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.
bacteria: (adj. bacterial; sing. bacterium) Single-celled organisms. These dwell nearly everywhere on Earth, from the bottom of the sea to inside other living organisms (such as plants and animals). Bacteria are one of the three domains of life on Earth.
behavior: The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.
biofuels: Energy sources derived from carbon stored in living organisms. Although wood is a biofuel, most people who support “green” sources of energy consider biofuels to be liquids that can substitute for gasoline. Examples include bioethanol, an alcohol derived from crops such as corn or sugarcane. Engineers are also developing ways to make biofuels from nonfood crops, such as trees and shrubs. Renewable biofuels are an alternative to nonrenewable fossil fuels.
carbon: A chemical element that is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules. (in climate studies) The term carbon sometimes will be used almost interchangeably with carbon dioxide to connote the potential impacts that some action, product, policy or process may have on long-term atmospheric warming.
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. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter burns (including fossil fuels like oil or gas). Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.
cell: (in biology) 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.
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.
conducting: (in physics and engineering) The process or ability of some structure to direct a flow through it of some current (especially an electric current).
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.
develop: To emerge or to make come into being, either naturally or through human intervention, such as by manufacturing.
electric current: A flow of electric charge — electricity — usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.
electricity: A flow of charge, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.
electron: A negatively charged particle, usually found orbiting the outer regions of an atom; also, the carrier of electricity within solids.
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. (v.) To perform these tasks, or the name for a person who performs such tasks.
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).
fossil fuel: Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.
fuel: Any material that will release energy during a controlled chemical or nuclear reaction. Fossil fuels (coal, natural gas and petroleum) are a common type that liberate their energy through chemical reactions that take place when heated (usually to the point of burning).
gene: (adj. genetic) A segment of DNA that codes, or holds instructions, for a cell’s production of a protein. Offspring inherit genes from their parents. Genes influence how an organism looks and behaves.
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.
microbiologist: Scientists who study microorganisms, the infections they might cause or ways that they can interact with their environment.
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).
organism: Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.
particle: A minute amount of something.
protein: A compound made from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues; they also do the work inside of cells. Among the better-known, stand-alone proteins are the hemoglobin (in blood) and the antibodies (also in blood) that attempt to fight infections. Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.
solar: Having to do with the sun or the radiation it emits. It comes from sol, Latin for sun.
system: A network of parts that together work to achieve some function. For instance, the blood, vessels and heart are primary components of the human body’s circulatory system. Similarly, trains, platforms, tracks, roadway signals and overpasses are among the potential components of a nation’s railway system. System can even be applied to the processes or ideas that are part of some method or ordered set of procedures for getting a task done.
toxic: Poisonous or able to harm or kill cells, tissues or whole organisms. The measure of risk posed by such a poison is its toxicity.