anatomy (adj. anatomical) The study of the organs and tissues of animals. Or the characterization of the body or parts of the body on the basis of its structure and tissues. Scientists who work in this field are known as anatomists.
average (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.
basic research Research performed to gain a general understanding of how things work, and not with any particular application in mind. This type of work is contrasted with applied research, which is work done to accomplish a particular purpose — such as to cure disease, make a building stronger or make a fuel burn cleaner.
biomechanicist A scientist who studies how living things move. For humans or other large animals, this might involve analyzing the forces exerted by muscles, tendons and gravity on an individual’s skeletal (or other supporting) structures.
biomimicry The creation of new devices or techniques based on those seen in living organisms.
criteria (sing. criterion) The standards, rules, traits or other things used to make a judgment or determination about something.
current A fluid — such as of water or air — that moves in a recognizable direction. (in electricity) The flow of electricity or the amount of charge moving through some material over a particular period of time.
filament Something with a thin, thread-like shape. For instance, the fragile metal wire that heats up to emit light inside an incandescent light bulb is known as its filament.
flex To bend without breaking. A material with this property is described as flexible.
friction The resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over or through another material (such as a fluid or a gas). Friction generally causes a heating, which can damage a surface of some material as it rubs against another.
generation A group of individuals (in any species) born at about the same time or that are regarded as a single group. Your parents belong to one generation of your family, for example, and your grandparents to another. Similarly, you and everyone within a few years of your age across the planet are referred to as belonging to a particular generation of humans. The term also is sometimes extended to year classes of other animals or to types of inanimate objects (such as electronics or automobiles).
Hawaii This central Pacific island chain became the 50th U.S. state on Aug. 21, 1959. Moving from west to east, its eight major islands are Niihau, Kauai, Oahu, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe, Maui, and Hawaii (also known as the Big Island). The entire crescent-shaped island chain spans some 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles). Each of the state’s islands was created from one or more volcanoes that long ago sprang up from the ocean floor. The chain sits some 3,857 kilometers (2,397 miles) west of San Francisco, Calif., and 8,516 kilometers east of Manila, the Philippines.
infection A disease that can spread from one organism to another. It’s usually caused by some type of germ.
intertidal zone The area of a beach that is dry during low tide but covered in water at high tide.
micrometer (sometimes called a micron) One thousandth of a millimeter, or one millionth of a meter. It’s also equivalent to a few one-hundred-thousandths of an inch.
migration (v. migrate) Movement from one region or habitat to another, especially regularly (and according to the seasons) or to cope with some driving force (such as climate or war). An individual that makes this move is known as a migrant.
organism Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.
Pacific The largest of the world’s five oceans. It separates Asia and Australia to the west from North and South America to the east.
papillae (sing. papilla) In biology, these are small round projections, or protuberances, from a surface. They range from pimples on the skin to bumps at the root of a hair or feather. The best known are those bumps on the tongue that host taste buds.
pectoral fins The fins that emerge from the side of a fish, just behind its head. They help direct the animal’s motion. They effectively correspond to the arms (or forelimbs) of a land animal.
pressure Force applied uniformly over a surface, measured as force per unit of area.
range The full extent or distribution of something. For instance, a plant or animal’s range is the area over which it naturally exists.
risk The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. (For instance: Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.)
sensor A device that picks up information on physical or chemical conditions — such as temperature, barometric pressure, salinity, humidity, pH, light intensity or radiation — and stores or broadcasts that information. Scientists and engineers often rely on sensors to inform them of conditions that may change over time or that exist far from where a researcher can measure them directly. (in biology) The structure that an organism uses to sense attributes of its environment, such as heat, winds, chemicals, moisture, trauma or an attack by predators.
tag (in conservation science) To attach some rugged band or package of instruments onto an animal. Sometimes the tag is used to give individual animals a unique identification number. Once attached to the leg, ear or other part of the body of a critter, it can effectively become the animal’s “name.” In some instances, a tag can collect information from the environment around the animal as well. This helps scientists understand both the environment and the animal’s role within it.
tagging (in biology) Attaching some rugged band or package of instruments onto an animal. Sometimes the tag is used to give individual animals a unique identification number. Once attached to the leg, ear or other part of the body of a critter, it can effectively become the animal’s “name.” In some instances, a tag can collect information from the environment around the animal as well. This helps scientists understand both the environment and the animal’s role within it.
tissue Made of cells, it is any of the distinct types of materials that make up animals, plants or fungi. Cells within a tissue work as a unit to perform a particular function in living organisms. Different organs of the human body, for instance, often are made from many different types of tissues.
vertebrate The group of animals with a brain, two eyes, and a stiff nerve cord or backbone running down the back. This group includes amphibians, reptiles, birds, mammals and most fish.
warp A change in the shape, usually due to some twisting or curving in a normally flat surface or plane. A piece of wet lumber may warp as it dries unevenly, causing it to bow or show a slight twist.
wave A disturbance or variation that travels through space and matter in a regular, oscillating fashion.
whale A common, but fairly imprecise, term for a class of large mammals that lives in the ocean. This group includes dolphins and porpoises.