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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.
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.
colleague Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.
crystal (adj. crystalline) A solid consisting of a symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional arrangement of atoms or molecules. It’s the organized structure taken by most minerals. Apatite, for example, forms six-sided crystals. The mineral crystals that make up rock are usually too small to be seen with the unaided eye.
dissolve To turn a solid into a liquid and disperse it into that starting liquid. (For instance, sugar or salt crystals, which are solids, will dissolve into water. Now the crystals are gone and the solution is a fully dispersed mix of the liquid form of the sugar or salt in water.)
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.
extract (v.) To separate one chemical (or component of something) from a complex mix. (noun) A substance, often in concentrated form, that has been removed from its natural source. Extracts are often taken from plants (such as spearmint or lavender), flowers and buds (such as roses and cloves), fruit (such as lemons and oranges) or seeds and nuts (such as almonds and pistachios). Such extracts, sometimes used in cooking, often have very strong scents or flavors.
fabric Any flexible material that is woven, knitted or can be fused into a sheet by heat.
fat A natural oily or greasy substance occurring in plants and in animal bodies, especially when deposited as a layer under the skin or around certain organs. Fat’s primary role is as an energy reserve. Fat also is a vital nutrient, though it can be harmful if consumed in excessive amounts.
fiber Something whose shape resembles a thread or filament. (in nutrition) Components of many fibrous plant-based foods. These so-called non-digestible fibers tend to come from cellulose, lignin, and pectin — all plant constituents that resist breakdown by the body’s digestive enzymes.
gel A gooey or viscous material that can flow like a thick liquid.
graduate student Someone working toward an advanced degree by taking classes and performing research. This work is done after the student has already graduated from college (usually with a four-year degree).
hydrocolloid Long chains of a substance suspended in water.
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).
pulp The fibrous inner part of a vegetable or fruit (such as an orange).
rachis (in botany) The main stalk of a plant from which a flower will emerge or the main stem of a compound leaf (such as those on ferns).
recycle To find new uses for something — or parts of something — that might otherwise be discarded, or treated as waste.
seaweed Large algae growing in the sea or on rocks below the high-water mark.
viscosity The measure of a fluid’s resistance to stress. Viscosity corresponds to the idea of how “thick” a liquid is. Honey is very viscous, for instance, while water has relatively low viscosity.
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.
wood A porous and fibrous structural tissue found in the stems and roots of trees, shrubs and other woody plants.