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A glossary of science-related words.

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facial eczema

A disease affecting mainly cattle, sheep, deer and goats. It is caused by sporidesmin – a toxin that produces liver damage. Sporidesmin is produced on pasture plants, including rye grass, by the fungus Pithomyces chartarum.


The excreted waste product of digestion in animals – poo.


A temperature scale named after 18th century German physicist Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit. The freezing point of water is defined as 32 °F and the boiling point of water as 212 °F.


A division used in the Linnean system of classification or taxonomy.


Derived SI unit for capacitance.

fast twitch

A type of muscle fibre, classified as a fast contraction, which has high anaerobic capacity and low aerobic capacity.



fats and oils

Dietary fat is made up mainly of triglycerides, which are a combination of glycerol and fatty acids. The fatty acids are either saturated or unsaturated and are used by the body as a major energy source. Some fatty acids are essential and must be included in the diet.

fault trace

What can be seen of a fault.




Capable of being done or carried out.

feed pad

A firm surface used for short periods of time where stock are given supplementary feed.


Any of a group of rock-forming minerals that make up a large proportion of the Earth’s crust.


The anaerobic breakdown of a nutrient molecule such as sugar to produce energy. Other by-products may also be produced, such as lactic acid (in animal cells), ethanol (in yeast) or fatty acids (in bacteria).


(Reproduction) The joining of male and female sex cells (gametes), resulting in combining genetic material.


Compounds that are given to plants to promote growth.

fibre optics

Thin transparent fibres of glass or plastic that are enclosed and transmit light throughout their length by internal reflections.


A benign moveable lump that feels hard but has a smooth surface. These lumps are common in younger women.


The new growth of a fern; the unfurling fern frond. In New Zealand, commonly referred to as a koru.


Very thin strands of protein.

fine china

A type of pottery, also known as porcelain, that is translucent and quite strong although it looks delicate.


Plural of fiord. Narrow inlet of sea, normally surrounded by steep landscapes. Typically created by glacial action.


The ability of a material or compound to slow down burning.


A phylum of bacteria. A large percentage of the species of bacteria found in the large intestine belong to this phylum.


Granular and partially compacted snow that has passed through one summer’s melting season but has not yet turned to glacial ice.

fission track dating

A method of dating rocks that counts microscopic traces left in crystals by the radioactive decay of uranium.


The process of converting atmospheric nitrogen (dinitrogen gas, N2) to forms that can be used by plants and animals to carry out many of the functions of life.

fixed stars

Stars that appear to rise and set but keep the same relative arrangement over time. It applies to all stars except the Sun. The other group – wandering stars – are actually planets. (People used to think they were stars that changed position.)

fixed-wing aircraft

Typically aeroplanes, they are capable of flight using forward motion that generates lift as the wing moves through the air. They can be powered or unpowered (like gliders).


Easily ignited or set on fire.


The near simultaneous ignition of all combustible material in an enclosed area.


The mixture of gases released from the rectum in the act of ‘passing wind’ or ‘farting’.


A young bird that has recently left its nest but is still dependent upon parental care and feeding.


The act of bending a joint, such as the elbow or knee.


When a part of the body is bent inwards.


A muscle that bends a part of the body inwards.

flight feathers

Long, stiff, asymmetrically shaped but symmetrically paired feathers on the wings or tail of a bird. Those on the wings are called remiges while those on the tail are called rectrices.


A process where fine particulates are caused to group together so that they can be settled or filtered out of a solution.


A flora (with a small f) refers to the plant life occurring in a particular region. A Flora (with a capital F) refers to a book or other work that describes and identifies a flora.

flowering plant

A plant with a life cycle that includes the formation of seeds inside flowers. The scientific name for a flowering plant is angiosperm.


The tooth mineral hydroxyapatite can be converted into acid-resistant fluorapatite by brushing teeth with fluoride toothpaste or by drinking fluoridated water.


The giving out of light when atoms are excited by an external energy source, such as light (but not heat).

focal length

A measure of how effectively a curved mirror or lens converges or diverges incident light. A shorter focal length for a mirror or lens indicates a greater optical power.


The point on a fault where the first break happens, and where the seismic waves radiate out from.


The area of land a building or facility occupies.


Single-celled organisms that form part of marine plankton. Most are under 1 mm long. They are important in paleontology because they have calcium carbonate shells that form fossils in sedimentary rock.


A push or a pull that causes an object to change its shape, direction and/or motion.


The use of scientific techniques to solve mysteries or crimes.


Formalin is a liquid solution of formaldehyde. A very smelly and poisonous gas used to preserve dead things such as animals and bits of animals. Biologists often use it so their specimens don’t go rotten.


Adding extra nutrients to food or drink during the manufacturing process.


The remains or imprint of an organism preserved in some manner. Typically fossils are found in sedimentary rock as a result of mineral replacement or imprinting in once soft silt or sand layers. Normally, rock fossils only include the hard parts of an organism such as the skeleton or shell. Fossils can also include the original remains (including soft tissue) preserved in amber, pitch or ice, or preserved in ‘fossil layers’ in special sheltered cave environments.

fossil fuel

Materials such as coal, oil and natural gas formed from the fossilised remains of plants that lived many millions of years ago. Often burned as fuel.

fractional distillation

When a mixture containing at least one part liquid is separated into its component parts, or fractions, such as in separating chemical compounds by their boiling point by heating them to a temperature at which several fractions of the compound will evaporate (for example, the refining of crude oil).

free radical

Highly reactive particles produced by the body during respiration and other chemical processes. Exposure to pollution, cigarette smoke and strong sunlight can increase the formation of free radicals.


1. How often something occurs within a specified time. 2. The number of waves per second that pass a given point or the number of waves produced per second by a source.


The leaf of a fern. Fronds range greatly in size and can be undivided or multidivided.

frontal area

The area of an object as seen from front on. This frontal area is one of the variables that affect drag. Doubling frontal area will result in twice as much drag.

fruiting body

Part of a fungus that produces and stores the reproductive spores. Mushrooms are a type of fruiting body.


1 - A combustible substance that provides energy. 2 - A body fuel such as fat, carbohydrates and protein that supplies energy for animals’ activities.

fuel cell

Uses a continuous supply of fuel to convert chemical energy into electrical energy.

fuel load

The amount of fuel (combustible substances) available for burning.

functional food

Any processed food claimed to have a health-promoting or disease-preventing property that goes beyond the basic macronutrient and micronutrient functions.

functional genes

A gene that is not only present but active.

functional group

A distinctive arrangement of atoms in an organic compound that determines the principal characteristics of that compound. Alcohols have the –OH functional group.


A range of useful functions or capabilities.


A type of organism that isn’t a plant or an animal. Includes mushrooms, slimes, moulds and yeasts. Generally act as decomposers to break down material.


A safety device made of a short length of resistance wire that will melt if more than the allowed current is present in the circuit.