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Glossary

A glossary of science-related words.

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V-formation flight

Sometimes called a skein, this is the symmetric V-shaped flight formation of flights of geese, ducks and other migratory birds.

vaccination

The process of being vaccinated with a vaccine and becoming immune to a disease.

vaccine

A substance that improves immunity to a particular disease. The vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system so that it can more easily recognise and destroy a particular microorganism that it later encounters.

vacuum

An absence of matter. In practice, a space that contains a very low density of matter (very low pressure) is often referred to as a vacuum.

Van Allen belts

Two regions of high-energy plasma that encircle the Earth. The larger outer belt follows the Earth’s magnetic field lines from the North to South Poles. The inner belt does not extend as far north and south.

van der Waals forces

Attraction forces between neighbouring molecules.

vaporisation

A change of state that converts a substance from its liquid form to its gaseous form.

variolation

An early form of immunisation that involved the presentation of material collected from smallpox lesions to uninfected individuals with the goal of inducing immunity to future infection with smallpox.

vascular

Containing vessels that carry or circulate fluids, such as blood, or sap, through the body of an animal or plant.

vascular plant

A plant that has tissues for moving water and nutrients internally. Most plants are vascular; mosses and similar plants are not.

vegetation

Plant life.

vegetative reproduction

A new plant is produced without sexual reproduction, so it has the same genes as the parent. A new plant can form from various parts, above or below ground.

veins

Blood vessels carrying blood towards the heart.

velocity

Speed in a particular direction.

venom

The general term referring to toxins used by those animals that inject it into their victims by the means of a bite or a sting.

venomous

Full of venom – poisonous.

vent

The area of a volcano where the magma is able to push through in an eruption. One volcano may contain several vents.

ventral

The lower surface (the belly) of an animal.

vertebra

One of the bones or segments making up the spinal column in animals with backbones.

vertebrate

An animal with a backbone, like mammals and birds.

vestibular organ

The structure in the inner ear composed of the utricle, saccule and semicircular canals. Together, they relay information to the brain about movement and sense of balance.

vestigial

Pertaining to a part of an animal that is no longer used and, from an evolutionary perspective, is in the process of being lost. Vestigial structures are often small and imperfectly formed, and they usually serve little function or are no longer used by the organism.

vicariance

The geographical separation and isolation of a species resulting in the original population's evolution into a new species.

villi

(Singular: villus) Thin finger-like structures that project from the internal lining of the jejunum and ileum. They greatly increase the surface area of the small intestine, allowing for rapid absorption of the products of digestion into the bloodstream.

viral load

The number of virus particles of a particular virus in a sample.

virology

The study of viruses.

virus

An extremely small infectious particle that is capable of taking over the cell to produce copies of itself.

viscoelastic

A substance that has both viscous and elastic properties. Viscous means having a relatively high resistance to flow and/or the sticky properties of an adhesive. Elastic means an object that easily resumes its original shape after being stretched or expanded.

viscosity

The measure of resistance of a fluid to flow. Thick slow-flowing liquids have a high viscosity, thin fast-flowing liquids have a low viscosity.

viscous

Having a thick, sticky consistency between solid and liquid.

visible light spectrum

Electromagnetic waves in the range visible to the human eye. These waves have a wavelength from about 400 nanometres in the violet to about 770 nanometres in the red. Light behaves both as a particle and a wave. A particle of light is known as a photon.

vitamin

An organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism.

volatile

Easily evaporates or turns into a gas; used in everyday language to mean something that changes quickly.

volcanologist

A scientist who studies volcanoes (alternative spelling is vulcanologist).

volcanology

The study of volcanoes (alternative spelling is vulcanology).

volt

A derived SI unit that measures the difference in electric potential between two points such that 1 ampere of current dissipates 1 watt of power between the two points.

voltage

The potential difference (PD) between two points in a circuit. It measures the potential of the electrons to flow between two points. The higher the PD, the greater the electron flow. PD is sometimes thought of as electrical pressure.

volume

1. The quantity of space occupied by a liquid, solid or gas. Common units used to display volume include cubic metres, litres, millilitres, tablespoons and teaspoons. 2. The degree of sound intensity or audibility; loudness.

voluntary muscles

Skeletal muscles that can be consciously controlled.

Voyager 1

A space probe launched in 1977 to explore the outer Solar System. In September 2011, it was over 17 billion kilometres from the Sun.