Physics, Encyclopedias of

Physics, Encyclopedias of


scientific reference works that contain in a systematized form the most important theoretical and applied information on all or some branches of physics. Encyclopedias of physics feature explanations of the terms and concepts used in physics and descriptions of physical phenomena and processes, instruments, and experiments. The organization of such an encyclopedia may be either classified or alphabetical. In the former case, the material is arranged by topic; in the latter case, the material is arranged in alphabetical order. A distinction is usually made between general encyclopedias of physics and special encyclopedias, which are devoted to individual branches of physics. Various general physics dictionaries are essentially encyclopedias of physics.

Beginning in the late 19th century, reference material on physics was carried in general encyclopedias, in general encyclopedias of natural science, or in physics dictionaries, glossaries, and handbooks. One of the first major encyclopedic works on natural science was the Enzyklopädie der mathematischen Wissenschaften mit Einschluss ihrer Anwendunge (vols. 1–6, Leipzig, 1898–1935), in which a classified arrangement was used. A French edition of this encyclopedia was published between 1904 and 1916; neither edition was completed. The six-volume physics handbook Handbuch der Physik was issued in Leipzig between 1903 and 1909.

The ten-volume first edition of the Handwörterbuch der Naturwissenschaften was published in Jena in 1912 (2nd ed., Jena, 1931–35).

The Handbuch der Physik (Berlin, 1926–29), which consisted of 24 volumes, was the first standard general encyclopedic work on physics. A classified arrangement was used, and each volume was devoted to a single branch of physics and was provided with a subject index. A second edition of this encyclopedia of physics was initiated in West Berlin in 1955. All the volumes were completely revised, the authors of individual survey articles and monographs—internationally prominent scientists—submitted their contributions in one of three languages (German, English, or French), and the material was printed in the language of the original. As of 1976, 63 volumes of the second edition of the Handbuch der Physik appeared, and more volumes were planned. The volumes cover all branches of modern physics and constitute a unique reference aid for physicists as well as for engineers, chemists, and biologists working in allied fields.

A nine-volume encyclopedia of physics called the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Physics (Oxford, 1961–64) was published in Great Britain. It gained worldwide recognition. The ninth volume is a glossary of physics terms in English, German, French, Russian, Spanish, and Japanese. Since 1966, additions and changes have appeared in supplements: the Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Physics: Supplementary (vols. 1–5, Oxford, 1966–75). In 1966, the first edition of The Encyclopedia of Physics (New York; 2nd ed. New York, 1974) was issued in the USA.

Encyclopedic dictionaries on individual branches of physics were first published in the 1920’s. The Handbuch der wissenschaftlichen und angewandten Photographie (vols. 1–8, Berlin, 1929–33), the Handbuch der Astrophysik (vols. 1–7, Berlin, 1928–36), and the Handbuch der Experimentalphysik (vols. 1–26, Leipzig, 1926–37) were issued in Germany.

The encyclopedic dictionary of physics A Dictionary of Applied Physics (vols. 1–5, London, 1922–23) was published in Great Britain. The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Formulas (New York, 1932), the Pocket Encyclopedia of Atomic Energy (New York, 1950), the Encyclopedic Dictionary of Electronics and Nuclear Engineering (New York, 1959), The Encyclopedia of Spectroscopy (New York, 1960), and The Encyclopedia of X-Rays and Gamma Rays (New York-London, 1963) were issued in the USA.

The specialized ABC encyclopedias were first published in the German Democratic Republic in the 1960’s. The encyclopedias of physics include the Brockhaus ABC der Optik (Leipzig, 1961) and the Brockhaus ABC: Physik (vols. 1–2, Leipzig, 1972–73).

No encyclopedias of physics were published in prerevolutionary Russia. The five-volume Fizicheskii slovar’. (Physics Dictionary), which was essentially the first Soviet encyclopedia of physics, was issued in the USSR between 1936 and 1939. A five-volume encyclopedia of physics, Fizicheskii entsiklopedicheskii slovar’ (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Physics), which includes about 6,000 articles covering all branches of physics and certain aspects of allied sciences, appeared between 1960 and 1966. This dictionary became a primary general reference aid for physicists and for scientists in allied specialties both in the USSR and abroad; it was translated and published in Poland and Japan. Special single-volume encyclopedias of physics have been published in the USSR in the series entitled Mal’enkie entsiklopedii(Concise Encyclopedias). Such encyclopedias include Kvantovaia elektronika (Quantum Electronics; Moscow, 1969) and Fizika kosmosa (Space Physics; Moscow, 1976).


Shmushkis, Iu. E. Sovetskie entsiklopedii: Ocherki istorii, voprosy metodiki. Moscow, 1975.
Irregular Series and Annuals: An International Directory, 3rd ed. New York-London, 1974.
New Serial Titles, 1950–1970. Washington, D.C.–New York–London, 1973.
Witford, R. H. Physics Literature. New York, 1968.


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