Do You Remember These High School Science Terms?

Friday, September 163 min read

How much do you remember from high school science class? The word “science” itself comes from the Latin scienta, meaning “knowledge” — a fitting definition for a broad subject that can span many different courses and builds upon prior lessons in each grade level. While you may not employ the scientific method in your day-to-day routine, it’s likely some of these lessons stuck with you into adulthood. Take a look at some of these classic high school vocabulary words from all areas of science, and see which ones you remember.


An atom is the basic unit of a chemical element. The word “atom” fittingly came from the Greek atomos, meaning “indivisible,” because it was once believed that atoms were the smallest elements in the universe and could not be split apart (a theory that was later proven false).


Igneous, or volcanic, rock, was aptly named from the Latin word for “fire” (ignis). These rocks form when molten rock solidifies. There are two types of igneous rocks: Intrusive igneous rocks are found deep within the Earth, while extrusive igneous rocks are formed near the surface where magma exits the Earth.


A biome is also known as a habitat. The five major types of biomes around the world are aquatic, grassland, forest, desert, and tundra. The term was likely coined by American ecologist Frederic E. Clements in the early 20th century. The root bios comes from the Greek word for “life.”


In anatomy class, the brain is called the cerebrum. This word came into English in the early 17th century, directly from the Latin word for “brain,” cerebrum, which also means “the understanding.”


Kinetic energy, the energy that an object possesses due to its motion, is covered extensively in physics class. “Kinetic” itself is defined as “​​relating to or resulting from motion.” It’s been used in physics studies since the mid-19th century, but the word came from the Greek kinein, meaning “to move.”


In biology, a eukaryote is an organism consisting of one or more cells with a distinct nucleus and DNA. All living things are eukaryotes, except for eubacteria and archaebacteria, which are prokaryotes. The term, which means “easily formed kernel,” was coined in the 1960s from the Greek eu and karyo.


Many new terms were coined in the 1960s during the space race, including “quasar,” a word for an extremely remote, yet massive, celestial object. Quasars, which resemble stars, are found at the center of some galaxies. They are powered by massive black holes that spiral gas at high velocities. They were first seen by radio surveys of the sky in the 1950s. Their name comes from a shortened version of “quasi-stellar radio sources.”


Seismos is Greek for “earthquake.” In modern science, “seismic” is used to describe things related to earthquakes or vibrations in the Earth’s crust, such as seismic activity. “Seismic” can also mean something of enormous proportions. For example, “Pollution has a seismic impact on the environment.”


The xylem of a plant is the vascular tissue that moves water and nutrients from the root. It also acts as a support to hold the plant stem upright. It’s been used in biology since the late 19th century and came from the Greek xulon, meaning “wood.”


Mitosis is what happens to cells during ordinary tissue growth. The cell splits into two daughter cells that have the same number and kind of chromosomes as the parent nucleus. The word was coined by German anatomist Walther Fleming in 1882 using the Greek mitos (“warp thread”) and the Latin -osis (“act, process”), because the chromatin of the cell nucleus looks like long threads at its end stages.


The zenith is the point in the sky that is directly above the observer. It can also describe the highest point reached by a celestial object. It was first used in English in the late 14th century, coming from the Latin cenit, which was based on an older Arabic phrase, samt ar-ra's, or “path over the head.”

Featured image credit: Davizro/ iStock

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