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.
capacitor: An electrical component used to store energy. Unlike batteries, which store energy chemically, capacitors store energy physically, in a form very much like static electricity.
cell: The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells. Most organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.
cellulose: A type of fiber found in plant cell walls. It is formed by chains of glucose molecules.
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.
colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
conductive: Able to carry an electric current.
electric charge: The physical property responsible for electric force; it can be negative or positive.
electric current: A flow of electric charge — electricity — usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.
electrical engineer: An engineer who designs, builds or analyzes electrical equipment.
electrode: A device that conducts electricity and is used to make contact with non-metal part of an electrical circuit, or that contacts something through which an electrical signal moves.
electrolyte: A non-metallic liquid or solid that conducts ions — electrically charged atoms or molecules — to carry electrical charges. (Certain minerals in blood or other bodily fluids can serve as the ions that move to carry a charge.) Electrolytes also can serve as the ions that move positive charges within a battery or capacitor.
electronics: Devices that are powered by electricity but whose properties are controlled by the semiconductors or other circuitry that channel or gate the movement of electric charges.
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.
environment: The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of things in the vicinity of an item of interest).
fabric: Any flexible material that is woven, knitted or can be fused into a sheet by heat.
fuel cell: A device that converts chemical energy into electrical energy. The most common fuel is hydrogen, which emits only water vapor as a byproduct.
ion: An atom or molecule with an electric charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons.
LED (light-emitting diode): A type of semiconductor device that produces light.
materials scientist: A researcher 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.
microbe: Short for microorganism. A living thing that is too small to see with the unaided eye, including bacteria, some fungi and many other organisms such as amoebas. Most consist of a single cell.
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), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).
polyester: A synthetic material used chiefly to make fabrics. The actual chemical name for the material used is polyethylene terephthalate.
polymer: A substance made from long chains of repeating groups of atoms. Manufactured polymers include nylon, polyvinyl chloride (better known as PVC) and many types of plastics. Natural polymers include rubber, silk and cellulose (found in plants and used to make paper, for example).
salt: A compound made by combining an acid with a base (in a reaction that also creates water). The ocean contains many different salts — collectively called “sea salt.” Common table salt is a made of sodium and chlorine.
secrete: (noun: secretion) The natural release of some liquid substance — such as hormones, an oil or saliva — often by an organ of the body.
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.
solution: A liquid in which one chemical has been dissolved into another.
supercapacitor: A capacitor with two conducting surfaces, or electrodes (like other capacitors), on which a charge of energy is stored. Unlike ordinary capacitors (but like batteries), an electrolyte separates the two electrodes. In this sense, a supercapacitor is essentially a battery-capacitor hybrid.
sustainable: An adjective to describe the use of resources in a such a way that they will continue to be available long into the future.