to explore the information but still not very clear on the exact difference between diffusion, convection and advection. Can anyone help me out to clear my concept?
14
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2answers
20k 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 ...
14
votes
7answers
6k 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 ...
14
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1answer
3k 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 ...
14
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2answers
647 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 ...
13
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2answers
2k views

Why is the length of the Kelvin unit of temperature equal to that of the Celsius unit? [duplicate]

The Celsius unit is arbitrarily defined, based on the boiling and freezing point of water. Is it a coincidence, then, that the SI unit of temperature Kelvin, which is used in all natural equations, ...
13
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7answers
7k 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 in 2006 it was demoted. What caused this decision? And is there a chance that ...
13
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4answers
2k views

Is Minkowski space usually a vector space or an affine space?

When I visited Wikipedia's page on Minkowski space, it seemed to offer two definitions. The first defined Minkowski space a vector space. Then, in a later section, it says The section above ...
13
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5answers
27k 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 ...
13
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4answers
2k 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, ...
13
votes
2answers
8k views

What is a potential?

I am self-studying electrodynamics and am wanting to know what is meant by a potential. I understand the concept of potential energy but what is meant by a potential? Is it the same thing as a field, ...
13
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4answers
4k views

What is 'past null infinity'?

For example, in the sentence "there is no incoming radiation at past null infinity".
13
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2answers
2k views

What is a coherent state?

In quantum mechanics, what exactly is a coherent state, and how does it differ from other states?