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Glossary

a.c. generator a device, such as a dynamo, used to axis the line passing through the centre of a lens,
generate alternating current (a.c.) perpendicular to its surface
acceleration the rate of change of an objects velocity background radiation the radiation from the
environment to which we are exposed all the time
acceleration due to gravity the acceleration of an
object falling freely under gravity barometer an instrument used to measure
atmospheric pressure
acceleration of free fall see acceleration due to
gravity battery two or more electrical cells connected
together in series; the word may also be used to
activity the rate at which nuclei decay in a sample of
mean a single cell
a radioactive substance
becquerel (Bq) the SI unit of activity; 1 Bq = one
air resistance the frictional force on an object
decay per second
moving through air
beta decay the decay of a radioactive nucleus by
alpha decay the decay of a radioactive nucleus by emission of a beta particle
emission of an -particle
beta particle (-particle) a particle (an electron)
alpha particle (-particle) a particle of two protons emitted by an atomic nucleus during radioactive decay
and two neutrons emitted by an atomic nucleus
biomass fuel a material, recently living, used as a fuel
during radioactive decay
boiling point the temperature at which a liquid
alternating current (a.c.) electric current that flows
changes to a gas (at constant pressure)
first one way, then the other, in a circuit
Boyles law the law that relates the pressure and
ammeter a meter for measuring electric current
volume of a fixed mass of gas (pV = constant at
amp, ampere (A) the SI unit of electric current constant temperature)
amplitude the greatest height of a wave above its Brownian motion the motion of small particles
undisturbed level suspended in a liquid or gas, caused by molecular
angle of incidence the angle between an incident bombardment
ray and the normal to the surface at the point capacitor a device used for storing energy in an electric
where it meets a surface circuit
angle of reflection the angle between a reflected ray cathode ray a ray of electrons travelling from
and the normal to the surface at the point where it cathode to anode in a vacuum tube
reflects from a surface
cathode-ray oscilloscope a device used to show the
angle of refraction the angle between a refracted ray pattern of a varying voltage
and the normal to the surface at the point where it cell a device that provides a voltage in a circuit by
passes from one material to another means of a chemical reaction
average speed speed calculated from total distance centre of mass the point at which the mass of an
travelled divided by total time taken object can be considered to be concentrated

IGCSE Physics Cambridge University Press Glossary 1


charge see electrostatic charge dispersion the separation of different wavelengths
chemical energy energy stored in chemical of light because they are refracted through different
substances and which can be released in a chemical angles
reaction diverging lens a lens that causes rays of light parallel
circuit breaker a safety device that automatically to the axis to diverge from the principal focus
switches off a circuit when the current becomes too doing work transferring energy by means of a force
high
drag the frictional force when an object moves
commutator a device used to allow current to flow to through a fluid (a liquid or a gas)
and from the coil of a d.c. motor or generator
dynamo effect electricity is generated when a coil
compression a region of a sound wave where the moves near a magnet
particles are pushed close together
earthed when the case of an electrical appliance is
conduction the transfer of heat energy or electrical connected to the earth wire (for safety)
energy through a material without the material itself
moving efficiency the fraction of energy that is converted
into a useful form
conductor a substance that transmits heat or allows
an electric current to pass through it electric field a region of space in which an electric
charge will feel a force
contaminated when an object has acquired some
unwanted radioactive substance electrical energy energy transferred by an electric
current
convection the transfer of heat energy through a
material by movement of the material itself electrical resistance see resistance
converging lens a lens that causes rays of light electromagnet a coil of wire that, when a current
parallel to the axis to converge at the principal focus flows in it, becomes a magnet
corkscrew rule the rule used to determine the direction electromagnetic radiation energy travelling in the
of the magnetic field around an electric current form of waves
coulomb (C) the SI unit of electric charge; 1 C = 1 A s electromagnetic spectrum the family of radiations
count rate the number of decaying radioactive atoms similar to light
detected each second (or minute, or hour) electron a negatively charged particle, smaller than
crest the highest point of a wave an atom
critical angle the minimum angle of incidence at electron charge the electric charge of a single
which total internal reflection occurs electron; 1.6 1019 C
current the rate at which electric charge flows in a electrostatic charge a property of an object that
circuit causes it to attract or repel other objects with
demagnetisation destroying the magnetisation of a charge
piece of material e.m.f. (electro-motive force) the voltage across
density the ratio of mass to volume for a substance the terminals of a source of electrical energy (for
example, a cell or power supply)
diffraction when a wave spreads out as it travels
through a gap or past the edge of an object energy the capacity to do work
diode an electrical component that allows electric equilibrium when no net force and no net moment
current to flow in one direction only act on a body
direct current (d.c.) electric current that flows in the evaporation when a liquid changes to a gas at a
same direction all the time temperature below its boiling point

2 Glossary IGCSE Physics Cambridge University Press


extension the increase in length of a spring when a infrasound sound waves whose frequency is so low
load is attached that they cannot be heard
Flemings left-hand rule a rule that gives the insulator a substance that transmits heat very poorly
relationship between the directions of force, field and or does not conduct electricity
current when a current flows across a magnetic field internal energy the energy of an object; the total
focal length the distance from the centre of a lens to kinetic and potential energies of its particles
its principal focus interrupt card a piece of card that breaks the light
focal point see principal focus beam of a light gate
fossil fuel a material, formed from long-dead ionisation when a particle (atom or molecule)
material, used as a fuel becomes electrically charged by losing or gaining
electrons
frequency the number of vibrations or waves per
second ionising radiation radiation, for example from
radioactive substances, that causes ionisation
friction the force that acts when two surfaces rub
over one another irradiated when an object has been exposed to
radiation
fuse a device used to prevent excessive currents
flowing in a circuit isotope isotopes of an element have the same proton
number but different nucleon numbers
gamma ray (-ray) electromagnetic radiation emitted
by an atomic nucleus during radioactive decay joule (J) the SI unit of work or energy

geothermal energy the energy stored in hot rocks kinetic energy (k.e.) the energy of a moving object
underground kinetic model of matter a model in which matter
gravitational potential energy (g.p.e.) the energy of consists of molecules in motion
an object raised up against the force of gravity lamina a flat object of uniform thickness
gravity the force that exists between any two objects laser a device for producing a narrow beam of light
with mass of a single colour or wavelength
half-life the average time taken for half the atoms in latent heat the energy needed to melt or boil a
a sample of a radioactive material to decay material
hard a material that, once magnetised, is difficult to law of reflection the law relating the angle of
demagnetise incidence of a light ray to the angle of reflection
Hookes law the extension of an object is (i = r)
proportional to the load producing it, provided that light-dependent resistor (LDR) a device whose
the limit of proportionality is not exceeded resistance decreases when light shines on it
image what we see when we view an object by means light-emitting diode (LED) a type of diode that
of reflected or refracted rays emits light when a current flows through it
incident ray a ray of light striking a surface light energy energy emitted in the form of visible
induction a method of giving an object an electric radiation
charge without making contact with another charged light gate a device for recording the passage of a
object moving object when it breaks a light beam
infrared radiation electromagnetic radiation whose limit of proportionality the point beyond which the
wavelength is greater than that of visible light; extension of an object is no longer proportional to
sometimes known as heat radiation the load producing it

IGCSE Physics Cambridge University Press Glossary 3


load a force that causes a spring to extend nuclear fission the process by which energy is
released by the splitting of a large heavy nucleus into
logic gate an electronic component whose output
two or more lighter nuclei
voltage depends on the input voltage(s)
nuclear fusion the process by which energy is
longitudinal wave a wave in which the vibration is
released by the joining together of two small light
forward and back, along the direction in which the
nuclei to form a new heavier nucleus
wave is travelling
nucleon a particle found in the atomic nucleus: a
magnetic field the region of space around a magnet
proton or a neutron
or electric current in which a magnet will feel a force
nucleon number (A) the number of protons and
magnetisation causing a piece of material to be
neutrons in an atomic nucleus
magnetised; a material is magnetised when it
produces a magnetic field around itself nuclide a species of nucleus having particular values
of proton number and nucleon number
manometer a device used to measure the pressure
difference between two points ohm () the SI unit of electrical resistance;
1 = 1 V/A
mass the property of an object that causes it to have
a gravitational attraction for other objects, and that pascal (Pa) the SI unit of pressure; 1 Pa = 1 N/m2
causes it to resist changes in its motion p.d. (potential difference) another name for the
melting point the temperature at which a solid melts voltage between two points
to become a liquid penetrating power how far radiation can penetrate
model a way of representing a system in order to into different materials
understand its functioning; usually mathematical period the time for one complete oscillation of a
moment the turning effect of a force about a point, pendulum, one complete vibration or the passage of
given by force perpendicular distance from point one complete wave
monochromatic describes a ray of light (or other photocell see solar cell
electromagnetic radiation) of a single wavelength pitch how high or low a note sounds
national grid the system of power lines, pylons pivot the fixed point about which a lever turns
and transformers used to carry electricity around a
country positive charge one type of electric charge

negative charge one type of electric charge potential divider a part of a circuit consisting of two
resistors connected in series
neutral having no overall positive or negative electric
charge power the rate at which energy is transferred or work
is done
neutron an electrically neutral particle found in the
atomic nucleus power lines cables used to carry electricity from
power stations to consumers
neutron number (N) the number of neutrons in the
nucleus of an atom pressure the force acting per unit area at right angles
to a surface
newton (N) the SI unit of force
principal focus the point at which rays of light
non-renewable energy resource which, once used, is parallel to the axis converge after passing through a
gone forever converging lens
normal the line drawn at right angles to a surface at principle of conservation of energy the total energy
the point where a ray strikes the surface of interacting objects is constant provided no external
nuclear energy energy stored in the nucleus of an atom force acts

4 Glossary IGCSE Physics Cambridge University Press


proton a positively charged particle found in the refractive index the property of a material that
atomic nucleus determines the extent to which it causes rays of light
proton charge the electric charge of a single proton; to be refracted
+1.6 1019 C relay an electromagnetically operated switch
proton number (Z) the number of protons in an renewable energy resource which, when used, will be
atomic nucleus replenished naturally
radiation energy spreading out from a source carried residual-current device (RCD) a device used to
by particles or waves protect the user in case of an electrical fault
radioactive decay the decay of a radioactive resistance a measure of the difficulty of making
substance when its atomic nuclei emit radiation an electric current flow through a device or a
component in a circuit
radioactive substance a substance that decays by
emitting radiation from its atomic nuclei resistor a component in an electric circuit whose
resistance reduces the current flowing
radioactive tracing a technique that uses a radioactive
substance to trace the flow of liquid or gas, or to find resultant force the single force that has the same
the position of cancerous tissue in the body effect on a body as two or more forces

radiocarbon dating a technique that uses the known ripple a small, uniform wave on the surface of water
rate of decay of radioactive carbon-14 to find the scalar quantity a quantity that has only magnitude
approximate age of an object made from dead slip rings a device used to allow current to flow to
organic material and from the coil of an a.c. motor or generator
radioisotope a radioactive isotope of an element
Snells law the law that relates the angles of incidence
random process a process that happens at a sin i
random rate rather than at a steady rate; in and refraction: refractive index =
sin r
radioactive decay, it is impossible to predict which soft describes a material that, once magnetised, can
atom will be the next to decay, or when a given easily be demagnetised
atom will decay
solar cell an electrical device that transfers the
rarefaction a region of a sound wave where the energy of sunlight directly to electricity, by
particles are further apart producing a voltage when light falls on it
ray diagram a diagram showing the paths of typical solenoid a coil of wire that becomes magnetised
rays of light when a current flows through it
real image an image that can be formed on screen sound energy energy being transferred in the form
rectifier an electric circuit in which one or more of sound waves
diodes are used to convert alternating current to sound wave a wave that carries sound from place to
direct current place
reflected ray a ray of light that has been reflected specific heat capacity (s.h.c.) a measure of how
after striking a surface much thermal (heat) energy a material can hold
reflection the change in direction of a ray of light specific latent heat the energy required to melt or
when it strikes a surface without passing through it boil 1 kg of a substance
refracted ray a ray of light that has changed direction spectrum waves, or colours of light, separated out in
on passing from one material to another order according to their wavelengths
refraction the bending of a ray of light on passing speed the distance travelled by an object in unit
from one material to another time

IGCSE Physics Cambridge University Press Glossary 5


speed of light the speed at which light travels trough the lowest point on a wave
(usually in a vacuum: 3.0 108 m/s)
truth table a way of summarising the operation of a
static electricity electric charge held by a charged combination of logic gates
insulator
turbine a device that is caused to turn by moving
strain energy energy of an object due to its having air, steam or water, often used to generate
been stretched or compressed electricity
temperature a measure of how hot or cold ultrasound sound waves whose frequency is so high
something is that they cannot be heard
terminal velocity the greatest speed reached by an
ultraviolet radiation electromagnetic radiation
object when moving through a fluid
whose frequency is higher than that of visible light
thermal (heat) energy energy being transferred
upper limit of hearing the highest frequency of
from a hotter place to a colder place because of the
sound that a person can just hear
temperature difference between them
thermal equilibrium describes the state of two variable resistor a resistor whose resistance can be
objects (or an object and its surroundings) that are changed, for example by turning a knob
at the same temperature so that there is no heat flow vector quantity a quantity that has both magnitude
between them and direction
thermal expansion the expansion of a material when vector triangle a method for finding the vector sum
its temperature rises of two vector quantities
thermionic emission the process by which cathode velocity the speed of an object in a stated direction
rays (electrons) are released from the heated cathode
virtual image an image that cannot be formed on
of a cathode-ray tube
a screen; formed when rays of light appear to be
thermistor a resistor whose resistance changes a lot spreading out from a point
over a small temperature range
volt (V) the SI unit of voltage (p.d. or e.m.f.);
thermocouple an electrical device made of two 1 V = 1 J/C
different metals, used as an electrical thermometer
voltage the push of a battery or power supply in a
total internal reflection (TIR) when a ray of light circuit
strikes the inner surface of a solid material and 100%
of the light reflects back inside it voltmeter a meter for measuring the p.d. (voltage)
between two points
transducer any device that converts energy from one
form to another wave speed the speed at which a wave travels

transformer a device used to change the voltage of wavefront a line joining adjacent points on a wave
an a.c. electricity supply that are all in step with each other

transistor an electrical component that can act as an wavelength the distance between adjacent crests (or
electronic switch troughs) of a wave
transverse wave a wave in which the vibration is at weight the downward force of gravity that acts on an
right angles to the direction in which the wave is object because of its mass
travelling work done the amount of energy transferred when
trip switch a device used to protect an electric circuit one body exerts a force on another; the energy
in case of an electrical fault transferred by a force when it moves

6 Glossary IGCSE Physics Cambridge University Press