Van Nostrand's Concise Encyclopedia of Science

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The most comprehensive one-volume scientific desk reference available
Based on the new 4,000-page, two-volume Van Nostrand's Science Encyclopedia, Ninth Edition, the best scientific encyclopedia available according to the Library Journal, this authoritative, concise encyclopedia of science features over 5,000 entries that completely cover vital science, technology, and math terms and concepts. Easy-to-use and fun to read, this indispensable reference covers the very latest ...

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Overview

The most comprehensive one-volume scientific desk reference available
Based on the new 4,000-page, two-volume Van Nostrand's Science Encyclopedia, Ninth Edition, the best scientific encyclopedia available according to the Library Journal, this authoritative, concise encyclopedia of science features over 5,000 entries that completely cover vital science, technology, and math terms and concepts. Easy-to-use and fun to read, this indispensable reference covers the very latest scientific advances and developments in all areas of science. Plus, it offers basic definitions of scientific terms followed by concise explanations of the concepts. Packed with illustrations, charts, and graphs, this impressive book also features numerous line drawings, diagrams, and black-and-white photos.
Christopher G. DePree (Decatur, GA) is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Agnes Scott College.
Alan Axelrod, PhD (Atlanta, GA) is the award-winning author of more than twenty books and is a well-regarded popular historian.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471363316
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/17/2003
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 840
  • Product dimensions: 7.90 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 2.20 (d)

Meet the Author

CHRISTOPHER G. De PREE, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Agnes College. He lives in Decatur, Georgia.

ALAN AXELROD, Ph.D., is the award-winning author of more than fifty books and a well-regarded popular historian. He lives in Atlanta.

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Read an Excerpt

Van Nostrand's Concise Encyclopedia of Science


John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-36331-6


Chapter One

A

AA

An Hawaiian term introduced into geological nomenclature by C.E. Dutton in 1883, and signifying the jagged, scoriaceous, blocky and exceedingly rough surface of some basic lava flows. Pronounced ah-ah.

aardvark (Mammalia, Tubulidentata)

African animals of peculiar form and ancient lineage, including an Ethiopian and a South African species. All are anteaters, feeding exclusively on ants and termites, nocturnal in habit, with acute hearing. The southern species has been called the ant bear. The aardvark is the only living representative of its order. The animal's spine, curved from neck to tail in a near-half circle, gives it a truly prehistoric appearance.

The aardvark is solitary. In daytime it sleeps curled up like a dog in one of its burrows, often beneath a termite hill. The animal moves almost entirely at night, when it seeks termite hills and destroys them to reach the interior chambers and tunnels alive with insects, which it rapidly licks up in lumps. Although usually silent, the animal can grunt like a hippopotamus. Life span is at least 10 years. In captivity, aardvarks become accustomed to keepers, but do not show great intelligence. See Fig. 1.

aardwolf (Mammalia, Carnivora)

An African species, Proteles cristatus, superficially like the striped hyena, not common, nocturnal and sleeps by day under termite nests or in excavated or aardvark holes. Teeth reduced in number and size, and insect eater, but can chew very rotten meat or newly born animals. See also Hyena.

abalone (Mollusca, Gasteropoda; Haliotis)

Marine species, usually found in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. The single broad shallow shell has a richly colored iridescent inner surface and is an important source of mother-of-pearl and blister pearls for costume jewelry. The flesh is palatable. See Fig. 1.

Abbe Condenser

A compound lens used for directing light through the object of a compound microscope. All the light enters the object at an angle with the axis of the microscope. See also Microscope (Traditional-Optical).

Abbe Sine Condition

The relationship

ny sin [theta] = n'y' sin [theta]

where n, n' are refractive indices, y, y' are distances from optical axis, and [theta], [theta'] are angles light rays make with the optical axis. A failure of an optical surface to satisfy the sine condition is a measure of the coma of the surface.

abdomen

The abdomen is the posterior division of the body in many arthropods. It is the posterior portion of the trunk in vertebrates. In the vertebrates this region of the body contains most of the alimentary tract, the excretory system, and the reproductive organs.

aberration (optical)

The failure of an optical system to form an image of a point as a point, of a straight line as a straight line, and of an angle as an equal angle. See also Astigmatism; Chromatic Aberration; Coma (Optics); Curvature of Field (Optics); Spherical Aberration.

ablate

To carry away; specifically, to carry away heat generated by aerodynamic heating, from a vital part, by arranging for its absorption in a nonvital part, which may melt or vaporize, then fall away taking the heat with it. See also Ablation.

ablating material

A material, especially a coating material, designed to provide thermal protection to a body in a fluid stream through loss of mass. Ablating materials are used on the surfaces of some reentry vehicles to absorb heat by removal of mass, thus blocking the transfer of heat to the rest of the vehicle and maintaining temperatures within design limits. Ablating materials absorb heat by increasing in temperature and changing in chemical or physical state. The heat is carried away from the surface by a loss of mass (liquid or vapor). The departing mass also blocks part of the convective heat transfer to the remaining material in the same manner as transpiration cooling.

ablating nose cone

A nose cone designed to reduce heat transfer to the internal structure by the use of an ablating material.

ablation (geomorphology)

Essentially, the wasting away of rocks; the separation of rock material and formation of residual deposits, as caused by wind action or the washing away of loose and soluble materials.

ablation (glaciology)

The combined processes (sublimation, melting, evaporation) by which snow or ice is removed from the surface of a glacier or snowfield.

ablation (meteorite)

The direct vaporization of molten surface layers of meteorites and tektites during flight.

abrasion

All metallic and nonmetallic surfaces, no matter how smooth, consist of minute serrations and ridges that induce a cutting or tearing action when two surfaces in contact move with respect to each other. This wearing of the surfaces is termed abrasion.

abscess

A localized collection of pus within a cavity. An abscess may occur in many organs of the body.

abscission

This term is applied to the process whereby leaves, leaflets, fruits, or other plant parts become detached from the plant. Leaf abscission is a characteristic phenomenon of many species of woody dicots and is especially conspicuous during the autumn period of leaf fall. The onset of abscission seems to be regulated by plant hormones.

absolute

1. Pertaining to a measurement relative to a universal constant or natural datum, as absolute coordinate system, absolute altitude, absolute temperature.

2. Complete, as in absolute vacuum.

absolute altimeter

An instrument intended to give acceptably accurate, direct indications of absolute altitude.

absolute altitude

Altitude above the actual surface, either land or water, of a planet or natural satellite.

absolute coordinate system

An inertial coordinate system that is fixed with respect to the stars. In theory, no absolute coordinate system can be established because the reference stars are themselves in motion. In practice, such a system can be established to meet the demands of the problem concerned by the selection of appropriate reference stars.

absolute delay

The time interval between the transmission of sequential signals. Also called delay.

absolute magnitude (symbol M)

1. A measure of the brightness of a star equal to the magnitude the star would have at a distance of 10 parsecs from the observer.

M = m+5+5 log p where m is apparent magnitude, and p is the parallax of the star (in seconds of arc). Absolute magnitudes may be visual, photographic, etc., according to the way in which the apparent magnitude was measured.

2. The stellar magnitude any meteor would have if placed in the observer's zenith at a height of 100 kilometers.

absolute manometer

1. A gas manometer whose calibration, which is the same for all ideal gases, can be calculated from the measurable physical constants of the instrument.

2. A manometer that measures absolute pressure.

absolute motion

Motion relative to a fixed point. See also Absolute Coordinate System.

absolute pressure

1. In engineering literature, a term used to indicate pressure above the absolute zero value of pressure that theoretically obtains in empty space or at the absolute zero of temperature as distinguished from gage pressure.

2. In high-vacuum technology, pressure is understood to correspond to absolute pressure, not gage pressure, and therefore the term absolute pressure is rarely used. See also Pressure.

absolute space-time

A fundamental concept underlying Newtonian mechanics is that there exists a preferred reference system to which all measurements should be referred. This is known as absolute space-time. The assumption of such a system is replaced in relativistic mechanics by the principle of equivalence. See Equivalence Principle; Relativity and Relativity Theory.

absolute vacuum

A void completely empty of matter. Also called perfect vacuum. An absolute vacuum is not obtainable.

absolute zero

Conceptually that temperature where there is no molecular motion, no heat. On the Celsius scale, absolute zero is -273.15°C, on the Fahrenheit scale, -459.67°F; and zero Kelvin (0 K). The concept of absolute zero stems from thermodynamic postulations.

absorber

In general, a medium, substance or functional part that takes up matter or energy. In radiation and particle physics, an absorber is a body of material introduced between a source of radiation and a detector to (1) determine the energy or nature of the radiation; (2) to shield the detector from the radiation; or (3) to transmit selectively one or more components of the radiation, so that the radiation undergoes a change in its energy spectrum. Such an absorber may function through a combination of processes of true absorption, scattering and slowing-down.

absorption band

A range of wavelengths (or frequencies) in the electromagnetic spectrum within which radiant energy is absorbed by a substance. When the absorbing substance is a polyatomic gas, an absorption band actually is composed of a group of discrete absorption lines, which appear to overlap. Each line is associated with a particular mode of vibration or rotation induced in a gas molecule by the incident radiation. The absorption bands of oxygen and ozone are often referred to in the literature of atmospheric physics.

See also Absorption Spectrum; Electromagnetic Phenomena; Electromagnetic Spectrum.

absorption coefficient

In the most general use of the term, absorption coefficient, applied to electromagnetic radiation and atomic and subatomic particles, is a measure of the rate of decrease in intensity of a beam of photons or particles in its passage through a particular substance. One complication in the statement of the absorption coefficient arises from the cause of the decrease in intensity. When light, x-rays, or other electromagnetic radiation enters a body of matter, it experiences in general two types of attenuation. Part of it is subjected to scattering, being reflected in all directions, while another portion is absorbed by being converted into other forms of energy.

See also Spectrochemical Analysis (Visible).

absorption (energy)

The process whereby the total number of particles emerging from a body of matter is reduced relative to the number entering as a result of interaction of the particles with the body. Also, the process whereby the kinetic energy of a particle is reduced while traversing a body of matter. This loss of kinetic energy or radiation is also referred to as moderation, slowing, or stopping. See also Black Body. The absorption of mechanical energy by dynamometers, which convert the mechanical energy to heat or electricity, has led to the use of the term "absorption dynamometer" to distinguish these machines. See also Dynamometer. In acoustics, absorption is the process whereby some or all of the energy of sound waves is transferred to a substance on which they are incident or which they traverse.

absorption (physiology)

The process by which materials enter the living substance of which the organism is composed. Materials including food and oxygen are taken into special organs by ingestion and respiration, but they must pass through the cell wall to become an integral part of the organism by absorption. The basic physical forces involved are those of osmosis and diffusion.

absorption spectrum

The spectrum of radiation that has been filtered through a material medium. When white light traverses a transparent medium, a certain portion of it is absorbed, the amount varying, in general, progressively with the frequency of which the absorption coefficient is a function. Analysis of the transmitted light may, however, reveal that certain frequency ranges are absorbed to a degree out of all proportion to the adjacent regions; that is, with a distinct selectivity. These abnormally absorbed frequencies constitute, collectively, the "absorption spectrum" of the medium, and appear as dark lines or bands in the otherwise continuous spectrum of the transmitted light.

abundance ratio

The proportions of the various isotopes that make up a particular specimen of an element. See Chemical Elements.

abyssal zone

The region of the ocean beyond the point of penetration of light, including the ocean floor in the deep areas. According to various investigators who have descended into the ocean depths, no light penetrates beyond about 1,500 feet (450 meters), and penetration may be much less if the water is murky with suspended particles. The water is always extremely cold in the abyssal zone and the pressure is very great. Still many forms of animal life are to be found at these great depths, feeding upon the organic matter that drifts down from the upper waters.

acacia trees

Of the family Leguminosae (pea family), the genus Acacia represents a large number of mostly evergreen trees and shrubs, particularly abundant in Africa and Australia. The trees like warmth and full sun. The small flowers are aggregated into ball-like or elongate clusters, which are quite conspicuous. The leaves are rather diverse in shape; quite commonly they are dissected into compound pinnate forms; in other instances, especially in the Australian species, they are reduced even to a point where only the flattened petiole, called a phyllode, remains. This petiole grows with the edges vertical, which some observers consider a protective adaptation against too intense sunlight on the surface. Some species, particularly those growing in Africa and tropical Asia, yield products of commercial value. Gum arabic is obtained from the Acacia senegal. A brown or black dye called clutch is obtained from A. catechu. Some acacias are used for timber. Shittinwood referred to in the scriptures: "And thou shalt make staves of shittinwood and overlay them with gold," (Exodus 26:26-37), is considered by authorities as wood from Acacia seyal (then referred to as the shittah tree).

Acarina

The order of Arachnida that includes the mites and ticks.

acceleration

The rate of change of the velocity with respect to the time is called acceleration.

Continues...


Excerpted from Van Nostrand's Concise Encyclopedia of Science Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface.

Foreword.

Science Entries A to Z.

Contributors.

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