Physics Study Guide/Greek alphabet

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Physics Study Guide (Print Version)
Units Linear Motion Force Momentum Normal Force and Friction Work Energy
Torque & Circular Motion Fluids Fields Gravity Waves Wave overtones Standing Waves Sound
Thermodynamics Electricity Magnetism Optics
Physical Constants Frictional Coefficients Greek Alphabet Logarithms Vectors and Scalars Other Topics

About the Common uses in Physics[edit]

While these are indeed common usages, it should be pointed out that there are many other usages and that other letters are used for the same purpose. The reason is quite simple: there are only so many symbols in the Greek and Latin alphabets, and scientists and mathematicians generally do not use symbols from other languages. It is a common trap to associate a symbol exclusively with some particular meaning, rather than learning and understanding the physics and relations behind it.

Greek Alphabet
Lower case Capital Name Common use in Physics
\alpha\; \Alpha\; alpha Angular acceleration
Linear expansion
Alpha particle (helium nucleus)
Fine Structure Constant
\beta\; \Beta\; beta Beta particle — high energy electron
Sound intensity
\gamma\; \Gamma\; gamma Gamma ray (high energy EM wave)
Ratio of heat capacities (in an ideal gas)
Relativistic correction factor
\delta\; \Delta\; delta Δ="Change in"
δ="Infinitesimal change in"
\epsilon\; \Epsilon\; epsilon Emissivity
\zeta\; \Zeta\; zeta (no common use)
\eta\; \Eta\; eta Viscosity
Energy efficiency
\theta\; \Theta\; theta Angle (°, rad)
\iota\; \Iota\; iota The lower case \iota\; is rarely used, while \Iota\; is sometimes used for the identity matrix or the moment of inertia. Note that \iota\; is not to be confused with the Roman character i; (which has a dot and is much more widely used in mathematics and physics).
\kappa\; \Kappa\; kappa Spring constant
Dielectric constant
\lambda\; \Lambda\; lambda Wavelength
Thermal conductivity
Eigenvalue of a matrix
Linear density
\mu\; \Mu\; mu Coefficient of friction
Electrical mobility
Reduced mass
\nu\; \Nu\; nu Frequency
\xi\; \Xi\; xi Damping cofficient
o\; O\; omicron (no common use)
\pi\; \Pi\; pi Product symbol \Pi
Circle number \pi:=3.14159...
\rho\; \Rho\; rho Volume density
\sigma\; \Sigma\; sigma Sum symbol
Boltzmann constant
Electrical conductivity
Surface density
\tau\; \Tau\; tau Torque
Tau particle (a lepton)
Time constant
\upsilon\; \Upsilon\; upsilon mass to light ratio
\phi\; \Phi\; phi Magnetic/electric flux
Angle (°, rad)
\chi\; \Chi\; chi Rabi frequency (lasers)
\psi\; \Psi\; psi Wave function
\omega\; \Omega\; omega Ohms (unit of electrical resistance)
ω Angular velocity

See Also[edit]

Greek alphabet on the Wikipedia missionaries of the sacred heart