artifact: Some human-made object (such as a pot or brick) that can be used as one gauge of a community’s culture or history.
atom: (adj. atomic) 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.
cloud: A plume of molecules or particles, such as water droplets, that move under the action of an outside force, such as wind, radiation or water currents.
colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
commentary: (in science) An opinion piece, often written to accompany — and add perspective to — a paper by others, which describes new research findings.
constant: (in mathematics or physics) Something that is known and unchanging, usually based on some mathematical definition. For example, π (pi) is a constant equal to 3.14. . . and defined as the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter.
crest: (in physics) The top, or highest point, in a wave.
density: The measure of how condensed some object is, found by dividing its mass by its volume.
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.
factor: Something that plays a role in a particular condition or event; a contributor.
field: (in physics) A region in space where certain physical effects operate, such as magnetism (created by a magnetic field), gravity (by a gravitational field), mass (by a Higgs field) or electricity (by an electrical field).
fundamental: Something that is basic or serves as the foundation for another thing or idea.
gauge: A device to measure the size or volume of something. For instance, tide gauges track the ever-changing height of coastal water levels throughout the day. Or any system or event that can be used to estimate the size or magnitude of something else. (v. to gauge) The act of measuring or estimating the size of something.
gravity: The force that attracts anything with mass, or bulk, toward any other thing with mass. The more mass that something has, the greater its gravity.
groundwater: Water that is held underground in the soil or in pores and crevices in rock.
interference pattern: A pattern that can emerge in optics or acoustics when the two or more waves (of light or of sound) having the same frequency and shape intersect and interfere with each other. In optics, the pattern can take the form of alternating dark and bright bands.
laser: A device that generates an intense beam of coherent light of a single color. Lasers are used in drilling and cutting, alignment and guidance, in data storage and in surgery.
magma: The molten rock that resides under Earth’s crust. When it erupts from a volcano, this material is referred to as lava.
mass: A number that shows how much an object resists speeding up and slowing down — basically a measure of how much matter that object is made from.
monitor: To test, sample or watch something, especially on a regular or ongoing basis.
peer: (noun) Someone who is an equal, based on age, education, status, training or some other features. (verb) To look into something, searching for details.
pristine: An adjective referring to something that is in original or near-original condition. It means something is somewhat old but in a seemingly “untouched” or unaltered condition.
quantum physics: A branch of physics that uses quantum theory to explain or predict how a physical system will operate on the scale of atoms or sub-atomic particles. Scientists who work in such areas are known as quantum physicists.
rubidium: Number 37 on the periodic table, German chemists discovered this element in 1861. Its presence created a deep red spectral line that showed up on an instrument (called a spectroscope). It had been used to analyze a mineral that contained this element. Rubidium’s name reflects the spectral surprise: It’s Latin for the deepest red.
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.
subtle: Adjective for something that may be important, but can be hard to see or describe. For instance, the first cellular changes that signal the start of a cancer may be only subtly different — as in small and hard to distinguish from nearby healthy tissues.
supercooled: Adjective for some liquid or gas that has been cooled to below its freezing point without it becoming a solid.
superposition: (in quantum physics) The ability of some minute subatomic-scale particle to be more than one place at the same time. It has to do with particles in the quantum world having the weird capacity to exist in all possible states (or positions) at once.
theory: (in science) A description of some aspect of the natural world based on extensive observations, tests and reason. A theory can also be a way of organizing a broad body of knowledge that applies in a broad range of circumstances to explain what will happen. Unlike the common definition of theory, a theory in science is not just a hunch. Ideas or conclusions that are based on a theory — and not yet on firm data or observations — are referred to as theoretical. Scientists who use mathematics and/or existing data to project what might happen in new situations are known as theorists.
tool: An object that a person or other animal makes or obtains and then uses to carry out some purpose such as reaching food, defending itself or grooming.
trough: (in physics) the bottom or low point in a wave.
vacuum: Space with little or no matter in it. Laboratories or manufacturing plants may use vacuum equipment to pump out air, creating an area known as a vacuum chamber.
wave: A disturbance or variation that travels through space and matter in a regular, oscillating fashion.
wave-particle duality: The concept that a subatomic particle can exhibit properties of a wave and a particle. But at any one time it will only show attributes of being either a wave or a particle.