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STEM Vocabulary Builder

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Vocabulary Builder has been a regular feature of our fan page wall on Facebook since May 15, 2010.  It is our goal to help build up the working vocabulary for STEM related terms as an aid to educators, for students, or for anyone who is an enthusiast for STEM topics.  To do this we post a word related to STEM, define it, and put it into context by linking to some story, video, or content on the web.  Sometimes we also follow up with additional resources and links to the discipline or field that the word is used in.  This page serves as an alphabetical listing of all the words that have been STEM Vocabulary words.

This page is not an exhaustive list of STEM vocabulary terms but instead is a growing list that from time to time also has a sense of humor! Check back often, we'll update this page each time we add a new STEM vocabulary word to our fan page wall.

Don't forget to check out our other free resources for Educators, Students, Citizen Scientists, and STEM Enthusiasts. 
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About the “controversial” use of Wikipedia in links for some terms.  We understand that some educators decry the use of Wikipedia.  It is our belief that students should understand the information that they consume and that includes responsibly checking out the publisher, editor, author, biases, timeliness, and technical limitations of that information.  Wikipedia is not a “primary” source of information, however it can be a great general purpose encyclopedia and often does link to many great resources for scientific and technical concepts.  The fact that it is a community generated, edited, and moderated encyclopedia is both a potential weakness and its greatest strength.  The technology that drives wikipedia is also an important STEM topic in and of itself!  As a result we will use wikipedia as a general source as long as those entries are relevant. 
Stem Vocabulary Builder Words (in alphabetical order)
Format: Word (Discipline) Definition (next line) Link to Related Story/Resource (next line for some articles) More Links to Related Resources

Argiope aurantia
(Biology) The scientific name for a writing spider / Black and Yellow Garden Spider.  A large non-harmful spider that weaves zig-zag and “x” patterns in its web in order to be visible to birds and small animals so that they won't inadvertently knock the web down.  The same kind of spider that is the title character of children's classic “Charlotte's Web”

(Biology) A ray finned salt water fish of the genus Sphyraena (the only genus of the family Sphyraenidae) found in tropical and subtropical oceans. Barracudas are covered with small smooth scales and some can grow up to 1.8 meters in length. Similar in appearance to a Pike.

(from Mathematics/Geometry) A regular solid figure or polyhedron having 12 sides each of which forms the plane shape of a regular pentagon.

More Info on Megaminx:

Dodecahedrons in Fiction: A Dodecahedron was the maguffin in the "Doctor Who" episode "Meglos" serving as both power-source and scientific curiosity to the scientists in a society, and the deity to the rest of that society. In reality it was the energy source to a powerful weapon built by a neighboring society of war like cacti!

(Coined 1857 from Greek "ergon" Work & "nomos" Principles or Laws) the scientific study of fitting the workplace to the worker in order to increase safety, avoid stress injury, and increase efficiency. The discipline includes the study of anatomy, human factors, and physics. This month (October) is National Ergonomics Month.

(From Computer Science / Software Development especially in the open source world) The process of starting a new version of a software project while the original version continues on under its existing name. This is often done due to philosophical differences between individual coders about the software, features, direction, ownership, or licensing.

Fourier Analysis
(From Mathematics named for Joseph Fourier) is the breaking down of a complex function (or waveform) into series of simpler trigonometric functions. The frequencies of those functions then form harmonic series. (based on the Fourier series and transform)

The Harmonium is a mechanical computer designed to perform Fourier Analysis and Synthesis. It is a device that is as much art as it is technology and is designed by maker Tatjana van Vark of the Netherlands. She is a prolific maker having started in her early teenage years by building her own oscilloscope for her studies! (her site is filled with interesting and artful devices and inspiring creations for any maker, engineer, or educator).

Learn more about the building of the Harmonium (and its many mechanical computer components) here:

Hoopy Frood

(from Science Fiction) as in "Hey you sass that hoopy Ford Prefect? There's a frood who really knows where his to towel is" Hoopy is galactic hitch hiker slang for "really together guy" and Frood is slang for "really amazingly together guy" (from Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy) happy towel day everyone, celebrate the science fiction humorist Douglas Adams' life and works today! (May 25th)

(from Science)  The scientific study and art of measuring time. The video below shows an intricate time piece from Shibuya Tokyo (lots of good links to Horological societies in this wikipedia article:

(from mathematics) a spiraling curve contained within a plane with multiple loops such as those produced by the popular toy "Spirograph". Here we see a robot that uses force feedback to plot a Hypotrochoid using a spirograph set. (originally posted at the MAKE Magazine blog)

Spirograph Information from Wikipedia:

History of the Spirograph (from eHow):

Parametric Equations (Java App) from Penn State:

(from Science and Technology) a delay time between the effect (output) in a system compared to its cause (input or stimulus) that can sometimes be thought of as a kind of memory. Ferromagnetic materials have a natural hysteresis. Temperature Control systems show a delay between setting a temperature via thermostat and achieving that temperature in a room.

Hysteresis loops in ferromagnetic materials:

(from Geology) A mixture of pumice, volcanic ash, glass, and other material deposited as a hot suspension of particles by the pyroclastic flow from a volcanic eruption. (see also:

(From Computing/Technology) The core component of any computer operating system that manages interaction between software and hardware, manages memory, and performs other basic and critical tasks. The Kernel is the lowest abstraction level and can be interacted with via the "shell"

Kopps-Etchells Effect

(from Technology / Aeronautical Engineering): A bright light show around the tips of spinning helicopter blades that occurs from static electrical discharge when dissimilar materials collide (such as sand and dust interacting with helicopter blade tips). Most often seen with takeoffs and landings in sandy dessert settings.

(pronounced a lot like limp biscuit) (from Math/Trigonometry) is a curve graphed in polar form that makes a sideways 8 like shape that repeats infinitely. The graph has come to be used as the symbol for infinity since it repeats and reminds people of a snake or dragon eating its own tail (without beginning or end) as in the circular ouroboros figure.

For Pre-Calculus or Trigonometry students out there... here are some other common polar forms from "pink monkey" a good site for homework help.

Nixie Tube
(from Electronics) is a cold cathode neon display tube with an outer mesh anode and 10 inner numeral shaped cathodes. An electrical current causes gas excitation producing an illuminated number. Nixie Tubes were used prior to LED Numerical displays from 1955 through the 1970's
 Disection of a Nixie Tube

Oscillometric Titration

(From Science/Chemistry) is a method of chemical titration where the substances being mixed are set up as part of an oscillator circuit where their conductance or dielectric properties are effected by the concentration of the mixture and are noted by the changing radio frequency of the oscillator.

Oscillator: an electronic circuit that is set to vibrate at a certain frequency. Often made up of an amplifier circuit employing feedback.
Metric: Act of, or product of measuring.
Titration: A method of determining the concentration of a test substance in a solvent used in analytical chemistry.
Even if you didn't know the full meaning of Oscillometric titration, could you figure out most of it based upon its root words?

(from Science/Biology/Zoology) A diving bird of the genera Fratercula and Lunda of the family Alcidae with webbed feet, brightly colored bill, stout body and short tail. Puffins can be found in colder climates along the coasts of the Northern Hemisphere. Puffins are sometimes mistaken for penguins (and in fact the comic character Mr. P. Opus, though a penguin was once told he looked more like a Puffin)

(from Pseudo-Biology - Taxonomy) A scientific name for artificial plants and flowers.  (the article listed below is an entertaining piece about the Taxonomy, Ecology, and Ethnobotany of artificial plants).  The real point is the study of taxonomy and scientific study of species.


(from Technology/Engineering). Soldering is the art of connecting metal parts together by applying heat conductively from a soldering iron that melts and causes a Lead-Tin mixture called solder to flow towards the heat, coating the joint and then hardening to bond to the metal in the joint. This increases conductivity, and seals the joint from moisture and oxidation. Soldering is not structural!

Obviously this story is related to this week's Identify It Challenge and its answer. The video posted above is one of the best I've seen that explains not only how to solder, but why you are doing what you are doing.

The History of Soldering:


The History of Welding and Brazing:

If you take up soldering its important that you use proper safety precautions to avoid burns, exposure to heavy metal, and inhalation of hot or dangerous gases.

1) Always wear safety glasses while soldering,
2) Its best to use some kind of fume extractor/collector but at the very least you should solder in a very well ventilated area with solder fumes being extracted to the outside.
3) Use caution while handling the soldering iron, remember it, the solder, its holder, and any joints you've heated up will be hot enough to potentially deliver a serious burn.
4) Wash your hands after handling solder or soldered connections and be aware of chemical exposure from the lead in solder, and from organic chemicals in fluxes.

(from Geology/Chemistry/ and Energy Science) a mineral made of lithium aluminium inosilicate. Spodumene is a natural source of Lithium for Lithium Ion Batteries. (see {I learned about Spodumene from my visit to the FREEDM Systems Center on 7-7-2010, see our photo album for more about our visit}

(from Technology/Machining) The chips leftover from processing metal by drilling, milling, routing, planing, or cutting. Swarf size and shape depend upon the metal being processed, the kind of process, and the kind of cutter and can range from small dust to big chips or long spirals. The term is also sometimes used in plastic manufacturing with CNC processes.

(from Mathematics) to form a repeating pattern by the careful use of regular or congruent polygons. (a better definition can be found here, along with lesson plans: the link below is from MAKE Magazine and shows how mathematics and art can merge together in their own tessellation, even in 3 dimensions!

(from Electronics) A Vacuum Tube (or Valve) that has 3 elements (in addition to its filament/heater) A cathode that emits electrons when heated, a plate that attracts those electrons with a high positive charge and a grid that can control the flow of electrons based on its charge relative to the cathode and plate. Triodes were used as the first electronic amplifiers and oscillators.

If you want to learn more about Vacuum Tubes here are some wonderful resources:

Vacuum Flourescent Display (VFD)
(from Electronics) A Vacuum Flourescent Display or VFD is an electrical display  that is similar in construction to a nixie tube except that it makes use of a hot cathode coated with different light emitting or flourescent chemicals in order to display information.  Each cathode may be coated with a different chemical thus producing a different colored component.  VFD's are used in automobile dash board displays, in consumer electronics such as VCR's and DVD players and were also used in early hand held video games.

All links above were live and accurate at the time the STEM Vocabulary Term was originally posted to our Fan Page wall.  Please contact us if you find a link that is no longer working.  Please bookmark this page, we plan to add more content at least once every two weeks (sometimes more often)

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