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algae Single-celled organisms, once considered plants (they aren’t). As aquatic organisms, they grow in water. Like green plants, they depend on sunlight to make their food.
bloom (in microbiology) The rapid and largely uncontrolled growth of a species, such as algae in waterways enriched with nutrients.
chemical A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (become bonded together) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O. Chemical can also be an adjective that describes properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.
chemical engineer A researcher who uses chemistry to solve problems related to the production of food, fuel, medicines and many other products.
concentration (in chemistry) A measurement of how much of one substance has been dissolved into another.
current (in electricity) The flow of electricity or the amount of electricity moving through some point over a particular period of time.
diabetes A disease where the body either makes too little of the hormone insulin (known as type 1 disease) or ignores the presence of too much insulin when it is present (known as type 2 diabetes).
electrical conductivity The ability of some substance (such as water or metals) to transport an electrical charge or current.
electrical engineer An engineer who designs, builds or analyzes electrical equipment.
electric charge The physical property responsible for electric force; it can be negative or positive.
electric current A flow of charge, called electricity, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.
engineering The field of research that uses math and science to solve practical problems.
Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) An agency of the U.S. government that is charged with helping create a cleaner, safer and healthier environment in the United States. Created on Dec. 2, 1970, it reviews data on the possible toxicity of new chemicals (other than food or drugs, which are regulated by other agencies) before they are approved for sale and use. Where such chemicals may be toxic, it sets rules on how much may be used and where it may be used. It also sets limits on the release of pollution into the air, water or soil.
enzymes Molecules made by living things to speed up chemical reactions.
field A term to describe a real-world environment in which some research is conducted, such as at sea, in a forest, on a mountaintop or on a city street. It is the opposite of an artificial setting, such as a research laboratory.
filter (in chemistry and environmental science) A device which allows some materials to pass through but not others, based on their size or some other feature. (in physics) A screen, plate or layer of a substance that absorbs light or other radiation or selectively prevents the transmission of some of its components.
gauge An 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.
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).
ion An atom or molecule with an electric charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons.
liver An organ of the body of animals with backbones that performs a number of important functions. It can store fat and sugar as energy, breakdown harmful substances for excretion by the body, and secrete bile, a greenish fluid released into the gut, where it helps digest fats and neutralize acids.
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.
microbiology The study of microorganisms, principally bacteria, fungi and viruses. Scientists who study microbes and the infections they can cause or ways that they can interact with their environment are known as microbiologists.
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).
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (or NOAA) A science agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Initially established in 1807 under another name (The Survey of the Coast), this agency focuses on understanding and preserving ocean resources, including fisheries, protecting marine mammals (from seals to whales), studying the seafloor and probing the upper atmosphere.
potent An adjective for something (like a germ, poison, drug or acid) that is very strong or powerful.
residue A remnant or material that is left behind after something has been removed. For instance, residues of paint may remain behind after someone attempts to sand a piece of wood; or sticky residues of adhesive tape may remain on the skin after a bandage is removed; or residues of chemicals may remain in the blood after exposure to a pollutant.
risk The chance or mathematical likelihood that some bad thing might happen. For instance, exposure to radiation poses a risk of cancer. Or the hazard — or peril — itself. Among cancer risks that the people faced were radiation and drinking water tainted with arsenic.
semiconductor A material that sometimes conducts electricity. Semiconductors are important parts of computer chips and certain new electronic technologies, such as light-emitting diodes.
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.
taint To contaminate.
tin A metallic element with the atomic number 50.
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.
toxin A poison produced by living organisms, such as germs, bees, spiders, poison ivy and snakes.
trillion A number representing a million million — or 1,000,000,000,000 — of something.
weather Conditions in the atmosphere at a localized place and a particular time. It is usually described in terms of particular features, such as air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed. Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It’s different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in some general region during a particular month or season.
World Health Organization An agency of the United Nations, established in 1948, to promote health and to control communicable diseases. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland. The United Nations relies on the WHO for providing international leadership on global health matters. This organization also helps shape the research agenda.