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Physics and Astronomy: Background Sources

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Background Sources

Online resources like Google and Wikipedia can be helpful with your background research and in identifying keywords that you will need to search the databases.

Here are some additional resources:


Encyclopedias, Dictionaries




Reference Materials


Patent Search

Reference Books

The following are some of the physics related encyclopedias, discionaries, and reference books that are found in the Science Reference area of the Harold B. Lee Library:

Encyclopedia of Applied Physics  Sci Ref QC5.E543 1991

McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology  Sci Ref Q121.M3 2007

Dictionary of Physics  Sci Ref QC5.D47x 2004

Encyclopedia of Acoustics  Sci Ref QC221.5.E53 1997

Encyclopedia of Astronomy and Astrophysics  Sci Ref QB14.E54 2001

Encyclopedia of Mathematical Physics  Sci Ref QC20.E53x 2006

Encyclopedia of Spectroscopy and Spectrometry  Sci Ref QC450.3.E53x 2000

Encyclopedia of Modern Optics  Sci Ref QC351.2.E53x 2005

Handbook of Semiconductor Nanostructures and Nanodevices  Sci Ref QC611.H36 2006

Encyclopedia of Condensed Matter Physics  Sci Ref QC173.454.E53 2005

Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary Sources

Primary resources: Found in the "Find Articles / Use Databases" tab, these are sources from which original research is presented. Here, data is taken, analyzed, and presented for the first time. They represent original thinking and are considered the "gold standard" for reference IF they are peer-reviewed. Remember, not all primary sources are peer-reviewed. You should confirm the source is peer-reviewed before using it as a reference. They are usually found as journal articles or conference proceedings. 

Secondary resources: Found in the "Find Articles / Use Databases" tab, these are articles which compare, contrast, summarize or discuss information presented in primary literature.  These are often called "review articles" or "reviews." You can tell a secondary source by its lack of original data presented. These are good sources for finding primary sources through their references. Not all secondary sources are peer-reviewed, and you should confirm the source is peer-reviewed before using it as a reference. If peer-reviewed, it is reasonable to use as a reference.

Tertiary resources: Found here in the "Background Sources" tab, these are books, encyclopedias, almanacs, reference books, etc. Basically any source that has condensed information in a way that allows the reader to "get up to speed" quickly on a subject. Usually the best, first place to start your research. References found within the source can lead to primary research, notable authors, and terminology that will assist you in the rest of your research. Tertiary sources themselves are not usually used as a reference, since the researcher should find the original source from which the tertiary version is based.

Peer review: The process by which articles are submitted to experts in the scientific discipline for comments and criticism before publication in a scholarly journal or presented in a peer-reviewed conference. Peer-reviewed journals are also called "refereed." Using the "UlrichsWeb" resource link in the "Citation Resources" tab is an effective way to determine if the source, and its contents, are peer reviewed.