Bye-bye batteries? Power a phone with fabric or a beacon with sound


acetone: A chemical produced by the body that is detectable in people’s breath. It’s also an extremely flammable liquid solvent used, for example, in nail polish remover.

aquatic: An adjective that refers to water.

audible: Something that can be heard, usually with ears or other sound-sensing structures.

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.

circuit: A network that transmits electrical signals. In the body, nerve cells create circuits that relay electrical signals to the brain. In electronics, wires typically route those signals to activate some mechanical, computational or other function.

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.)

dolphins: A highly intelligent group of marine mammals that belong to the toothed-whale family. Members of this group include orcas (killer whales), pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins.

echo: To bounce back. For example, sound bouncing off walls of a tunnel, and returning to their source. Radio waves emitted above the surface can also bounce off the bedrock underneath an ice sheet — then return to the surface.

echolocation: (in animals) A behavior in which animals emit calls and then listen to the echoes that bounce back off of solid things in the environment. This behavior can be used to navigate and to find food or mates. It is the biological analog of the sonar used by submarines.

eel: A fish with a snake-like body and no scales. Many migrate from freshwater to salt water when it’s time to spawn.

electric charge: The physical property responsible for electric force; it can be negative or positive.

electricity: A flow of charge, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.

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).

fabric: Any flexible material that is woven, knitted or can be fused into a sheet by heat.

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.

GPS: Abbreviation for global positioning system, which uses a device to calculate the position of individuals or things (in terms of latitude, longitude and elevation — or altitude) from any place on the ground or in the air. The device does this by comparing how long it takes signals from different satellites to reach it.

Internet of Things: The network of physical objects that have been equipped with electronic devices to let them gather and share information. This allows these objects to observe and interact with their environment.

LED: (short for light emitting diode) Electronic components that, as their name suggests, emit light when electricity flows through them. LEDs are very energy-efficient and often can be very bright. They have lately been replacing conventional lights for home and commercial lamps.

marine: Having to do with the ocean world or environment.

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).

monitor: To test, sample or watch something, especially on a regular or ongoing basis.

network: A group of interconnected people or things. (v.) The act of connecting with other people who work in a given area or do similar thing (such as artists, business leaders or medical-support groups), often by going to gatherings where such people would be expected, and then chatting them up. (n. networking)

novel: Something that is clever or unusual and new, as in never seen before.

nylon: A silky material that is made from long, manufactured molecules called polymers. These are long chains of atoms linked together.

piezoelectric: An adjective describing the ability of certain materials (such as crystals) to develop an electric voltage when deformed, or squeezed.

plastic: Any of a series of materials that are easily deformable; or synthetic materials that have been made from polymers (long strings of some building-block molecule) that tend to be lightweight, inexpensive and resistant to degradation.

pressure: Force applied uniformly over a surface, measured as force per unit of area.

radio: Referring to radio waves, or the device that receives these transmissions. Radio waves are a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that people often use for long-distance communication. Longer than the waves of visible light, radio waves are used to transmit radio and television signals. They also are used in radar. Many astronomical objects also radiate some of their energy as radio waves.

real time: A term that connotes immediacy; something is being studied, recorded and/or reported at the very time it is happening.

robot: A machine that can sense its environment, process information and respond with specific actions. Some robots can act without any human input, while others are guided by a human.

satellite: A moon orbiting a planet or a vehicle or other manufactured object that orbits some celestial body in space.

sea: An ocean (or region that is part of an ocean). Unlike lakes and streams, seawater — or ocean water — is salty.

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. (in biology) The structure that an organism uses to sense attributes of its environment, such as heat, winds, chemicals, moisture, trauma or an attack by predators.

sound wave: A wave that transmits sound. Sound waves have alternating swaths of high and low pressure.

submarine: A term for beneath the oceans. (in transportation) A ship designed to move through the oceans, totally submerged. Such ships — especially those used in research — are also known as submersibles.

technology: The application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry — or the devices, processes and systems that result from those efforts.

transmit: (n. transmission) To send or pass along.

wake: An area of disturbed air or water left behind an object (such as a boat or animal) moving through it. Or a term for the collective events kicked off by a momentous decision or occurrence.

watt: A measure of the rate of energy use, flux (or flow) or production. It is equivalent to one joule per second. It describes the rate of energy converted from one form to another — or moved — per unit of time. For instance, a kilowatt is 1,000 watts, and household energy use is typically measured and quantified in terms of kilowatt-hours, or the number of kilowatts used per hour.

wave: A disturbance or variation that travels through space and matter in a regular, oscillating fashion.