an elementary particle of transitory existence that does not appear as a free particle in a particular situation but that can transmit a force from one particle to another.
Words nearby virtual particle
Origin of virtual particle
First recorded in 1970–75
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020
Scientific definitions for virtual particle
A short-lived subatomic particle whose existence briefly violates the principle of conservation of energy. The uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics allows violations of conservation of energy for short periods, meaning that even a physical system with zero energy can spontaneously produce energetic particles. The more energy a virtual particle has, the shorter its existence. Interactions between normal particles and virtual particles play a crucial role in quantum field theory analyses of interactions between real particles. See also Casimir effect Feynman diagram vacuum fluctuation.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.