adaptation (in biology) A process by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment. When a community of organisms does this over time, scientists refer to the change as evolution.
Aedes aegypti A species of mosquito that can transmit the viruses responsible for several tropical diseases, including dengue fever, yellow fever and West Nile disease.
application A particular use or function of something.
atom The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.
attractant A chemical that lures an organism, usually by odor.
behavior The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.
bug The slang term for an insect. Sometimes it’s even used to refer to a germ.
carbon dioxide (or CO2) A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten.
chemical A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.
chemistry The field of science that deals with the composition, structure and properties of substances and how they interact. Scientists use this knowledge to study unfamiliar substances, to reproduce large quantities of useful substances or to design and create new and useful substances. (about compounds) Chemistry also is used as a term to refer to the recipe of a compound, the way it’s produced or some of its properties. People who work in this field are known as chemists.
chikungunya A tropical disease that has been crippling large numbers of people in Africa and Asia. It’s caused by a virus that is spread by mosquitoes. It recently has been spreading widely throughout warm nations. More than 3 million people have suffered through its initial flu-like symptoms. A large share may also go on to develop intense pain in their muscles and joints that can last months to years. There is no cure or vaccine.
colleague Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
component Something that is part of something else (such as pieces that go on an electronic circuit board or ingredients that go into a cookie recipe).
composite A material made using two or more different building blocks, which together produce something with new and better features. Carbon fiber reinforced polymers are one example. Embedded in these hard and strong plastics are tiny fibers made from carbon. Engineers use these plastics to build lightweight bodies for race cars and airplanes, among other things.
continent (in geology) The huge land masses that sit upon tectonic plates. In modern times, there are six established geologic continents: North America, South America, Eurasia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica. In 2017, scientists also made the case for yet another: Zealandia.
dengue A potentially lethal infectious disease transmitted by mosquitoes. No vaccine yet exists to prevent infection with the virus responsible for the disease, which causes high fevers, severe headache, joint pain, pain behind the eyes, rash, bone pain and sometimes mild bleeding. A more severe form of the disease, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever can cause uncontrolled bleeding if not treated right away.
deter An event, action or material that keeps something from happening. For instance, a visible pothole in the road will deter a driver from steering his car over it.
develop To emerge or come into being, either naturally or through human intervention, such as by manufacturing. (in biology) To grow as an organism from conception through adulthood, often undergoing changes in chemistry, size and sometimes even shape.
domesticate (n. domestication) To turn a wild plant or animal species into a tame version, which can take many generations. A domesticated animal is one that has been bred in captivity for food or as a pet. A domesticated plant is one usually farmed or used for landscaping.
edge (n network mathematics) A connection or link between two people or things.
engineer A person who uses science to solve problems. As a verb, to engineer means to design a device, material or process that will solve some problem or unmet need.
entomologist A biologist who specializes in the study of insects. A paleoentomologist studies ancient insects, mainly through their fossils.
graduate student Someone working toward an advanced degree by taking classes and performing research. This work is done after the student has already graduated from college (usually with a four-year degree).
graphene A superthin, superstrong material made from a single-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms that are linked together.
graphite Like diamond, graphite (the substance found in pencil lead) is a form of pure carbon. Unlike diamond, graphite is very soft. The main difference between these two forms of carbon is the number and type of chemical bonds between carbon atoms in each substance.
host (in biology and medicine) The organism (or environment) in which some other thing resides. Humans may be a temporary host for food-poisoning germs or other infective agents.
humidity A measure of the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. (Air with a lot of water vapor in it is known as humid.)
infectious An adjective that describes a type of germ that can be transmitted to people, animals or other living things.
insect A type of arthropod that as an adult will have six segmented legs and three body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen. There are hundreds of thousands of insects, which include bees, beetles, flies and moths.
malaria A disease caused by a parasite that invades the red blood cells. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes, largely in tropical and subtropical regions.
mammal A warm-blooded animal distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for feeding their young, and (typically) the bearing of live young.
materials scientist Someone who studies how the atomic and molecular structure of a material is related to its overall properties. Materials scientists can design new materials or analyze existing ones. Their analyses of a material’s overall properties (such as density, strength and melting point) can help engineers and other researchers select materials that are best suited to a new application.
microscope An instrument used to view objects, like bacteria, or the single cells of plants or animals, that are too small to be visible to the unaided eye.
molecule An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2); water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).
Nobel prize A prestigious award named after Alfred Nobel. Best known as the inventor of dynamite, Nobel was a wealthy man when he died on December 10, 1896. In his will, Nobel left much of his fortune to create prizes to those who have done their best for humanity in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace. Winners receive a medal and large cash award.
oxide A compound made by combining one or more elements with oxygen. Rust is an oxide; so is water.
oxygen A gas that makes up about 21 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. All animals and many microorganisms need oxygen to fuel their growth (and metabolism).
physics The scientific study of the nature and properties of matter and energy. Classical physics is an explanation of the nature and properties of matter and energy that relies on descriptions such as Newton’s laws of motion. Quantum physics, a field of study that emerged later, is a more accurate way of explaining the motions and behavior of matter. A scientist who works in such areas is known as a physicist.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences A prestigious journal publishing original scientific research, begun in 1914. The journal’s content spans the biological, physical, and social sciences. Each of the more than 3,000 papers it publishes each year, now, are not only peer reviewed but also approved by a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
reduced (in chemistry) An adjective that describes something that has undergone a process (reduction) in which an atom gains an electron by stealing it from another atom or molecule. Reduction is the opposite of oxidation.
serrated A description for a saw-like edge, usually found on knives meant to cut through tough meat.
simulate To deceive in some way by imitating the form or function of something. A simulated dietary fat, for instance, may deceive the mouth that it has tasted a real fat because it has the same feel on the tongue — without having any calories.
skeptical Not easily convinced; having doubts or reservations.
species A group of similar organisms capable of producing offspring that can survive and reproduce.
strategy A thoughtful and clever plan for achieving some difficult or challenging goal.
technology The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.
textile Cloth or fabric that can be woven of nonwoven (such as when fibers are pressed and bonded together).
trait A characteristic feature of something. (in genetics) A quality or characteristic that can be inherited.
transmit (n. transmission) To send or pass along.
unique Something that is unlike anything else; the only one of its kind.
vaccine (v. vaccinate) A biological mixture that resembles a disease-causing agent. It is given to help the body create immunity to a particular disease. The injections used to administer most vaccines are known as vaccinations.
vapors Fumes released when a liquid transforms to a gas, usually as a result of heating.
yellow fever A disease that creates flu-like symptoms that can start with fever, chills, headache, backache and vomiting. Roughly 15 percent of patients may go on to develop more serious disease. This can lead to uncontrolled bleeding, the failure of multiple internal organs — and death.
Zika A viral disease that can be transmitted to humans via mosquitoes. About 20 percent of infected people get sick. Symptoms include a slight fever, rash and pinkeye and usually fade quickly. A growing body of evidence suggests that the virus could also cause a devastating birth defect — microcephaly. Evidence suggests it may also cause neurological conditions such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.