B: a typeless programming language by Ken Thompson in 1969, based on BCPL.
B cell: a lymphocyte of the adaptive immune system that makes antibodies against antigens. Compare T cell.
B-mode: a curly light polarization pattern.
β-sheet (aka beta sheet): a secondary structure of proteins that is less common than α-helix. β-sheets comprise β-strands (beta strands) connected laterally by a backbone hydrogen bonds, forming a twisted, pleated sheet.
babbler: a small to medium-sized passerine.
baboon: a large African and Arabian (Old World) monkey of 5 species in the genus Papio, all having pronounced sexual dimorphism. Baboons possess the innate ability for literacy (orthographic processing skills).
Babcock & Wilcox (1867–): American industrial equipment maker.
Babylonia: an ancient civilization in central-southern Mesopotamia, centered in the lower Euphrates valley; beginning as a small provincial town in the 24th century BCE, greatly expanding during the reign of Hammurabi in the 1st half of the 18th century BCE, declining and reverting to a small kingdom for several centuries thereafter. In 539 BCE, the legendary Persian king Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon.
bacillus (plural: bacilli) a rod-shaped bacterium. Compare coccus, spirillum.
Bacillus thuringiensis (aka Bt): a soil-dwelling bacterium that produces crystal proteins, some of which have insecticidal action.
background extinction: extinction limited to relatively few species. Contrast mass extinction.
bacteria (singular: bacterium): a taxonomic domain of single-celled prokaryotes, abundant in most ecosystems. Bacteria play vital roles in various facets of the biosphere.
bacteriophage (aka phage): a virus that infects bacteria.
bacteriorhodopsin: a light-sensitive protein used by archaea, notably halobacteria (a misnomer, as they are not bacteria). Bacteriorhodopsin works as a proton pump: pushing protons across the cell membrane. The resultant proton gradient is used to create a biochemical signal.
Bacteroides: an anaerobic bacteria genus, normally mutualistic; commonly found in mammal gastrointestinal tracts. Bacteroides predominates in humans that consume too much protein and animal fat. Bacteroides tend to be resistant to antibiotics. See Ruminococcus, Prevotella.
baculovirus: a family of invertebrate viruses.
bad metal: a metal in which electrical conductivity does not lessen with heat.
badger: a short-legged omnivorous mustelid of 11 species.
Bahrain: an island country in the Persian Gulf, famed since antiquity for its pearl fisheries. A former British protectorate, Bahrain became an independent kingdom in 2002.
Baja California: a peninsula south of California.
Bakelite (1910–): American plastics company, founded by Leo Baekeland.
baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae): a yeast instrumental to brewing, winemaking, and baking since prehistoric times. The yeast was originally isolated from the skin of grapes.
Balanites wilsoniana: a tall fruit-bearing forest tree in west and central Africa. The fruit is eaten by elephants and gorillas.
bald eagle: a large bird of prey endemic to North America; an opportunistic feeder, mostly of fish. Bald eagles build the largest nest of any North American bird, and the largest nest in trees of any bird.
Baldwin effect: the effect of learning on evolution, discovered by Douglas Spalding in 1873; rediscovered and proposed by James Mark Baldwin in 1896; called the Baldwin effect by George Simpson in 1953.
baleen: a pressure-based comb-like filter-feeding system inside the mouth of whales. The baleen plates employed for this feeding system are made of keratin.
baleen whale (aka great whale): a whale which feeds by filtering water through comb-like baleen plates rather than having teeth.
Balkan green lizard (Lacerta trilineata): a lacerta lizard native to the Mediterranean habitats in southeastern Europe and the Levant.
balling: a mass of entwined snakes, with multiple males trying to copulate with a female.
bamboo: a flowering perennial evergreen plant; the largest in the grass family.
banana: an edible fruit produces by a flowering plant in the Musa genus, indigenous to southeast Asia and Oceania.
bananaquit (aka sugar bird, Coereba flaveola): a small, active nectarivore bird found in warmer biomes of the Americas.
Banda Islands: a group of 10 small islands in eastern Indonesia, part of the Spice Islands in the Banda Sea. The Banda Islands were occupied by the Portuguese in 1512 and remained under their control into the early 17th century.
banded mongoose (Mungos mungo): a colonial mongoose native to central and eastern African savannas, fond of eating beetles and millipedes.
bandy-bandy snake (Vermicella annulata): a black-and-white banded snake native to northern and eastern Australia that, when feeling threatened, tries to confuse by creating loops with its body.
Bangladesh: a country in south Asia bordered by India to the west and Myanmar to the east. Mostly located on the flood plain of the Ganges river, Bangladesh is the most densely populated nation in the world – 168 million (2019) in 147,570 km2.
banksia (aka acorn banksia, orange banksia, Banksia prionotes): a shrub native to southwest Australia, with serrated green leaves and large, bright flower spikes, which are pollinated by birds. Banksia grows exclusively in sandy soil and is typically a dominant plant in scrubland. Banksia is an important food source for many animals in the autumn and winter months.
baobab (Adansonia): a genus of trees adapted to aridity, of 8 species: 6 indigenous to Madagascar, 1 to Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, and 1 to Australia. Baobabs grow to 5–30 meters, with trunk diameters 7–11 m. Baobabs may live for thousands of years.
Barbados: a 432 km2 island nation in the Lesser Antilles (Caribbean) island chain.
Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus): a macaque with a vestigial tail, unique for its distribution outside Asia.
barbeled dragonfish: a deep-sea dragonfish in the Stomiidae family that uses fanged teeth to snag prey. Barbeled dragonfish have bioluminescent photophores.
barberry (aka European barberry, Berberis vulgaris): a deciduous shrub that grows to 4 m high, producing acidic berries; native to central and southern Europe, northwest Africa, and western Asia. With a tart flavor and high in vitamin C, barberry berries are tailored for small birds, which disperse the seeds in their droppings. The barberry is thorny, and the plant itself is poisonous, thus effectively thwarting herbivores.
barbet: a tropical bird of 80 species, named for the bristles at the base of its stout, sharp bill. Weak fliers, none are migratory.
barbule: a branch from a barb of a bird feather. Feather barbs are the first set of branches from a feather’s rachis (spine).
barilla: salt-tolerant (halophyte) plants that, until the 19th century, were a primary source of soda ash.
bark (botany): the outermost layer of a woody plant. Bark is a nontechnical term for the various tissues outside the vascular cambium. On older stems, inner bark is living tissue, whereas outer bark is dead tissue.
bark beetle: a beetle of 220 genera and 6,000 species that reproduces in the inner bark of trees.
barley (Hordeum vulgare): one of the early cultivated cereal grains, both eaten and brewed into beer.
barnacle: a sessile marine arthropod with over 1,220 species.
barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis): a goose with largely black plumage, native to the Arctic islands in the North Atlantic.
barophile (aka piezophile): an organism that thrives at high pressures, such as deep-sea archaea and bacteria.
Barr body: an inactivated X chromosome.
baryon: a composite particle of ordinary matter: protons and neutrons, which each consist of 3 quarks.
basal (evolutionary biology): an originating organism group (clade) from which later groups evolved. The term primitive is commonly used as a synonym, but primitive has connotation of inferiority or lack of complexity, which is not necessarily so.
basal ganglia (aka basal nuclei): a part of the vertebrate brain interconnected to several other brain areas, instrumental in movement.
basal metabolic rate: energy consumption at rest.
basalt: a volcanic rock, typically rich in magnesium oxide and calcium oxide, and low in silicon dioxide and alkali oxides.
base (chemistry): a molecule capable of accepting a hydron. Bases react with acids. Contrast acid.
base (mathematics) (aka radix): a number that is the base of a number system. The binary system is base-2. The decimal system is base-10.
base load: an electricity-generating power station intended for constant operation to meet minimum demand (base-load requirement). Owing to fuel cost and plant operating characteristics, coal and nuclear plants meet base-load demand. Intermediate-load plants meet requirements above minimum. Peak load are facilities for times of greatest electricity consumption (peak demand), typically late afternoon weekdays.
base pair (genetics): 2 complementary nucleobases on opposite DNA (or certain RNA) strands, linked by hydrogen bonds.
base sequence (genetics): an order of nucleotide bases (1 of a base pair) in a DNA molecule.
basement (rock): a rock below a sedimentary platform. Basement rock is igneous or metamorphic in origin.
Basic (computer language) (1964–): a simplified offshoot of Fortran, designed for ease of use, but with the same code-maintenance problems as Fortran.
bat: a mammal with forelimbs forming webbed wings. Bats are the only mammal capable of sustained flight. 1,240 bat species are known; 70% are insectivores.
bat bug: a blood-sucking insect parasite that primarily feeds on bats. Bat bugs are closely related to bed bugs.
Batesian mimicry: phenotypic imitation by a palatable species of another that is noxious. Named after Henry Bates, who gave the first scientific account of it.
batfish: a coral reef dwelling fish in the genus Platax.
Battle of Actium (2 September 31 BCE): the decisive confrontation – a naval battle – between Octavian and the combined forces of Mark Antony & Cleopatra, on the Ionian Sea, near the promontory of Actium, on the coast of Greece. Octavian’s victory enabled him to take power and initiate the Roman Empire.
bay: a large body of water connected to the sea formed by an inlet of land which blocks some waves.
Bay of Pigs (mid-April 1960): a CIA-sponsored failed invasion of Cuba.
Bayes’ theorem: a simple mathematical formula for calculating inverse probability: the probability distribution of an unobserved variable. Named after Thomas Bayes, who never published his musings on the subject. Bayes notes were edited and published posthumously.
baywing (aka baywind cowbird, Agelaioides badius): a medium-sized passerine native to South America. Unlike “true” cowbirds, the baywing is not a brood parasite.
BCE (acronym for Before the Common Era): a semi-secular alternative designation for the calendar scheme introduced by Dionysius Exiguus, who respectively used BC (before Christ) and AD (anno Domini) to indicate times before and after the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Year zero is unused in both systems. Dates before 1 ce (common era) are indicated as BCE. ce dates are typically not denoted.
BCE (acronym for Before the Common Era): the era before the supposed birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Year zero is unused. Dates before 1 ce (common era) are indicated as BCE. ce dates are typically not denoted.
BCPL (an acronym for Basic Combined Programming Language): a programming language originally intended for writing compilers, designed by Martin Richards in 1966.
Bdelloidea: a class of freshwater and soil rotifers that reproduce asexually via parthenogenesis.
bean bug (Riptortus pedestris): a rice and bean plant consumer, native to east Asia; considered an agricultural pest.
bear: a large, carnivorous mammal, widespread throughout the world, mostly in the northern hemisphere. There are only 8 extant species of bears.
bear market: an American colloquialism for a market trend of general decline in stock prices. The term dates from a 17th-century proverb that it was unwise “to sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear.” By the 18th century, the term “bear skin” was shortened to “bear market.” Contrast bull market.
Bear Sterns (1923–2008): an American investment bank that failed when the mortgage securities bubble burst in 2008, whereupon Bear Sterns was scooped up on the cheap by JP Morgan Chase.
bearcat (binturong, Arctictis binturong): an omnivorous viverrid endemic to the tall forests of South and Southeast Asia. Neither bear nor cat, binturongs are long and heavy, with short, stout legs, thick, black fur, a thick, long tail, and a short, pointed muzzle.
beauty: qualities which excite pleasure.
beaver: a large, primarily nocturnal, semiaquatic rodent. The beaver is best known for its dam-building skills, which provide still, deep water as protection against predators, and for floating food and building materials to construct homestead lodges.
The North American beaver once numbered over 60 million. Thanks to human slaughter for their fur and habitat destruction, 6 million may remain (as of 2007).
bedbug: a blood-sucking insect parasite. The common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) is notably fond of people.
bee: a flying insect of 20,000 species in the superfamily Apoidea. Bees, like ants, are a specialized form of wasp. Bees are best known for their product from pollinating flowering plants: honey. Bee sociality varies from solitary to eusocial. Bee eusociality evolved independently in different species.
bee bread: the brood food of older worker larvae.
bee hummingbird (aka zunzuncito, Helena hummingbird, Mellisuga helenae): a hummingbird endemic to the Cuban archipelago; the smallest bird, with females weighing 2.6 g and 6.1 cm long (slightly larger than males).
bee killer (Pristhesancus papuensis): an assassin bug that waits on flowers to grab bees as prey, using collected sticky plant resin which helps hold the victim.
bee milk: a milky-white glandular secretion from the honeybee head which is fed to larvae.
bee-eater: a group (26 species) of near passerine birds with slender bodies, colorful plumage, and typically enlonged central tail feathers.
Beelzebub: a demon; in the Bible, another name for Satan.
beet (aka beetroot, garden beet, Beta vulgaris): a root vegetable. See chard.
beetle: an insect with wings and shell-like body protection, in the order Coleoptera.
behave: to act or react in a certain way.
behavior: an attributable state of action or inaction by a living entity.
behavior (software) (aka procedure call, routine, function, method, message): software which performs a certain action by using data.
behavioral economics: the study of the effects of mentation on economic decisions.
behaviorism: a matterist school of psychology that denied the mind as a source of behavior.
being (noun): a living hofragy-tennet with consciousness and a mind-body, characterized by its interactions. Compare self.
Being-values (aka B-values): according to Abraham Maslow, the affirmative value system of self-actualizing individuals as contrasted to the deficiency-felt values of lesser beings. Maslow listed the following B-values: wholeness, perfection, completion, justice, aliveness, richness, simplicity, beauty, goodness, uniqueness, effortlessness, playfulness, truth, and self-sufficiency.
belief: a habit of the mind to axiomatically treat ideas as true; confidence in abstractions as real.
belladonna (aka deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna): a perennial herb native to Europe, north Africa, and western Asia. The berries and leaves contain highly toxic alkaloids.
Bell Labs: the research facilities of Bell Telephone, founded by Alexander Graham Bell in 1889. See AT&T.
bell pepper (aka sweet pepper, Capsicum annum): a perennial herb; the term is also used for the fruit, which is a many-seeded berry. See Capsicum.
Bell’s theorem: a 1964 theorem by John Stewart Bell that quantum mechanics must necessarily violate either the principle of locality or counterfactual definiteness. Bell held that locality is violated and counterfactual definiteness applies.
Beltian body: a nutritious detachable tip found on the pinnules of certain acacia trees; named after their discoverer, Thomas Belt.
beluga whale (aka white whale, sea canary, melonhead, Delphinapterus leucas): an Arctic and sub-Artic whale, closely related to narwhals. Beluga whales have a distinctive melon-like protuberance for echolocation. They lack a dorsal fin. Beluga whales are gregarious.
bench (legal): a reference to judges or the judiciary.
bends (aka decompression sickness (DCS)): dissolved gases in tissues at depth creating painful air bubbles when surfacing quickly. DCS may produce various symptoms, including rashes, joint pain, breathing problems, neurological damage, paralysis, even death.
Benelux (1944–): the politico-economic union of 3 neighboring nations in central-western Europe: Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. The Benelux Union began with a 1944 customs agreement and progressed with subsequent treaties.
Benguela Current: a counterclockwise oceanic gyre in the Atlantic Ocean which carries cool water.
benthic zone (benthos): the ecological region at the bottom of the ocean or other water body, including the sediment surface and subsurface layers.
benzene (C6H6): a carcinogenic hydrocarbon that is an elementary petrochemical. Benzene is a colorless, highly flammable liquid with a sweet smell. Industrially, benzene is used primarily as a precursor to the manufacture of chemicals with a more complex structure. Because benzene is high octane, it is an important component of gasoline.
benzoxazinoid (BX): a class of plant secondary metabolites used against pests aboveground and below. BX is also used for intra-plant communication. Benzene is part of BX nastiness.
Berber: the indigenous people of the Maghreb region in North Africa.
Bergmann’s rule: an ecogeographic hypothesis by Christian Bergman in 1847 that larger animals, especially endotherms, are found in colder biomes, and, conversely, species of smaller size are found in warmer regions.
Beringia: the episodic Bering land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.
berkelium (Bk): the element with atomic number 97; a soft, silvery-white radioactive metal with a half-life of 330 days.
Bernoulli number: one in a sequence of rational numbers discovered by, and named after, Jakob Bernoulli; contemporaneously discovered by Seki Takakazu.
Bernoulli’s principle: a fluid-dynamics principle that a speed increase of fluid transpires with a decrease in pressure or a drop in the fluid’s potential energy; named after Daniel Bernoulli, who described the principle in 1738.
berry: a fleshy fruit without a drupe.
beryllium (Be): the element with atomic number 4; a rare, toxic, insoluble metal. Within the cores of stars, beryllium is typically fused to create heavier elements. Beryllium only naturally occurs combined with other elements: in minerals, notably beryl (aquamarine, emerald). Beryllium was first isolated in 1828.
beta cell (aka β cell): an endocrine cell in the pancreas which secretes insulin and amylin in a fixed ratio.
beta-carotene (C40H56; β-carotene): a red-orange pigment, abundant in plants and fruits. β-carotene colors carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes orange. β-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A.
beta decay(β-decay) : radioactive decay of atomic nuclei or particle transmutation, emitting beta particles (electrons or positrons), mediated by the weak force. Compare atomic decay.
beta movement (aka apparent motion): the optical illusion of perceiving a moving object via display of rapidly changing light patterns. Compare phi phenomenon.
beta oxidation: the cellular process by which fatty acid molecules are broken down for energy.
beta particle: an electron or positron on a mission as part of beta decay.
Bhagavad Gita (~5th–2nd century BCE): a Hindu text of a dialogue between Indian prince Arjuna and his guide and charioteer Lord Krishna.
bias: a subconsciously imposed preference.
biased gene conversion: gene conversion where a certain allele is favored.
Bible, The: a collection of ancient texts held sacred in Judaism and Christianity. The 4-century-old King James version remains canonical. In response to problems pointed out by the Puritans, newly crowned King James commissioned a new version in 1604. What the king cared about was clarity, simplicity, and doctrinal orthodoxy. 47 biblical scholars, all of the Church of England, finished their work in 1611. What they had also cared about was quality of prose. Time and again, the language slips into iambic pentameter: the metrical line of traditional English poetry and verse; hence, the abiding popularity of the King James Bible.
bicameral (politics): a legislature of 2 bodies. Contrast unicameral.
biennial (botany): an angiosperm that takes 2 years to complete its life cycle. A biennial grows vegetative structures – roots, stems, and leaves – in its 1st year, before going dormant during the colder months. Typically, biennials grow close to the ground, with leaves forming a rosette. Many biennials require vernalization before they will flower. Onions, carrots, and parsley are biennials. Contrast annual, perennial. See herbaceous.
bicosoecid: a group of free-living unicellular flagellates.
bifurcate: to divide into 2 parts.
Big Bang: the hypothesis that the universe began with an initial energetic cosmic explosion from a dense, hot state of singularity. That this universe started with a Big Bang ~14 BYA is a myth. The universe is much older. See cosmic inflation.
bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis): a sheep native to North America, named for its large horns.
bilaterian: an animal with a longitudinal plane of symmetry and specialized internal organ systems.
bile: a bitter fluid produced by the liver of most vertebrates that aids lipid digestion in the small intestine.
Bill of Rights (American politics): the collective name for the 1st 10 amendments to the United States Constitution, added to guarantee personal freedoms and rights, and provide clear limitations to government power. The Bill of Rights draws on several antecedents, including earlier declarations by individual states, and the 1689 English Bill of Rights, whose concepts date to the 1215 Magna Carta.
binary: a base-2 numerical system using only 0 and 1. Modern computers use binary based upon the presence or absence of electrons (1, 0 respectively).
binary fission: a form of asexual reproduction where a single parent becomes 2 daughters.
binocular vision: the vision capability in an animal with 2 eyes to perceive a 3D image. See peripheral vision.
bio–layering (evolutionary biology): evolution of increasing complexity while maintaining interdependence with legacy genes by providing an ordering of genetic information for adaptive employment. Bio-layering affords reversion evolution.
bioavailability: the potential for nutrient absorption.
biochemical: an organic chemical with biological import.
biochemistry: the chemistry of organisms.
biocide: a chemical compound used by humans to destroy life.
biodiversity: the diversity of life at every level. Compare species diversity.
bioelement: a planetary ecological element. The bioelements include the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biota.
biofilm: a colony of prokaryotes encased in a stabilizing polymer matrix; commonly known as slime.
biogenesis: biological origin (genesis).
biogenic (substance) (aka biomolecule): a compound produced via an organic process.
biogeography: a perspective of patterns related to a geological context.
biogerontology: the study of organism aging.
biologic: biological logic; the reason for a biological trait.
biological pump: the ocean’s biologically driven sequestration of carbon and other essential nutrients into the deep ocean.
biology: the science of life.
bioluminescence: production and emission of light by a living organism.
biome: an area where organisms live with similar conditions, both geographically and climatically.
biomechanics: biological mechanics; the study of the structure and function of biological systems by means of physical mechanisms.
biology: the science of life.
biopolymer: a polymer produced by a cell.
Biophytum: a genus of 50 herbaceous plants in the wood sorrel (Oxalidaceae) family.
biopolymer: a polymer produced by a cell.
bioproduct: a biologically synthesized chemical compound.
biorhythm: a pseudoscientific technique to predict potentialities in a person’s life via simple mathematical cycles.
biosonar: a synonym for echolocation.
biosphere: the global summation of Earth’s ecosystems.
biosynthesis: a cellular construction process: conversion of substrates into more complex products. See anabolism.
biota: the organisms in an environment.
biotin (aka vitamin H, vitamin B7): a water-soluble B vitamin, necessary for cell growth, metabolism of fats and amino acids, and the production of fatty acids. Biotin assists in metabolic reactions that transfer carbon dioxide. Biotin helps maintain a steady blood sugar level.
biotroph: an organism dependent upon another as a nutrient source. Contrast necrotroph.
biotrophic: dependent upon another organism as a nutrient source.
bioturbation: displacement and mixing of sediment by fauna or flora.
bipedal: walking on 2 legs.
bipolar disorder (formerly manic depression): a mental disorder characterized by recurrent swings of mania and depression.
bipolar neuron: a nerve cell type with 2 extensions: an axon and a dendrite. Bipolar cells are employed as sensory signal pathways.
bird: a feathered, bipedal, endothermic, egg-laying vertebrate in the class Aves. Birds descended from maniraptoran theropod dinosaurs. 10,000 living species are known.
bird-dung crab spider (Phrynarachne): a southeast Asian spider that looks and smells like feces to attract flies for food.
bird-of-paradise (botany) (aka crane flower (in South Africa)): a perennial angiosperm in the Strelitzia genus, with 5 species, native to South Africa.
bird-of-paradise (ornithology): a bird of the 42 species in 15 genera in the passerine family Paradisaeidae. Most species are endemic to Indonesia, eastern New Guinea, and eastern Australia. Males typically have ornate plumage which is employed in courtship displays.
bird of prey (aka raptor): a carnivorous bird.
bishop (religion): a clergyman who supervises a number of churches or a diocese (an ecclesiastical district).
bit (software): an atomic datum in computing; an acronym for binary digit.
bitcoin (2008–): a pioneer cryptocurrency.
bitter: one of the 7 basic human tastes. Alkaloids taste bitter.
bitter leaf plant (Veronia amygdalina): a small medicinal shrub native to tropical Africa.
bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata): a shrub native to the mountainous western North America.
bivalve (Bivalvia): a class of marine and freshwater mollusks which includes clams, oysters, mussels, scallops, and many other families.
black (sociology): a dark-skinned person; in the US, typically a person of African descent (owing to the country’s slavery tradition). Contrast white.
black body: an idealized opaque/non-reflective object which absorbs all incident electromagnetic radiation. The term was coined by Gustav Kirchhoff in 1862.
black-body radiation: an electromagnetic radiation about a black body. Black-body radiation has a specific spectrum and intensity that depends only on the temperature of the body.
Black Death: a devastating plague in Europe in the mid-14th century caused by the airborne bacterium Yersinia pestis.
black dragonfish (Idiacanthus atlanticus): a barbeled dragonfish, endemic to southern subtropical and temperate oceans, at depths down to 2,000 meters.
black egret (aka black heron): a sub-Saharan African heron, known for its habit of using its wings as a canopy for fishing.
black hole: an infinitely dense celestial void that draws in matter and light, rendering the singularity black. Albert Einstein knew of the idea of black holes as a side effect of general relativity but did not think they could exist, writing in 1939 that the idea was “not convincing.” Charles Thomas Bolton discovered the first evidence of a black hole in 1971.
black hole evaporation: an alternate term for Hawking radiation.
black kite (aka fire hawk, Milvus migrans): a medium-sized bird of prey endemic to tropical and temperate biomes in Eurasia, Australasia, and Oceania. Temperate region black kites tend to be migratory.
black light: a lamp with emits long-wave ultraviolet light just outside the boundary of human vision.
Black Monday (finance): the worldwide crash of stock markets on 19 October 1987.
Black Sea: a roughly oval, marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, situated between the Balkans, eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and western Asia, and supplied by several major rivers.
black walnut (Juglans nigra): a flowering walnut tree native to Eastern North America that grows in riparian zones.
blackbird: a black bird in the Turdus genus.
bladderwort: a freshwater, carnivorous, flowering plant in the genus Utricularia, with 233 species; found in wet soil or in the water; extant worldwide except Antarctica.
blanketflower: a flowering plant in the genus Gaillardia, in the sunflower family.
blackpoll warbler (Setophaga striata): a migratory New World warbler. New World warblers (aka wood-warblers) are a group of small, often colorful, passerines.
blast furnace: a type of furnace for smelting metal.
bleb: reproduction by breaking off a daughter cell in bacteria that lack cell walls (L-form state).
blind cavefish (aka Mexican tetra, Astyanax mexicanus): a sightless and eyeless freshwater fish native to the rivers of Texas and Mexico.
bliss: the feeling of joyful contentment which emanates from connection with Ĉonsciousness. Bliss is symptomatic of enlightenment. Compare happiness.
blood: an animal body fluid employed to transport nutrients to and waste products from cells.
blood-brain barrier: an animal defense mechanism to protect the brain from infection by separating circulating blood from brain extracellular fluid.
bloomery: a type of furnace once used for smelting iron.
blow fly (aka carrion fly, bluebottle fly, greenbottle fly, cluster fly): a fly in the Calliphoridae family, with 1,100 known species. The term originated in the Middle Ages, derived from meat that has fly eggs laid in it: said to be fly blown. The blow fly family is polyphyletic.
blowing a raspberry: putting the tongue between closed lips and producing a flatulent sound.
Blue Öyster Cult (1967–): American hard rock band.
blue tit (Cyanistes caeruleus): a small passerine in the tit family, native to Eurasia.
blue wren (aka superb fairywren, Malurus cyaneus): a sedentary, territorial, passerine bird of southeastern Australia.
blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii): a seabird native to the tropical and subtropical eastern Pacific Ocean; named for its bright blue feet. An adult blue-footed booby averages 81 cm long and 1.5 kg. The female is slightly larger than the male.
blueberry: a perennial flowering shrub with indigo-colored berries, in the genus Vaccinium (which includes cranberries and bilberries), native to North America.
bluethroat (Luscinia svecica): a small, migratory, insectivorous passerine of Eurasia and North Africa. Male bluethroats are blunt-leaved orchid (aka small northern bog orchid, Platanthera obtusata): a small orchid, widespread in the colder forests of the northern hemisphere.
blur (vision): lack of focus owing to movement.
BMW (1916–): German manufacturer of automobiles and motorcycles.
boa (snake): a nonvenomous constricting snake found through much of the world in the Boidae family.
bobwhite quail (aka northern bobwhite, Virginia quail, Colinus virginianus): a ground-dwelling bird native to the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean.
Boeing (1916–): American corporation specializing in flying machines: airplanes, rockets, missiles, rotorcraft, and satellites.
bog beacon (aka swamp beacon (US)): an aquatic mushroom; the fruiting body of Mitrula paludosa.
bolas spider (aka angling spider, fishing spider) a spider that hunts by swinging a silk bolas to snag its prey.
bolide: a meteorite; a brighter-than-usual meteor; officially defined from a perspective on Earth as a fireball brighter than any of the planets.
Bølling oscillation (15–14.2 tya): the interstadial period between the Oldest Dryas and Older Dryas stadials. Named after a peat sequence discovered at Bølling lake in central Jutland, the peninsula of Denmark. Sea level rose 100 meters from glacial melt during the Bølling oscillation. Temperate forests expanded.
bolus: a soft mass of chewed food.
Bonaro: an indigenous tribe in Papua New Guinea.
bond (chemistry): a shared electron pair between 2 atoms.
bond (finance): a debt instrument, under which the issuer owes debt holders periodic interest and repayment of principal at a certain date (maturity date).
bond energy: a measure of the strength of a chemical bond.
bond order: the number of chemical bonds (bonding electron pairs) between a pair of atoms.
bone: a rigid organ of connective tissue in vertebrates which forms a skeleton. Bone is mostly a fibrous matrix of composite material: inorganic calcium phosphate for rigidity and ossein (an elastic protein (collagen)) for fracture resistance.
bone marrow: flexible tissue in the interior of bones.
bone metabolism (aka bone remodeling): the lifelong process of replacing aged bone tissue (bone resorption) with new bone tissue (ossification).
bonnet macaque (aka zati, Macaca radiata): a macaque endemic to southern India.
bonobo (Pan paniscus): a peaceable ape, closely related to the chimpanzee and human species. Bonobos have a matriarchal society. Bonobos are notably fond of sexual behaviors.
Boo.com (1999–2000): a short-lived British e-commerce clothing company that burned through $188 million while doing most everything wrong, beginning with hosting a horrendous web site.
booby: a seabird of 6–7 species in the Sula genus, closely related to gannets.
booklice (aka barklice or barkflies): an insect in the Psocoptera order, 1–10 mm long, that evolved during the Permian, 295–248 mya. There are more than 5,500 extant species in 41 families. The name derives from their liking the paste formerly used in binding books. Booklice feed on algae and lichen found on trees.
bookmarking (genetics): an epigenetic mechanism of cellular memory by marking genes during mitosis in a way that persists. Bookmarking is vital for maintaining a lineage of cell specialization, so that one cell type does not become another.
Boquila trifoliolata: a woody vine capable of mimicking the leaves of the trees it climbs upon; endemic to southern Chile and Argentina.
borane (BH3) (aka borine, thrihydridoboron): an unstable and highly reactive Lewis acid.
Borderea chouardi: a small, slow-growing Spanish Pyrenees plant that can live over 300 years and has mutualist relations with 3 ant species.
boreal (aka taiga forest): a biome characterized by coniferous forest. Boreal is the Earth’s largest land biome, comprising 29% of the world’s forest cover.
Borneo: the 3rd-largest island in the world, and the oldest rainforest, located north of Java, Indonesia.
boron (B): the element with atomic number 5; a water-soluble metalloid concentrated on Earth in borate mineral compounds. Because boron is produced entirely by cosmic ray spallation (cosmic rays bombarding objects) and not by stellar nucleosynthesis (stellar fusion debris), there is little of it in the solar system, including Earth’s crust.
Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC): a coherent state of matter for a dilute gas of weakly interacting bosons cooled near 0 Kelvin. BEC exhibits extraordinary quantum mechanical properties at a macroscopic scale. Named after Satyendra Bose and Albert Einstein, who predicted this matter state in 1924.
Bosnia (formally Bosnia & Herzegovina): a country in southeastern Europe; formerly part of Yugoslavia.
boson: a quantum that carries a fundamental force according to quantum physics’ Standard Model; named after Satyendra Bose. Contrast fermion.
Boston Tea Party (16 December 1773): a political protest by American colonists against British taxation without compensatory political representation. In defiance of the 10 May 1773 Tea Act, which imposed a tax on tea, protesters destroyed a shipment of tea sent by the British East India Company.
botany: the study of plants.
Botomian (524–517 MYA): an age of the Early Cambrian epoch, ending with a major mass extinction event.
botox (aka botulinum toxin): the most powerful known neurotoxin, produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Botox has been called “sausage poison” because it can be found in improperly prepared meat products. The term botulism derives from the Latin for sausage: botulus.
botulism: a potentially fatal paralytic illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacteria Clostridium botulinum.
boundary (of tectonic plates): an intercourse between tectonic plates. A boundary is either divergent, convergent, or a transform-fault. At a divergent boundary, plates move apart, increasing plate area. At a convergent boundary, plates come together, decreasing plate area, as part of one plate is subducted. At a transform boundary, 2 plates rub, in the same or opposite directions; plate area is unchanged.
bounded rationality: an economic encapsulation with 3 assumptions: 1) that the rationality of decisions is limited by cognitive abilities, and influenced by emotion, 2) that information is limited, and that 3) decisions are typically made quickly. The term was coined by Herbert Simon.
Bourbon–Habsburg rivalry (1516–1756): the rivalry between the House of Habsburg, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain, and the House of Bourbon, which ruled the kingdom of France. Encircled by the Habsburg on 3 fronts, France lashed out with several wars, of which the 30 Years’ War was the most destructive.
bourgeoisie: upper middle class.
bovid: a cloven-footed ruminant ungulate in the Bovidae family, including antelopes, bison, African buffalo, water buffalo, (domestic) cattle, gazelles, goats, impala, muskoxen, sheep, and wildebeest. Bovids emerged 20 MYA.
bovine spongiform encephalopathy (aka mad cow disease): a fatal encephalopathy in cattle that causes spongy degeneration in the brain and spinal cord.
bow-tie (paradigm): a processing structure capable of handling a diversity of inputs (fan-in) and producing divergent outputs (fan out).
bower: an attractive architectural display.
bowerbird: a medium-sized passerine, of 20 species, found in the Pacific region. Male bowerbirds construct elaborate bowers to attract and seduce mates.
box jellyfish: a marine cnidarian invertebrate distinguished by its boxy body.
boxer crab: a small crab in the Lybia genus that holds up its claws for defense.
boyar: a high-ranking member of the feudal Bulgarian, Moldavian, Romanian, or Russian aristocracy, 2nd in rank only to ruling princes.
BPA (bisphenol A; (CH3)2C(C6H4OH)2): a colorless solid that is the starting material for synthesizing plastic. BPA is soluble in organic solvents, but poorly soluble in water. Commercial use of BPA began in 1957. In 2015, 4 million tonnes of BPA were made worldwide, making it one of the highest volume chemical compounds produced.
BPA is a xenoestrogen: an estrogen mimic. Despite this hazard, American, Canadian, and European food safety regulators allow BPA in food packaging, except baby bottles.
Bragg peak: the apex of ionizing radiation; named after its 1903 discoverer, William Henry Bragg.
brachial plexus: a network of nerve fibers from the spine, innervating the hands and arms.
brachiate: to progress by swinging from one arm hold to another.
brachiopod: a marine animal with a hard valve (shell) on the upper and lower surfaces, unlike bivalve mollusks, which have a left-right shell arrangement.
brackish water: water with more salinity than fresh water, but not as salty as seawater.
Braconidae: a large family of parasitoid wasps, with 30,000–50,000 species.
Bradfield’s Namib day gecko (Rhoptropus bradfieldi): a diurnal gecko with low metabolism, endemic to Namibia.
Bragg peak: the apex of ionizing radiation; named after its 1903 discoverer, William Henry Bragg.
Brahma: the Hindu god form of brahman.
brahman: an infinite, eternal, transcendent force that constitutes absolute reality according to Hindu belief. See Brahma.
brain: an animal organ central to nervous systems, located within the head.
brainstem: the posterior part of the brain in many vertebrates.
brane: a string-theory construct of an HD membrane.
braneworld: a physical model using branes. Braneworld models are extensions from earlier M-theory and D-brane models.
Brassica: the genus of green, leafy vegetables known as cruciferous.
Brassicaceae: a broad family of flowering plants commonly known as cabbage, crucifers, or mustards; of 372 genera and at least 4060 species; most are herbaceous, some are shrubs.
brassinosteroid: a class of steroidal plant hormones critical to differentiation of cells into organs, as well as contributing to other processes, including stress response (cold, drought).
Brazilian owl butterfly (Caligo): a large South American butterfly with eye-like camouflage.
bread mold (Rhizopus stolonifer): a black fungal mold commonly found on bread surfaces. Bread mold is heterothallic.
bread palm: a cycad in the genus Encephalartos, native to central and southern Africa.
breadcrumb sponge (Halichondria panicea): a hardy marine sponge abundant in the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterrean Sea, especially coastal areas.
Bretton Woods system (1944–1971): the international monetary system that resulted from the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference, which relied upon the gold standard and a pegged foreign-exchange mechanism. The Bretton Woods Conference also birthed the International Monetary Fund, whose purpose was to promote financial stability worldwide.
Breviatea: a group of unicellular, anaerobic, flagellate, amoeboid protists.
bride-price (aka bride-token): payment for taking a woman as a mate.
bridgmanite ((Mg,Fe)SiO3) (formerly perovskite): a ferromagnesian silicate mineral; the predominant mineral (38%) in Earth’s lower mantle.
bristle worm (aka polychaete): a segmented (annelid) worm, generally marine, where each body segment has fleshy bristles.
bristlecone pine: 1 of 3 species of long-lived pine trees endemic to the western United States. The name derives from the prickles on female cones.
Britain: see United Kingdom.
British Petroleum (1909–): British petroleum and natural gas extractor and supplier.
British thief ant (Solenopsis fugax): a kleptomaniacal ant indigenous to the British Isles.
broccoli (Brassica oleracea): a green, leafy plant in the cabbage family, closely related to cauliflower, with a large flowering head, eaten as a vegetable.
broker (finance): an intermediary who facilitates trade.
bromeliad: a monocot in the Bromeliaceae family, native mainly to the tropical Americas, with 3,170 species.
bronchus (plural: bronchi): an air passage into the lungs.
bronze: an alloy of copper (90%) and tin (10%).
Bronze Age (~3300–1300 BCE): the middle period of the 3-age system, noted for the metallurgical production of bronze; the Stone Age preceded, the Iron Age followed.
brood: a young offspring of an animal.
brood parasitism: passing one’s own eggs off on another species to raise. Avian cuckoos are typical brood parasites.
brown anole (aka Bahaman anole, Anolis sagrei): a brown-to-blackish lizard native to Cuba and the Bahamas. The brown anole is aggressively invasive, feeding on arthropods and other lizards, including its cousin, the green anole. See green anole.
brown dwarf: a substellar body too low in mass to sustain fusion reactions in its core, unlike stars, which do.
brown fat (aka brown adipose tissue): an active form of mammalian fat that generates heat and helps regulate body heat. Contrast white fat.
brown hoplo (aka armored catfish, curito, cascadu, atipa, hassa, Hoplosternum littorale): a catfish native to tropical eastern South America with plate-like armor on its sides.
brown snake (Storeria dekayi): a small ovoviviparous snake in the western hemisphere known to play dead in distress.
Brown v. Board of Education (1954): a US Supreme Court ruling declaring racially segregated public schools “inherently unequal,” and so unconstitutional.
brown-nose: to curry favor or behave obsequiously. A brown-noser is a toady or sycophant.
brownfield: a former industrial site laden with pollution.
Brownian motion: the seemingly random movement of particles suspended in a fluid (gas or liquid). Named after Robert Brown.
browser (software): an application used to locate and display Web pages.
Brucella: a genus of bacteria named after David Bruce. Brucella cause brucellosis: a zoonosis transmitted by direct contact with an infected animal or ingesting contaminated food.
brushtail possum: a nocturnal, semi-arboreal marsupial in the Trichosurus genus, native to Australia. Brushtails are inventive and determined foragers.
bruxism: unconsciously gritting or grinding teeth.
Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera brydei): a small rorqual whale which prefers warmer waters over the polar seas that other baleen whales frequent. Bryde’s are largely coastal rather than pelagic.
bryophyte: a plant that lacks vascular tissue. Mosses, hornworts, and liverworts are bryophytes.
bryozoan (aka moss animal): a phylum of aquatic invertebrates.
Bt: see Bacillus thuringiensis.
bubble (finance): a bull market that culminates in a crash.
buckhorn (aka ribleaf, English plantain, narrowleaf plantain, ribwort plantain, lamb’s tongue, Plantago lanceolata): a flowering plant in the plantain family; a common weed on cultivated land in the British Isles. Buckhorn was introduced in the Americas and Australia and is now widespread there.
Buddhism: an offshoot religion of Hinduism, founded upon the teachings of Buddha.
budding: a mother creating a smaller daughter. Baker’s yeast reproduces by budding.
budgie (aka budgerigar, pet parakeet, Melopsittacus undulatus): a small, long-tailed seed-eating parrot, native to the drier regions of Australia.
bufflehead: a small sea duck in the goldeneyes genus (Bucephala). The name derives from the bird’s oddly bulbous head.
Buffon’s needle: a geometric probability problem, posed by Comte de Buffon, that pondered the probability of a short needle, dropped on a floor with parallel strips, landing so that needle goes across 2 strips. Buffon’s needle was the first problem solved using integral geometry.
bugleweed: a mint plant of 40–50 species in the genus Ajuga.
bulb: a plant food storage organ for dormancy.
bulbous corpuscle (aka Ruffini’s end organ): a slowly adapting mechanoreceptor in human subcutaneous tissue that senses continued pressure on deep tissue. Contrast Pacinian corpuscle.
bulbul: a medium-sized passerine in the Pycnonotidae family, found in Africa, the Middle East, and tropical Asia to Indonesia and Japan.
bull market: an American colloquialism for a market trend of rising stock prices. Technically, a bull market represents a rise of at least 20%.
The earliest record of the term bull was in 1714. It gained favor owing to its affinity with the converse term bear. The terms bear and bull also have roots in English hunting culture, expressing the characteristic reserve (bear) and audacity (bull) of the 2 animals. Contrast bear market.
bullroarer (aka rhombus, turndun): a weighted aerofoil (rectangular slat of wood) attached to a long cord. Swinging it in the air produces low-frequency sounds that travel long distances. Varying rotation and twist alter pitch. Origin unknown. A 17,000-year-old bullroarer was found in the Ukraine. The instrument is used by Australian aborigines.
bureaucracy: a conceptual model of departmentalized responsibilities and functions within an organization; coined by Jacques Claude de Gournay in the mid-18th century as a pejorative. Within a century, bureaucracy was being used in a neutral sense.
burgher: a town or borough, or a middle-class citizen of such a town.
bursa of Fabricius: a specialized organ in birds (but not mammals) necessary for B cell development.
burying beetle (aka sexton beetle): a beetle in the Nicrophorus genus which buries a small vertebrate as a larder for its larvae.
bus (computer): a computer communication system.
bushbaby (formally: galago): a small, slow-moving, nocturnal prosimian in the Galagidae family, native to continental Africa.
business cycle: the relative level of consumption and business activity. Compare financial cycle.
BusinessWeek (1929–): a US business magazine that started in September 1929, just weeks before the 1929 stock market crash that begat the Great Depression.
butane (C4H10): an alkane with 4 carbon atoms.
butterfly: a flying diurnal insect of 17,500 extant species. Compare moth.
butterfly effect: a sensitive dependence on initial conditions, where an incremental change at one place in a nonlinear system creates a cascade which results in large changes.
butyric acid (aka butanoic acid, CH3CH2CH2CO2H): a bad-smelling fatty acid; the primary odorant of human vomit and rancid butter.
button mushroom (aka Agaricus bisporus; also known by a host of other provincial names): the most commonly and widely consumed mushroom in the world.
buzz pollination (aka sonication): a technique by pollinating bees to release pollen by vibrating their bodies near the anther.
Bwiti: a spiritual discipline practiced by forest-dwelling peoples on the eastern coast of central Africa (Gabon and Cameroon).
bya: billions of years ago. by as an acronym for “billion years” is deprecated in modern geophysics, in favor of Ga, shorthand for gigaannum. Sometimes the old ways are the best.
bystander effect (aka bystander apathy): a situation where observers offer no assistance to someone sorely needing it. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders.
byte: 8 bits.
Byzantine Empire (aka the Eastern Roman Empire) (330–1453): the predominantly Greek-speaking continuation of the eastern Roman Empire until annexed by the Ottomans in 1453. See Constantinople.