The languages of the fields

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: SN 10: Scientists to Watch / View Guide

Directions: Define key science terms relating to the SN 10: Scientists to watch using contextual clues from the articles. Consult an outside resource if necessary.

Word bank and definitions by science subtopic:       


What is RNA?

RNA is ribonucleic acid. It is a molecule in cells that is used to copy the instructions in DNA and direct the creation of proteins essential to the cell’s function.            

What is a polymerase?

A polymerase is an enzyme that takes smaller chemical molecule subunits called monomers and joins them together to make a long molecule called a polymer. A DNA polymerase joins together nucleotides to make a new DNA strand, generally copying from an existing DNA strand. An RNA polymerase joins together RNA nucleotides to make a new RNA strand, either copying from an existing DNA strand (in normal cells) or sometimes from an RNA strand (in some virus-infected cells).

What is transcription?

Transcription is the process of making an RNA copy of DNA. In normal cells, enzymes open the DNA strands of a gene. Then RNA polymerase forms on one of the DNA strands and makes an RNA copy of it.

What is the human microbiome?

The human microbiome is the collection of microorganisms — bacteria, viruses, fungi and more —that live on a person’s skin and inside the gastrointestinal tract and other areas of the body. The microorganisms of the human microbiome are generally harmless, but can cause illness under certain circumstances. Microbes living in and on the human body can even perform useful services, ranging from helping to digest food to preventing harmful microorganisms from invading the same space.

What is chronic inflammation?

Chronic inflammation occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly signals cells to attack invaders when there are no invaders to be found. The resulting ongoing overreaction by cells can cause a variety of problems, damaging tissue in the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory system, joints, nerves or other regions of the body.

What is asthma?

Asthma is chronic inflammation of the airways of the lungs, which causes swelling. As a result, the body can expand to breathe in air, but loses the ability to exhale appropriately. Muscles lining the airways can contract or spasm, constricting the airways and making it harder to breathe. Asthma can be triggered or worsened by allergens or other substances that the immune system recognizes and tries to attack.



What is choline?

Choline is a vitamin; the human body can make some choline, but not as much as it needs, so it is necessary to obtain choline from foods or vitamin supplements. In the body, choline is a chemical signal that relays messages between nerve cells and other types of cells.

What is TMAO?

Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is a chemical molecule, (CH3)3NO. It is produced in response to certain foods by some bacteria in the human gastrointestinal tract, where it can then enter the bloodstream. High levels of TMAO in the blood may be associated with cardiovascular disease.

What is a lithium ion battery?

Lithium ion batteries have a graphite anode containing loose lithium atoms, a liquid electrolyte (typically an organic solvent) and a cathode (typically a metal oxide). Electrons leave the anode, travel through an electric circuit and return to the cathode. Lithium ion batteries have become widely used in modern devices such as cell phones, laptops and smartwatches.

What is a flow battery?

Flow batteries have two tanks of liquid (one positively charged and one negatively charged) that are separated by a membrane. Where the liquids meet, their ions exchange and generate electric current. Flow batteries can store large amounts of energy, which could make them useful for electric cars and the U.S. power grid.

What is electroplating?

Electroplating is a process used to coat one metal with a thin layer of another metal. The process involves placing a metal object in a solution containing ions of another metal and then passing an electric current through the system. That causes the ions to adhere to the metal object. Electroplating can be used to deposit thin layers of silver or gold on jewelry, coat electrical connectors with gold and coat iron or steel hardware with zinc.

What is corrosion?

Corrosion is the reaction between oxygen and a metal, usually forming a metal oxide, such as iron oxide.

What is spectroscopy?

Spectroscopy is a tool that uses light to determine characteristics of an object. By analyzing how an object scatters light into various wavelengths, scientists can infer physical properties of the object including its temperature, mass, luminosity and chemical makeup.

Physics and astronomy

What is a jamming transition?

In a jamming transition, the components of a material change from flowing freely by each other to sticking together. Jamming transitions can happen with anything from sand to human cells to herds of students eager to leave school.

What is a phase transition?

A phase transition is a change in how the atoms, molecules, or other components of a material are organized. The best-known phase transitions are from solid to liquid, liquid to gas, and gas to plasma. Some materials such as liquid crystals can have additional phase transitions in which their properties change in more subtle ways.

What is condensation?

Condensation is a phase transition from a gas or vapor into a liquid. The best-known example of condensation is when water molecules in the air join together to become droplets of water that form clouds or rain.

What is a scanning electron microscope?

A scanning electron microscope uses a beam of electrons to create an image of an object. Because electrons can act like waves, and because those electron waves can be much smaller than light waves, an electron microscope can visualize much smaller features than an ordinary light microscope.

What is a black hole?

A region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation (including light) can escape. Most black holes form when very large stars run out of fuel and collapse.

What is Hawking radiation?

Hawking radiation is the theoretical faint glow of particles emitted by black holes. According to quantum mechanics, pairs of particles and antiparticles pervade all of space. Each particle and its antiparticle partner annihilate one another almost as soon as the pair appears. However, if a particle-antiparticle pair appears just outside of a black hole and one of the particles falls into the black hole, the surviving member of the pair can escape. Hawking radiation has never been directly observed.

What is quantum gravity?

A theory of quantum gravity would unite quantum physics — which describes the behavior of very small things including electrons, protons, neutrons and photons — with Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which describes the different but equally strange behavior of space and time in regions with gravitational fields. We do not currently have a good theory of quantum gravity.

What is stellar evolution?

Stellar evolution usually refers to how one star changes over the course of its lifetime, although evolution can be applied to trace the relationships among multiple stars. Stars are born from fusion reactions that occur when massive clouds of mostly hydrogen heat up and collapse. Toward the end of a star’s life, it experiences a series of reactions that result in the collapse of its core. Depending on the star’s mass, the stellar core can form one of three objects: a white dwarf, a neutron star or a black hole. 

Earth and environmental science

What is climate change?

Climate change is long-term, significant change in Earth’s climate. It can happen naturally and in response to human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, which produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. As those gases accumulate in the atmosphere, they trap longer-wavelength solar radiation reflected as heat by Earth. As a result, Earth is warming at an accelerated rate.

What is energy conservation?

Energy conservation is any behavior that results in the use of less energy. Important methods of energy conservation include improving the efficiency of devices such as light bulbs, refrigerators and other household appliances, increasing recycling and producing less goods from new materials, and traveling less on airplanes or other vehicles that require a lot of energy.

What is water treatment?

Water treatment is the process of making water drawn from lakes, rivers, reservoirs and underground wells safe for people to drink, cook and bathe with. The complex, multi-step process involves removing potentially harmful substances — including microbes, minerals and certain chemicals — and adding beneficial substances such as fluoride.

What is a volcano?

A volcano is a place on Earth’s crust that opens, allowing hot molten rock called magma and gases to spew out from underground. The magma rises through a system of pipes or channels, sometimes spending time in chambers where it bubbles with gas and undergoes chemical transformations. Once the magma spews onto Earth’s surface, it’s called lava. The surface around a volcano’s opening can grow into a mound or cone shape as successive eruptions send more lava onto the surface, where it cools into hard rock.


What is chaos?

Chaos occurs when a small change in the input conditions of a system can cause a very large change in the output. The most famous example of chaos is the butterfly effect: a hypothetical scenario in which a butterfly flaps its wings, and the tiny change in airflow affects when and where a storm appears. Some systems are less chaotic than others and can be easily predicted, such as the motion of two objects orbiting each other in space. The more objects that are added to such a system, the more chaotic the system becomes. Recently, black holes have been found to reach the peak of chaos — nothing can be more chaotic than a black hole.

What is Big Data?

Big Data is a term that refers to the accumulation of data sets that are too large and complex for processing by traditional database management tools. A few examples of Big Data include the online behavior of everyone using the internet worldwide or health records of millions of people. Researchers are designing and testing new techniques to extract useful information from such data sets.