Monday, 8 May 2017

α | alpha

The Greek letter α (alpha) was derived from the ancient Phoenician letter 𐤀 (ʾālep) which, in turn, was derived from an Egyptian hieroglyph of an ox’s head.

The lower-case letter α has found many uses in maths and sciences, such as:

  • in astronomy: the brightest star in a constellation. For instance, Betelgeuse is designated as α Orionis
  • in biochemistry: α-helix, a type of protein secondary structure
  • in inorganic chemistry: a symbol for certain (usually the most common) allotropes, for example α-iron, α-phosphorus, and α-sulphur
  • in natural product chemistry: a stereodescriptor used in a number of different ways
  • in navigation: a symbol for azimuth
  • in neurophysiology: α-waves, a type of brain waves detected by electroencephalography
  • in nuclear physics: alpha particle, α or α2+, a historical name of doubly ionised helium nuclei (He2+) ; α-decay is a radioactive process in which an atomic nucleus emits an α-particle
  • in organic chemistry: the α-carbon is the first carbon atom attached to a functional group; α-amino acids are amino acids with an amino group bound directly to the α-carbon
  • in pharmacology: α1 and α2, subtypes of adrenergic receptors
  • in physics: a symbol for angular acceleration
  • in physics: the fine-structure constant
  • in zoology: α-males and α-females, the highest ranking individuals in a community of social animals
More photos of letters, numbers and sea glass @ Shutterstock.

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