moment, in physics and engineering, term designating the product of a quantity and a distance (or some power of the distance) to some point associated with that quantity. The most theoretically useful moments are moments of masses, areas, lines, and forces, including magnetic force. The concept of torque (propensity to turn about a point) is the moment of force. If a force tends to rotate a body about some point, then the moment, or turning effect, is the product of the force and the distance from the point to the direction of the force. The application of this concept is illustrated by pushing open a door: the farther from the hinge the push is applied, the less force is required. The principle of the moment of a force is perhaps best seen in the use of a lever. Extensions of this concept are important in mechanics, in topics such as inertia, center of gravity, equilibrium, and stability of structures, and in architectural problems. The moment of inertia of a body about a point is the sum, for each particle in the body, of the mass of the particle and the square of its distance from the point. The angular momentum of a body about a fixed axis is equal to the product of the momentum and the length of the moment arm (distance from the body to the axis). A torque acting on a rigid body acts to change its angular momentum by producing an angular acceleration.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.