bacteria: (singular: 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.
bleach: A dilute form of the liquid, sodium hypochlorite, that is used around the home to lighten and brighten fabrics, to remove stains or to kill germs. Or it can mean to lighten something permanently, such as: Being in constant sunlight bleached most of the rich coloring out of the window drapes.
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.
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. (in social science) A term for the ability of people to cooperate, get along and enjoy each other’s company.
colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
compound: (often used as a synonym for chemical) A compound is a substance formed when two or more chemical elements unite (bond) in fixed proportions. For example, water is a compound made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.
degrade: To break down into smaller, simpler materials — as when wood rots or as a flag that’s left outdoors in the weather will fray, fade and fall apart. (in chemistry) To break down a compound into smaller components.
DNA: (short for deoxyribonucleic acid) A long, double-stranded and spiral-shaped molecule inside most living cells that carries genetic instructions. It is built on a backbone of phosphorus, oxygen, and carbon atoms. In all living things, from plants and animals to microbes, these instructions tell cells which molecules to make.
E. coli: (short for Escherichia coli) A common bacterium that researchers often harness to study genetics. Some naturally occurring strains of this microbe cause disease, but many others do not.
economy: Term for the combined wealth and resources (people, jobs, land, forests and minerals, for instance) of a nation or region. It is often measured in terms of jobs and income or in terms of the production and use of goods (such as products) and services (for instance, nursing or internet access).
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).
environmental engineer: A person who uses science to study and solve problems in ecosystems — from forests to the human body.
germ: Any one-celled microorganism, such as a bacterium or fungal species, or a virus particle. Some germs cause disease. Others can promote the health of more complex organisms, including birds and mammals. The health effects of most germs, however, remain unknown.
infection: (adj. infectious) A disease that can spread from one organism to another. It’s usually caused by some type of microbe.
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.
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), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).
phenol: A toxic acid that is usually made from coal tar. It has the chemical formula C6H5OH and is used in the production of many commercial chemicals. Dilute phenol is known as carbolic acid and can be used as a disinfectant.
pressure: Force applied uniformly over a surface, measured as force per unit of area.
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.
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.
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.
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.
toxicologist: A scientist who investigates the potential harm posed by physical agents in the environment. These may include materials to which we may be intentionally exposed, such as chemicals, cigarette smoke and foods, or materials to which we are exposed without choice, such as air and water pollutants. Toxicologists may study the risks such exposures cause, how they produce harm or how they move throughout the environment.
virus: Tiny infectious particles consisting of genetic material (RNA or DNA) surrounded by protein. Viruses can reproduce only by injecting their genetic material into the cells of living creatures. Although scientists frequently refer to viruses as live or dead, in fact many scientists argue that no virus is truly alive. It doesn’t eat like animals do, or make its own food the way plants do. It must hijack the cellular machinery of a living cell in order to survive.
waste: Any materials that are left over from biological or other systems that have no value, so they can be disposed of as trash or recycled for some new use.