Physics and Astronomy


Robin Sinn
C32 MSE Library

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Physics Literature Overview

"Physical concepts are free creations of the human mind, and are not, however it may seem, uniquely determined by the external world. In our endeavor to understand reality we are somewhat like a man trying to understand the mechanism of a closed watch. He sees the face and the moving hands, even hears its ticking, but he has no way of opening the case. If he is ingenious he may form some picture of a mechanism which could be responsible for all the things he observes, but he may never be quite sure his picture is the only one which could explain his observations. He will never be able to compare his picture with the real mechanism and he cannot even imagine the possibility of the meaning of such a comparison." --ALBERT EINSTEIN, 1938

The scope of the discipline of physics is wide. Based on the belief that nature is fundamentally knowable, the study of physics seeks to understand the behavior of the universe through systematic observation, theoretical modeling, and experimentation. Intellectual and philosophical curiosity drives physicists to explore everything from subatomic particles, atoms and molecules, to baseballs, cars, humans and airplanes, to atmospheres, galaxies, and beyond. Understanding the physical principles of our world has led to the development of an extraordinary range of technological applications. Historically, information in physics is transmitted through journals, and this largely remains the same with online journals. There are many different types of literature in physics. Understanding where the information is located can help you find information or research more effectively.

Physics & Astronomy Information Sources

In Physics, there are many sources of research beyond journal articles. Primary literature in physics includes preprints (often called e-prints), technical reports, conference proceedings, meeting papers, and dissertations. Physicists make good use of the Internet for distributing research papers for review through preprint servers.
ArXiv is a major preprint servers for research papers in the fields of physics, mathematics, computer science, quantitative biology, quantitative finance and statistics. ArXiv (formally LANL) is maintained by Cornell University, with funding by Cornell and the National Science Foundation.

A way to search over many websites and databases at once, with over 5 million e-prints in basics/applied sciences, primarily in physics -- but also including chemistry, biology/life sciences, materials science, nuclear sciences & engineering, energy research, computer science and other disciplines of interest to the Department of Energy. While this is a great way to begin research and search multiple databases, you may find more powerful search options in the individual databases.
Focuses on high energy physics e-prints. Some advantages of this resource include, author disambiguation for high-quality profiles, searchable fulltext for all content, searchable figures and figure captions extracted from recent arXiv articles, and personalized features like author pages and paper claiming.
NASA Astrophysics Data System (ADS)
A digital library portal for resesarchers in astronomy and physics. This database, with over 11 million records, is operated by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory under a NASA grant. ADS tracks citations and usage of its records to provide advanced discovery and evaluation capabilities. Integrated in its databases, the ADS provides access and pointers to a wealth of external resources, including electronic articles available from publisher's websites, astronomical object information, data catalogs and data sets hosted by external archives.

In physics, journal articles are usually peer-reviewed before publication, meaning that if a physicist submits a manuscript for publication, another physicist or two will often review that article prior to publication. Peer review is a process that journals use to make sure that articles that they publish are critiqued by authors (other peers) in the same field. Journals are the predominant and accepted vehicle for transmitting scientific knowledge in physics. Often articles are specialized and much narrower in terms of subject compared to a book.

History of Scientific Journal Articles
Interestingly, when scientific journals first appeared in the , they printed original research as well as reviews of other research. It was not uncommon for researchers to publish articles in multiple journals, a practice that is discouraged by many journal publishers today. To Find articles, see the "Online Resources" tab of this guide.

Articles or reports on current research that are presented at academic and professional meetings. Papers presented at conferences tend to focus on the latest developments and advances in research presented to peers who are expert in the field. As with scholarly articles, conference proceedings are generally written at an expert-level. Unlike scholarly articles, conference papers do not go through a peer-review process. They are monitored by a conference committee that chooses the papers to be included in a conference, therefore they can be considered as a scholarly resource that contains in-depth, research information. Conference proceedings can be found online (usually after the 1970s). Older or obscure conference proceedings can be tricky to locate. For assistance locating one, please contact your librarian.

Some places to locate conference proceedings include:

AIP Scitation
Search for journal articles and conference proceedings from AIP Publishing and AIP member societies.

Catalyst, the library catalog
You can find a great deal of conference proceedings in the library catalog by searching for your topic, conference proceedings, and then limiting by online format. We havve many proceedings available through IEEE, Springer, SPIE digital library, ASTM, and many others. For help locating conference proceedings and other material, please contact your librarian. Some proceedings are available only in print and can sometimes be found in our library or borrowed from another library.

By now, you might be getting the sense that finding proceedings can be tricky - it is, even for our Inter Library Loan department. If you're having any problems with a partial citation or locating a proceedings, please contact me for assistance.

This type of material often covers progress or results of scientific, technical research. Often they are in response to a specific research need or request and serve as a report of accountability to the funding agency. Technical reports in the sciences are frequently sponsored by government agencies, but they are also privately funded as well. There is no systemized publication and dissemination of technical reports so often they are hard to locate.

Fermilab Information Resources Department, Documents
Search Fermlab documents and preprints.

IAU: Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams
A non-profit organization that disseminates info on transient astronomical events. Their mission is to "promote and safeguard the science of astronomy...through international cooperation." The IAU is the internationally recognized authority for assigning designations to celestial bodies and surface features. The well-known IAU telegrams (IAU Circulars) are now called Central Bureau Electronic Telegrams (CBET's). The printed version is considered the official version. IAUC's between about #2200 (1969) to #8500 (1997) are free. Later telegrams require a subscription to be viewed online.

ISSTT (International Symposium on Space Terahertz Technology)
This annual meeting of astronomers and engineers has occurred since 1990. The NRAO Library ISSTT Proceedings is the first online repository for all 20 years of the conference proceedings. The site contains direct links to the table of contents and to all of the individual papers contained therein.

NTIS Database

Search for Technical Reports (through University of Maryland)
An excellent one-stop portal to the report output generated by major research institutions. Search by institution name for either full-text reports or searchable extended abstracts of their technical reports on the World Wide Web

Science & R&D Results (from OSTI)
R&D results, project descriptions, accomplishments, and more, via resources made available by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI), U.S. Department of Energy.

SciTec Connect
This database replaces the Energy Citation Database. Includes technical reports, bibliographic citations, journal articles, conference papers, books, multimedia, and data information sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE) through grants, cooperative agreements, or another funding mechanism from the 1940s until today.

A patent offers a monopoly for about 20 years depending on the country where the patent was issued. It gives the patent owner exclusive rights to exclude others from making or selling the invention described in the patent. Patents are useful for searching in order to identify new research fronts or licensing opportunities; avoid duplication of research effort. A patent contains valuable diagrams and detailed description that are often unpublished elsewhere. 

Derwent Innovations Index
This resource includes patent information and patent citation information. You can use additional descriptive information and coding to quickly understand a patent's significance and its relationship to other patents. Covers chemical, electrical/electronic, and engineering. Coverage from 1963 to present.

USPTO Patent Database
The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database includes full-page images beginning with the first U.S. patent issued in 1790. Issued patents starting from 1976 and patent applications are fully searchable. Patents issued between 1790 and 1975 are only available as TIFF images and are only searchable by the patent number or current U.S. classification.

Google Patent Search
Google Patent Search covers the entire collection of United States patents plus EPO (Europe), WIPO, Canada, China, and Germany. To search by criteria like patent number and inventor use Advanced Search.

LexisNexis Academic
Use LexisNexis to locate the full text of U.S. Patents from 1790 to present. View patent drawings, if available, by selecting the link "Get Drawing Sheet..." at the top of the page. You can get a PDF copy of a patent by entering the patent number into the utility. is a conversion utility that allows you to download a PDF version of a U.S. patent or patent application. Searching is by patent number only.

European and World Patents (espacenet)
The espacenet system is a searchable collection of of patent documents published around the world. English-language abstracts are usually available from 1970. Full text documents are provided if available.

Data archives are extremely important in astronomy and physics. If your discipline already has a repository in place for research data, consider depositing your data there first. Discipline-specific repositories are often better able to accommodate specific data archiving needs and may provide an ideal archiving solution for your research data. JHU has a data archiving program as well.

DOE Data Explorer
An information tool to help find collections of scientific research data, both text and non-text. Datasets such as computer simulations, numeric data files, figures and plots, interactive maps, multimedia, and scientific images are included. The DOE Data Explorer (DDE) includes a database of citations prepared by the Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) based on the information found at various data-hosting websites, as well as an optional search which retrieves related, individual datasets from the Energy Citations Database (ECD). Source of description: Purdue's Databib.

HEPDATA: Reaction Data Database
A part of the HEPDATA databases at University of Durham/RAL, this database is compiled by the Durham Database Group (UK) with help from the COMPAS Group (Russia) for the PDG. Contains numerical values of HEP reaction data such as total and differential cross sections, fragmentation functions, structure functions, and polarization measurements from a wide range of experiments. Updated at regular intervals. Provides data reviews which contain precompiled reviewed data such as "Structure Functions in DIS", "Single Photon Production in Hadronic Interactions", and "Drell-Yan Cross Sections".

High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center
The High Energy Astrophysics Science Archive Research Center (HEASARC) is the primary archive for NASA's (and other space agencies') missions studying electromagnetic radiation from extremely energetic cosmic phenomena ranging from black holes to the Big Bang. Since its merger with the Legacy Archive for Microwave Background Data Analysis (LAMBDA) in 2008, the HEASARC archive contains not only data obtained by high-energy astronomy missions observing in the extreme-ultraviolet (EUV), X-ray, and gamma-ray bands, but also data from space missions, balloons, and ground-based facilities that have studied the relic cosmic microwave background (CMB).

Infared Science Archive (NASA/IPAC)
IRSA's holdings consist of data products from NASA's infrared and submillimeter projects and missions, as well as contributed data sets. These holdings include all-sky surveys in 20 bands, over 20 billion rows of catalog data, over 18 million images, and over 100,000 spectra.

National Nuclear Data Center
Collects, evaluates, and disseminates nuclear physics data for basic nuclear research and applied nuclear technologies.

NIST Physics Laboratory
This unit of the National Institute of Standards and Technology provides measurement services and research for electronic, optical, and radiation technologies. Three sub-pages, on Physical Reference Data, on Constants, Units & Uncertainty, and on Measurements & Calibrations, are extremely useful. Additional links to other physical properties and data of tangential interest to particle physics are also available.

Particle Data Group
The Review of Particle Physics includes a compilation and evaluation of measurements of the properties of the elementary particles including gauge bosons, Higgs bosons, leptons, quarks, mesons, and baryons. It summarizes searches for hypothetical particles such as heavy neutrinos, supersymmetric and technicolor particles, axions, dark photons, etc.

Physical Reference Data
A series of online databases hosted by NIST containing physical constants, spectroscopy data, X-ray and gamma-ray data, radiation dosimetry data, and other physics data.

Planetary Data System
The PDS archives and distributes scientific data from NASA planetary missions, astronomical observations, and laboratory measurements. The PDS is sponsored by NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Review of Particle Physics Database
Annual description of properties of established and hypothetical particles, as well as related reviews and tools. Published in Physics Letters B, v.667 (2008).

Sloan Digital Sky Survey
Includes the complete dataset of BOSS and APOGEE surveys, and also newly includes stellar radial velocity measurements from MARVELS. Each data release includes images, optical spectra, infared spectra, and catalog data. Data can be downloaded.

Space Physics Data Facility
The SPDF is a project of the Heliospheric Science Division (HSD) at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. SPDF consists of web-based services for survey and high resolution data and trajectories.

US Virtual Astronomy Observatory Data Discovery Tool
Find datasets from thousands of astronomical collections, such as the Chandra X-ray Observatory, Hubble Space Telescope and other collections from the Multimission Archive at STSci, Sloan Digital Sky Survey, and many more.

Want more?
For more databases, please see the list compiled by Purdue as a part of their Databib project.