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Physics and Astronomy: Reference works


Dictionaries are helpful for clarifying or defining terms.

Oxford Reference Online provides access to over 120 reference works, including:

A more general dictionary in print format is:


Handbooks and data compilations typically contain definitions, values and properties (often as collections of tables, charts, data, formulae and physical constants) for work in a general subject area. Some handbooks serve as useful introductions to their subject. Examples include:

  • Knovel Library provides reference data and information for scientists and engineers, and is a valuable source of physical and chemical property data. Content is drawn from the full text of over 2000 publications, including reference works (mostly handbooks, plus encyclopaedias and dictionaries) as well as monographs, conference proceedings and databases. Knovel enables cross-searching of the aggregated content for numeric data and keywords. Interactive tables, graphs and equations allow users to retrieve, capture and manipulate data, and to export that data to standard applications (including Microsoft Excel). Individual publications may also be browsed by subject area.
  • Landolt-Börnstein Numerical Data and Functional Relationships in Science and Technology provides a quality data collection relevant to the physical sciences and technology. It is composed of some 270 sub-volumes of critically assessed data which together cover: elementary particles, nuclei and atoms; molecules and radicals; condensed matter; physical chemistry; astronomy and astrophysics; geophysics; biophysics; advanced materials and technologies. Coverage begins with the scientific data described before 1883 (the year of the first handbook publication) and new sub-volumes continue to be published. Index volumes assist the location of specific data, and the publication includes bibliographic citations to original data sources.
  • CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics. (Main Library, Blue 2, 540.2/C64)
    Provides a valuable source of chemical and physical data. Sixteen main sections cover: 1. Basic constants, units, and conversion factors; 2. Symbols, terminology, and nomenclature; 3. Physical constants of organic compounds; 4. Properties of the elements and inorganic compounds; 5. Thermochemistry, electrochemistry, and kinetics; 6. Fluid properties; 7. Biochemistry; 8. Analytical chemistry; 9. Molecular structure and spectroscopy; 10. Atomic, molecular, and optical physics; 11. Nuclear and particle physics; 12. Properties of solids; 13. Polymer properties; 14. Geophysics, astronomy, and acoustics; 15. Practical laboratory data; 16. Health and safety information. An appendix provides mathematical tables. 
  • Tables of Physical and Chemical Constants. G.W.C. Kaye and T.H. Laby. Longman, 16th ed. 1995. (Main Library, Blue 2, Ref 530.8/K23)
    Provides a valuable source of physical and chemical data. Eight main sections cover: 1. Units and fundamental constants; 2. General physics; 3. Chemistry; 4. Atomic and nuclear physics; 5. Miscellaneous engineering data; 6. Statistical methods for the treatment of experimental data; 7. Laboratory safety; 8. Introduction to quality assurance of measurements. 
  • Handbook of Physical Quantities. I.S. Grigoriev et al. (eds.). CRC Press, 1997. (Main Library, Blue 2, Ref 530.8/G41)
  • The Physics Quick Reference Guide. E.R. Cohen. American Institute of Physics, 1996. (Main Library, Blue 2, Ref 530.8/C31)
  • A Physicist's Desk Reference. H.L. Anderson (ed.). American Institue of Physics, 2nd ed. 1989. (Main Library, Blue 2, Ref 530.8/A1)
  • Springer Handbook of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics. G.W.F. Drake. Springer, 2006.
  • The Cambridge Handbook of Physics Formulas. G. Woan. Cambridge University Press, 2000. (Main Library, Blue 2, Ref 530.8/W9)
    Contains formulas and equations found in undergraduate physics courses, covering mathematics, dynamics and mechanics, quantum physics, thermodynamics, solid state physics, electromagnetism, optics, and astrophysics.
  • Materials Handbook: A Concise Desktop Reference. F. Cardarelli. Springer, 2008. Provides physical and chemical properties of all classes of materials.
  • Handbook of Liquid Crystals. D. Demus (ed.). Wiley-VCH, 1998. (4 volumes) (Main Library, Blue 2, 532.78,D8)
  • Handbook of Liquid Crystal Research. P.J. Collings and J.S. Patel (eds.) Oxford University Press,1997. (Main Library, Blue 2, 532.78,C12)
  • Norton's 2000.0 Star Atlas and Reference Handbook (Epoch 2000.0). A.P. Norton. Longman Scientific and Technical, 18th ed. 1989. (Main Library, Blue 2, Ref 523.89/N16)
  • Astronomical Almanac. (Main Library, Green Ground, Periodicals. Physical and Life Sciences)
    An annual publication giving ephemerides and predictions for the coming year.
  • Reaxys is a very large web-based search and retrieval system that offers extensive coverage of information in organic, inorganic and organometallic chemistry. Reaxys is based on the combined content of Beilstein Crossfire, Gmelin, and the Patent Chemistry Database (PCD). Reaxys contains experimentally validated data on millions of structures, reactions, and physical properties of compounds derived from over 200 years of primary literature, together with extensive search, analysis and workflow tools that allow synthesis planning, the identification of precursor reactions, etc. The Reaxys Training and Support provides online support and training materials.


Encyclopaedias provide authoritative overviews of subjects in a readily accessible form, and can therefore provide a useful starting point when you are beginning work in a new or unfamiliar field. The articles they contain often give references for further reading. Where available, always use an encyclopaedia's index, because relevant information may occur under an unexpected heading.

Encyclopaedias are available in both printed and electronic formats. Examples include:

Creative Commons Licence This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Licence.

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