Degree of freedom is a term commonly used in Chemistry and Statistics. The definitions in the two subjects are slightly different. In chemistry, degree of freedom refers to the number of factors (independent) that define the state of a system in equilibrium while in statistics it refers to the number of values or quantities that are assigned to a statistical distribution.

Similarly, in mechanics, degree of freedom of a mechanical system refers to the number of parameters on the basis of which its configuration can be determined. This can be explained with the help of a few real-life examples:

  • When a car travels along the road, its degree of freedom is said to be one. This is because its position can be described simply by using one parameter and that is the distance travelled by car.
  • Again, a skater skating in the rink has his degree of freedom as two since both the length and the breadth are to be considered in this case.
  • A spider spinning its web inside a hollow box is an example of degree of freedom three since here all the three parameters of the box- its length, breadth and height are to be considered.

So, by now it must be clear to you what degree of freedom is and how it varies from one system to the other.

Again, in chemistry, the degree of freedom of molecules is found on the basis of the number of atoms that they have. For instance, the degree of freedom of a diatomic molecule (a molecule that is composed of two atoms) is six since it takes into account not only the three basic parameters associated with its centre of mass but also three other parameters depending on the rotational motion and vibration mode.

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