Physics - High School

If you're experiencing inertia when it comes to learning physics, gain some momentum by studying these essential terms. You'll review force and energy, electricity and magnetism, waves, and more.
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  1. absorb
    suck or take up or in
  2. absorber
    material in a nuclear reactor that absorbs radiation
  3. absorption
    when radiated energy is retained on passing through a medium
  4. acceleration
    (physics) a rate of increase of velocity
  5. action
    something done (usually as opposed to something said)
  6. alpha decay
    radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus that is accompanied by the emission of an alpha particle
  7. alpha particle
    a positively charged particle that is the nucleus of the helium atom; emitted from natural or radioactive isotopes
  8. alternating current
    an electric current that reverses direction sinusoidally
  9. ampere
    the basic unit of electric current adopted under the Systeme International d'Unites
  10. amplification
    the act of increasing voltage or power or current
  11. amplitude
    the maximum displacement of a periodic wave
  12. angle of reflection
    the angle between a reflected ray and a line perpendicular to the reflecting surface at the point of incidence
  13. atom
    the smallest component of an element
  14. atomic bomb
    a nuclear weapon in which enormous energy is released by nuclear fission (splitting the nuclei of a heavy element like uranium 235 or plutonium 239)
  15. atomic mass
    the property of an atom that causes it to have weight
  16. atomic number
    quantity of protons in the nucleus of an atom of an element
  17. atomic weight
    (chemistry) the mass of an atom of a chemical element expressed in atomic mass units
  18. attraction
    the force that one object exerts on another
  19. axle
    a shaft on which a wheel rotates
  20. background radiation
    radiation coming from sources other than those being observed
  21. bar magnet
    a magnet in the form of a bar with magnetic poles at each end
  22. battery
    a device that produces electricity
  23. beta decay
    radioactive decay of an atomic nucleus that is accompanied by the emission of a beta particle
  24. beta particle
    a high-speed electron or positron emitted in the decay of a radioactive isotope
  25. binding energy
    the energy required to separate particles from a molecule or atom or nucleus; equals the mass defect
  26. bioelectricity
    electric phenomena in animals or plants
  27. bioluminescence
    luminescence produced by physiological processes
  28. biomass
    plant materials and animal waste used as fuel
  29. breeder reactor
    a nuclear reactor that produces more fissile material than it burns
  30. brightness
    the quality of being luminous; emitting or reflecting light
  31. calorie
    unit of heat raising 1 gram of water by 1 degree centigrade
  32. capacitor
    an electrical device characterized by its capacity to store an electric charge
  33. cell
    a device that delivers an electric current
  34. center of gravity
    the point within something at which gravity can be considered to act; in uniform gravity it is equal to the center of mass
  35. centripetal force
    the inward force on a body moving in a curved path around another body
  36. chain reaction
    a self-sustaining nuclear reaction
  37. charge
    the quantity of unbalanced electricity in a body
  38. Charles Augustin de Coulomb
    French physicist famous for his discoveries in the field of electricity and magnetism; formulated Coulomb's Law (1736-1806)
  39. Charles Proteus Steinmetz
    United States electrical engineer and inventor
  40. chemical energy
    that part of the energy in a substance that can be released by a chemical reaction
  41. circuit
    an electrical device providing a path for current to flow
  42. closed circuit
    a complete electrical circuit around which current flows or a signal circulates
  43. collision
    a brief event in which two or more particles come together
  44. color
    a visual attribute of things from the light they emit
  45. compass
    navigational instrument for finding directions
  46. compression
    the process of becoming smaller or pressed together
  47. conduct
    transmit or serve as the medium for transmission
  48. conduction
    the transmission of heat or electricity or sound
  49. conductivity
    the property of transmitting heat, electricity, or sound
  50. conductor
    a substance that readily serves as a medium for transmission
  51. conservation
    maintenance of constant physical or chemical quantities
  52. conservation of energy
    the fundamental principle of physics that the total energy of an isolated system is constant despite internal changes
  53. conservation of momentum
    the principle that the total linear momentum in a closed system is constant and is not affected by processes occurring inside the system
  54. convection
    transfer of heat caused by molecular motion in liquid or gas
  55. conversion
    an event that results in a transformation
  56. coulomb
    a unit of electrical charge equal to the amount of charge transferred by a current of 1 ampere in 1 second
  57. crest
    the top line of a hill, mountain, or wave
  58. current
    a flow of electricity through a conductor
  59. cycle
    a periodically repeated sequence of events
  60. decay
    the spontaneous disintegration of a radioactive substance
  61. deceleration
    (physics) a rate of decrease in velocity
  62. diffraction
    process by which light changes passing through a narrow slit
  63. direct current
    an electric current that flows in one direction steadily
  64. direction
    relation between something and the course on which it moves
  65. displacement
    an event in which something is shifted without rotation
  66. distance
    the size of the gap between two places
  67. Doppler effect
    change in the apparent frequency of a wave as observer and source move toward or away from each other
  68. drag
    the phenomenon of resistance to motion
  69. dynamics
    mechanics concerned with forces that cause motions of bodies
  70. efficiency
    the ratio of the output to the input of any system
  71. elastic energy
    potential energy that is stored when a body is deformed
  72. elastic potential energy
    potential energy that is stored when a body is deformed
  73. elasticity
    the tendency of a body to return to its original shape
  74. electric
    using or providing the flow of charge through a conductor
  75. electric charge
    the quantity of unbalanced electricity in a body (either positive or negative) and construed as an excess or deficiency of electrons
  76. electric current
    a flow of electricity through a conductor
  77. electric field
    a field of force surrounding a charged particle
  78. electric potential
    the difference in electrical charge between two points in a circuit expressed in volts
  79. electrical
    using or providing or producing or transmitting or operated by electricity
  80. electrical circuit
    an electrical device that provides a path for electrical current to flow
  81. electrical energy
    energy made available by the flow of electric charge through a conductor
  82. electricity
    a physical phenomenon that can produce light, heat and power
  83. electromagnet
    a temporary magnet made by coiling wire around an iron core
  84. electromagnetic
    pertaining to or exhibiting magnetism produced by electric charge in motion
  85. electromagnetic radiation
    radiation consisting of waves of energy associated with electric and magnetic fields resulting from the acceleration of an electric charge
  86. electromagnetic spectrum
    the entire frequency range of electromagnetic waves
  87. electromagnetic wave
    radiation consisting of waves of energy associated with electric and magnetic fields resulting from the acceleration of an electric charge
  88. electromotive force
    the rate at which energy is drawn from a source that produces a flow of electricity in a circuit; expressed in volts
  89. electron
    an elementary particle with negative charge
  90. electron volt
    a unit of energy equal to the work done by an electron accelerated through a potential difference of 1 volt
  91. electrostatic
    concerned with or producing or caused by static electricity
  92. electrostatic field
    electric field associated with static electric charges
  93. electrostatics
    the branch of physics that deals with static electricity
  94. emission
    the act of causing to flow forth
  95. emit
    give off, send forth, or discharge
  96. endothermic
    occurring or formed with absorption of heat
  97. energy
    the capacity of a physical system to do work
  98. Enrico Fermi
    Italian nuclear physicist (in the United States after 1939) who worked on artificial radioactivity caused by neutron bombardment and who headed the group that in 1942 produced the first controlled nuclear reaction (1901-1954)
  99. entropy
    energy in a system no longer available for mechanical work
  100. equilibrium
    a stable situation in which forces cancel one another
  101. Ernest Rutherford
    British physicist (born in New Zealand) who discovered the atomic nucleus and proposed a nuclear model of the atom (1871-1937)
  102. excited
    (of e.g. a molecule) made reactive or more reactive
  103. exothermic
    occurring or formed with the release of heat
  104. ferromagnetism
    phenomenon exhibited by materials like iron (nickel or cobalt) that become magnetized in a magnetic field and retain their magnetism when the field is removed
  105. field
    space around a radiating body within which it exerts force
  106. first law of thermodynamics
    the fundamental principle of physics that the total energy of an isolated system is constant despite internal changes
  107. fluorescence
    light emitted during absorption of radiation of some other (invisible) wavelength
  108. force
    influence that results in motion, stress, etc. when applied
  109. free fall
    the ideal motion of something subject only to gravity
  110. frequency
    the number of occurrences within a given time period
  111. friction
    the resistance when a body is moved in contact with another
  112. fuel cell
    cell that produces electricity by oxidation of fuel
  113. fulcrum
    the pivot about which a lever turns
  114. gamma radiation
    electromagnetic radiation emitted during radioactive decay and having an extremely short wavelength
  115. gamma ray
    electromagnetic radiation emitted during radioactive decay and having an extremely short wavelength
  116. gear
    a toothed wheel that engages another toothed mechanism
  117. generator
    engine that converts mechanical energy into electricity
  118. geothermal energy
    energy derived from the heat in the interior of the earth
  119. gradient
    the property of a line that departs from the horizontal
  120. gravitational field
    a field of force surrounding a body of finite mass
  121. gravitational force
    the force of attraction between all masses in the universe
  122. gravity
    the force of attraction between all masses in the universe
  123. half life
    the time required for something to fall to half its initial value (in particular, the time for half the atoms in a radioactive substance to disintegrate)
  124. heat
    a form of energy transferred by a difference in temperature
  125. hertz
    unit of frequency with a periodic interval of one second
  126. Hooke's law
    (physics) the principle that (within the elastic limit) the stress applied to a solid is proportional to the strain produced
  127. hydroelectric
    of or relating to or used in the production of electricity by waterpower
  128. hydroelectricity
    electricity produced by water power
  129. hydrogen bomb
    a nuclear weapon that releases atomic energy by union of light (hydrogen) nuclei at high temperatures to form helium
  130. hysteresis
    the lagging of an effect behind its cause
  131. impact
    the striking of one body against another
  132. impulse
    an impelling force or strength
  133. incandescence
    light emission by a body as its temperature is raised
  134. inclined plane
    a simple machine for elevating objects
  135. induction
    an electrical phenomenon generating an electromotive force
  136. inductor
    an electrical device (typically a conducting coil) that introduces inductance into a circuit
  137. inertia
    the tendency of something to stay in rest or motion
  138. infrared
    having or employing wavelengths longer than light but shorter than radio waves; lying outside the visible spectrum at its red end
  139. infrared light
    electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths longer than visible light but shorter than radio waves
  140. infrared radiation
    electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths longer than visible light but shorter than radio waves
  141. insulate
    surround with material to protect from heat, cold, or noise
  142. insulation
    reduction of the transmission of sound, heat, or electricity
  143. insulator
    a material with little electrical or thermal conductivity
  144. intensity
    the amount of energy transmitted
  145. interaction
    the transfer of energy between elementary particles
  146. ion
    a particle that is electrically charged positive or negative
  147. ionization
    the condition of being dissociated into ions
  148. ionize
    convert into ions
  149. ionizing radiation
    high-energy radiation capable of producing ionization in substances through which it passes
  150. irradiate
    expose to radiation
  151. isomer
    a compound that exists in forms having different arrangements of atoms but the same molecular weight
  152. isotope
    atom with same atomic number, different number of neutrons
  153. James Clerk Maxwell
    Scottish physicist whose equations unified electricity and magnetism and who recognized the electromagnetic nature of light (1831-1879)
  154. joule
    a unit of electrical energy
  155. kilowatt
    a unit of power equal to 1000 watts
  156. kinematics
    the branch of mechanics concerned with motion without reference to force or mass
  157. kinetic energy
    the mechanical energy that a body has by virtue of motion
  158. laser
    an optical device that produces an intense beam of light
  159. law of conservation of energy
    the fundamental principle of physics that the total energy of an isolated system is constant despite internal changes
  160. lever
    a simple machine giving a mechanical advantage on a fulcrum
  161. lift
    the component of the aerodynamic forces acting on an airfoil that opposes gravity
  162. light
    electromagnetic radiation that can produce visual sensation
  163. Lise Meitner
    Swedish physicist (born in Austria) who worked in the field of radiochemistry with Otto Hahn and formulated the concept of nuclear fission with Otto Frisch (1878-1968)
  164. load
    the power output of a generator or power plant
  165. loudness
    the magnitude of sound (usually in a specified direction)
  166. Louis Victor de Broglie
    French nuclear physicist who generalized the wave-particle duality by proposing that particles of matter exhibit wavelike properties (1892-1987)
  167. luminescence
    the emission of light without heat
  168. machine
    a device for overcoming resistance by applying force
  169. magnet
    a device that attracts iron and produces lines of force
  170. magnetic
    of or relating to or caused by attraction for iron
  171. magnetic field
    the lines of force surrounding a permanent magnet or a moving charged particle
  172. magnetic flux
    a measure of the strength of a magnetic field over a given area
  173. magnetic force
    attraction for iron
  174. magnetic moment
    the torque exerted on a magnet or dipole when it is placed in a magnetic field
  175. magnetic pole
    either of two points where the lines of force of the Earth's magnetic field are vertical
  176. magnetism
    attraction for iron
  177. magnitude
    the property of relative size or extent
  178. Marie Curie
    French chemist who won two Nobel prizes
  179. mass
    the property of a body that causes it to have weight
  180. mass defect
    the amount by which the mass of an atomic nucleus is less than the sum of the masses of its constituent particles
  181. mass number
    the sum of the number of neutrons and protons in an atomic nucleus
  182. matter
    that which has mass and occupies space
  183. mechanical advantage
    the ratio of the force exerted by a machine to the force applied to it
  184. mechanical energy
    energy in a mechanical form
  185. medium
    an intervening substance through which something is achieved
  186. metal
    a chemical element or alloy that is usually a shiny solid
  187. Michael Faraday
    the English physicist and chemist who discovered electromagnetic induction (1791-1867)
  188. microwave
    a short electromagnetic wave
  189. molecule
    the simplest structural unit of an element or compound
  190. moment
    a turning force produced by an object acting at a distance
  191. momentum
    the product of a body's mass and its velocity
  192. motion
    the act of changing location from one place to another
  193. negative charge
    the state of having a surplus of electrons
  194. neutral
    having no net electric charge
  195. neutron
    a subatomic particle with zero charge
  196. newton
    force imparting acceleration of 1 m/sec/sec to 1 kilogram
  197. Newton's first law
    a body remains at rest or in motion with a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force
  198. Newton's second law
    the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the imposed force and goes in the direction of the force
  199. Newton's third law
    action and reaction are equal and opposite
  200. Nikola Tesla
    United States electrical engineer and inventor (born in Croatia but of Serbian descent) who discovered the principles of alternating currents and developed the first alternating-current induction motor and the Tesla coil and several forms of oscillators (1856-1943)
  201. nonrenewable
    that can not be renewed
  202. nuclear
    of, relating to, or constituting the dense center of an atom
  203. nuclear energy
    the energy released by a nuclear reaction
  204. nuclear fission
    a nuclear reaction in which a massive nucleus splits into smaller nuclei with the simultaneous release of energy
  205. nuclear fusion
    a nuclear reaction in which nuclei combine to form more massive nuclei with the simultaneous release of energy
  206. nuclear reaction
    (physics) a process that alters the energy or structure or composition of atomic nuclei
  207. nuclear reactor
    (physics) any of several kinds of apparatus that maintain and control a nuclear reaction for the production of energy or artificial elements
  208. nucleon
    a constituent (proton or neutron) of an atomic nucleus
  209. nucleonics
    the branch of physics that studies the internal structure of atomic nuclei
  210. nucleus
    the positively charged dense center of an atom
  211. ohm
    a unit of electrical resistance
  212. Ohm's law
    electric current is directly proportional to voltage and inversely proportional to resistance; I = E/R
  213. open circuit
    an incomplete electrical circuit in which no current flows
  214. overtone
    a harmonic with a frequency that is a multiple of the fundamental frequency
  215. parallel circuit
    a closed circuit in which the current divides into two or more paths before recombining to complete the circuit
  216. particle
    a body having finite mass but negligible dimensions
  217. peak
    the highest point of something
  218. pendulum
    an apparatus in which an object is mounted to swing freely
  219. period
    the interval to complete one cycle of a repeating phenomenon
  220. periodic motion
    motion that recurs over and over and the period of time required for each recurrence remains the same
  221. permanent magnet
    a magnet that retains its magnetism after being removed from a magnetic field
  222. perpetual motion machine
    a machine that can continue to do work indefinitely without drawing energy from some external source; impossible under the law of conservation of energy
  223. photoelectric
    of or pertaining to photoelectricity
  224. photoelectricity
    electricity generated by light or affected by light
  225. photon
    a tiny bundle of matter that transmits light
  226. photovoltaic cell
    a cell that converts solar energy into electrical energy
  227. pitch
    the high or low quality of a sound
  228. pivot
    axis consisting of a shaft supporting something that turns
  229. polarization
    when radiation is restricted in direction of vibration
  230. positive charge
    the state of having a deficiency of electrons
  231. positron
    an elementary particle with positive charge
  232. potential difference
    the difference in electrical charge between two points in a circuit expressed in volts
  233. potential energy
    energy stored by a body or system by virtue of its position
  234. power
    (physics) the rate of doing work
  235. prism
    optical device used to deviate a beam or invert an image
  236. projectile
    impelling or impelled forward
  237. proportional
    having a constant ratio
  238. proton
    a stable particle with positive charge
  239. pulley
    a wheel with a groove in which a rope can run
  240. rad
    a unit of absorbed ionizing radiation equal to 100 ergs per gram of irradiated material
  241. radiant energy
    energy that is transmitted in the form of radiation
  242. radiation
    energy transmitted in the form of rays or waves or particles
  243. radio wave
    an electromagnetic wave with a wavelength between 0.5 cm to 30,000 m
  244. radioactive
    exhibiting or caused by emissions in nuclear decay
  245. radioactive decay
    the spontaneous disintegration of a radioactive substance along with the emission of ionizing radiation
  246. radioactivity
    the discharge of particles or rays in nuclear decay
  247. radioisotope
    a radioactive isotope of an element
  248. rarefaction
    a decrease in the density of something
  249. ratio
    relation with respect to comparative quantity or magnitude
  250. reaction
    the opposite force when a force is applied to a body
  251. reflection
    the phenomenon of a wave being thrown back from a surface
  252. refraction
    the change in direction of a propagating wave
  253. repel
    cause to move back by force or influence
  254. resistance
    any mechanical force that tends to slow or oppose motion
  255. resistivity
    a material's opposition to the flow of electric current
  256. resistor
    an electrical device that resists the flow of electrical current
  257. resonance
    a vibration of large amplitude produced by a small vibration
  258. scalar
    a variable quantity that cannot be resolved into components
  259. scattering
    the physical process in which particles are deflected haphazardly as a result of collisions
  260. scintillation counter
    counter tube in which light flashes when exposed to ionizing radiation
  261. screw
    a simple machine with a threaded cylindrical rod and hole
  262. second law of thermodynamics
    a law stating that mechanical work can be derived from a body only when that body interacts with another at a lower temperature; any spontaneous process results in an increase of entropy
  263. semiconductor
    a substance as germanium or silicon whose electrical conductivity is intermediate between that of a metal and an insulator; its conductivity increases with temperature and in the presence of impurities
  264. series circuit
    a circuit having its parts connected serially
  265. sight
    the ability to see; the visual faculty
  266. simple machine
    a device for overcoming resistance at one point by applying force at some other point
  267. slope
    the property of a line that departs from the horizontal
  268. solar cell
    a cell that converts solar energy into electrical energy
  269. solar energy
    energy from the sun that is converted into thermal or electrical energy
  270. solar heater
    a heater that makes direct use of solar energy
  271. solar radiation
    radiation from the sun
  272. solution
    a homogeneous mixture of two or more substances
  273. sound
    mechanical vibrations transmitted by an elastic medium
  274. sound wave
    (acoustics) a wave that transmits sound
  275. spectrum
    an ordered array of the components of an emission or wave
  276. speed
    a rate at which something happens
  277. standing wave
    a wave (as a sound wave in a chamber or an electromagnetic wave in a transmission line) in which the ratio of its instantaneous amplitude at one point to that at any other point does not vary with time
  278. static electricity
    electricity produced by friction
  279. strain
    deformation of a body under the action of applied forces
  280. stress
    (physics) force that produces strain on a physical body
  281. superposition
    the placement of one thing on top of another
  282. surface
    the outer boundary of an artifact or a material layer
  283. switch
    device for making or breaking the connections in a circuit
  284. system
    a group of independent elements comprising a unified whole
  285. temperature
    the degree of hotness or coldness of a body or environment
  286. tensile strength
    the strength of material expressed as the greatest longitudinal stress it can bear without tearing apart
  287. tension
    a stress that produces an elongation of a physical body
  288. terminal
    a contact on a device at which current enters or leaves
  289. terminal velocity
    the constant maximum velocity reached by a body falling through the atmosphere under the attraction of gravity
  290. thermal
    relating to or associated with heat
  291. thermal equilibrium
    a state in which all parts of a system are at the same temperature
  292. thermodynamics
    physics concerned with heat and other forms of energy
  293. Thomas Edison
    United States inventor
  294. thrust
    the force used in pushing
  295. time
    the fourth coordinate required to specify a physical event
  296. torque
    a twisting force
  297. tracer
    (radiology) any radioactive isotope introduced into the body to study metabolism or other biological processes
  298. transfer
    the act of moving something from one form to another
  299. transformation
    the act of changing in form or shape or appearance
  300. transformer
    an electrical device changing one voltage to another
  301. transmission
    fraction of radiant energy that passes through a substance
  302. transmit
    serve as the medium for sending something
  303. transmutation
    the change of one chemical element into another
  304. transverse
    extending or lying across, in a crosswise direction
  305. turbine
    an engine that causes a bladed rotor to rotate
  306. ultraviolet
    having wavelengths shorter than light but longer than X-rays
  307. ultraviolet light
    radiation lying in the ultraviolet range
  308. ultraviolet radiation
    radiation lying in the ultraviolet range
  309. vacuum
    the absence of matter
  310. vector
    a quantity that has magnitude and direction
  311. velocity
    distance traveled per unit time in one direction
  312. vibration
    (physics) a regular periodic variation in value about a mean
  313. visible
    capable of being seen or open to easy view
  314. visible light
    (physics) electromagnetic radiation that can produce a visual sensation
  315. vision
    the ability to see
  316. volt
    a unit for measuring the force of an electric current
  317. voltage
    difference in electrical charge between points in a circuit
  318. watt
    a unit of power equal to 1 joule per second
  319. wave
    (physics) a movement up and down or back and forth
  320. wave-particle duality
    (physics) the property of matter and electromagnetic radiation that is characterized by the fact that some properties can be explained best by wave theory and others by particle theory
  321. wavelength
    distance between successive crests of a periodic disturbance
  322. wedge
    something solid that can be pushed between two things
  323. weight
    the vertical force exerted by a mass as a result of gravity
  324. wheel
    a simple machine consisting of a circular frame with spokes (or a solid disc) that can rotate on a shaft or axle (as in vehicles or other machines)
  325. wheel and axle
    hoist so arranged that a rope unwinding from a wheel is wound onto a cylindrical drum or shaft coaxial with the wheel
  326. wind power
    power derived from the wind (as by windmills)
  327. work
    a manifestation of energy
  328. X ray
    electromagnetic radiation of short wavelength produced when high-speed electrons strike a solid target
Created on February 23, 2017 (updated April 20, 2017)

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