Listed below is a collection of some of the most important science vocabulary words used in our class. This page is updated periodically, so be sure to refresh your browser every now and then. If you don’t see a word you are looking for, try visiting Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary (a dictionary for younger science students) or any of the online dictionaries recommended by Dr. Merritt.

ABCD | EFG | HIJK | LMNOP | QRS | TUV | WXY&Z | 123s | Roots


  • ECOLOGICAL: of or related to…the interdependence of living organisms in an environment populated with other living and nonliving things.
  • ECOSYSTEM: a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.
  • ELECTRON(s): a stable subatomic particle with a charge of negative electricity equal in magnitude to that of an proton. Electrons are found in all atoms and the act as the primary carrier of electricity in solids.
  • ELEMENT(s): any of the 118 known substances (of which 92 occur naturally on Earth) whose atoms are composed of a unique combination of neutrons, protons, and electrons–the exception being hydrogen (H) atoms, which contain no neutron(s).  The known elements are listed as symbols in something called the “periodic table of the chemical elements” (or just “periodic table” for short).
  • EMBRYO: a young plant before the start of germination. It consists of two parts, the cotyledon and the radicle.
  • EMBRYOGENESIS: the formation and development of the embryo. An embryo is usually formed by the union of the sperm cell and egg cell – an act that we call fertilization. Embryos, regardless of whether they are plant or human, usually go through developmental stages that have specific names. For example, in our Wisconsin Fast Plant unit we use names for the different stages of the plant embryo such as “zygote,” “globular,” “heart,” “torpedo,” and “walking stick.”
  • EMBRYONIC AXIS: the embryonic axis consists of three parts: the plumule (future leaves), the radicle (seed root), and the hypocotyl (seed stem). The embryonic axis does not include the cotyledons.
  • ENDOSPERM: the tissue (made of cells) inside of a seed where food is stored. This food, which usually contains starch, protein, and other nutrients, is consumed by the  young plant embryo while it develops inside of the seed.
  • ENERGY: one of the most complicated of all the science words. In our class, we will define it as, “the ability of something–for example, a human, a mushroom, a bacteria, a plant, or a machine–to do work, to make things happen, to cause changes.” One interesting characteristic of energy is that it cannot be made or destroyed; it can only be changed into different forms.


  • FAT(s): molecules consisting primarily of carbon and hydrogen atoms, thus they are often called “hydrocarbon” molecules. Fats are one of the three main macronutrients, along with the other two: carbohydrates and proteins.
  • FECES: the waste matter remaining after food has been digested and discharged from the bowels of an organism. Sometimes called excrement, it is also (more informally) called ‘poop’.
  • FELDSPAR: minerals containing silicon, aluminum, and oxygen plus either calcium, potassium, and/or sodium. Feldspar is the most abundant mineral in the Earth’s continental crust.
  • FERTILIZATION: the joining of an egg cell (which contains the female DNA) and sperm cell (which contains the male DNA) to form a zygote.
  • FERTILIZER: we will often use at least two definitions of this term:

Simple: any material applied to soils to supply one or more plant nutrients essential to plant growth and development.

Expanded: any naturally occurring or human-made material added to soil that supplies one or more of the major nutrients (e.g., N, P, K), secondary nutrients (e.g., Ca, Mg, S), and/or micronutrients (e.g., Fe, Mn, Mo, Zn) deemed essential for plant growth.

  • FILAMENT: the stalk of the stamen. It holds up the anther.
  • FLAGELLUM: a whip-like structure that protrudes from the cell body of certain cells, such as bacteria, and whose primary function is locomotion (movement). In some cases, however, a flagellum is sensitive to chemicals and temperatures outside the cell and thus can function as a sensory organelle. Flagellum is singular; two or more flagellum are called flagella.
  • FLOODPLAIN: land built of mostly sediment that is regularly covered with water as a result of the flooding of an adjacent stream.
  • FLOWER: the reproductive structure of ‘angiosperms,’ which are a group of plants that produce seeds contained within an ovary (or carpel).
  • FLOWER BUD: a structure that contains the parts of a flower; an unopened flower.
  • FOOD: materials that contain energy for living things. All living things must use food to grow and to keep all their parts working properly.
  • FOOD CHAIN: a linear sequence of links in a food web starting from a species that are called producers in the web and ends at a species that is called decomposers species in the web.
  • FOOD VACUOLE: a vesicle (or space) within the cytoplasm of a cell that contains food molecules. It is completely enclosed by a membrane.
  • FOOD WEB: a system of interlocking and interdependent food chains.
  • FORCE: an influence tending to change the motion of a body or produce motion or stress in a stationary body or object.
  • FRICTION: a force that acts to stop the movement of two touching things. The energy lost to friction is turned into sound and heat. Two kinds of friction are static and kinetic.


  • GAMETES: a reproductive cell, such as a sperm or egg cell, which contains a single set of chromosomes (DNA). When male and female gametes are successfully united together this is called fertilization.
  • GAS: a state of matter in which the particles (e.g., atoms and/or molecules) do not occupy fixed positions and can migrate to other positions in the substance. In the gas state, the particles (atoms and/or molecules) conform to the shape of a container in which it is held. Although this is also a good definition for the liquid (or fluid) state of matter, unlike liquids, in the gas (or gaseous) state the particles (atoms and/or molecules) do NOT acquire a defined surface in the presence of gravity.
  • GERMINATION: the beginning of growth by a seed.
  • GLUCOSE: a simple sugar which is an important energy source in living organisms and is a component of many other carbohydrates. Glucose has the chemical formula C6H12O6, which means it consists of 6 carbon, 12 hydrogen, and 6 oxygen atoms bonded together in the form of a molecule.
  • GRAVITROPISM: the response of a shoot (or root) to the pull of the Earth’s gravity.
  • GRAVITY: a (rather mysterious!) force which tries to pull two objects toward each other. Anything which has mass is said to have gravitational ‘pull.’ The more massive an object, the stronger its gravitational pull.
  • GROWTH: the process of increasing in size. With living organisms such as plants, fungi, and animals, this typically means making more body cells by a process called mitosis (in which a single ‘parent’ cell divides to form two identical ‘daughter’ cells).

ABCD | EFG | HIJK | LMNOP | QRS | TUV | WXY&Z | 123s | Roots

Last updated: May 2021

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