New ultrathin materials can pull climate-warming CO2 from the air


application: A particular use or function of something.

atmosphere: The envelope of gases surrounding Earth, another planet or a moon.

atom: The basic unit of a chemical element. Atoms are made up of a dense nucleus that contains positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. The nucleus is orbited by a cloud of negatively charged electrons.

average: (in science) A term for the arithmetic mean, which is the sum of a group of numbers that is then divided by the size of the group.

behavior: The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.

carbon: A chemical element that is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules. (in climate studies) The term carbon sometimes will be used almost interchangeably with carbon dioxide to connote the potential impacts that some action, product, policy or process may have on long-term atmospheric warming.

carbon capture: (climate science) A term for processes that directly remove carbon dioxide gas from air or water through some chemical means so that it can be stored and then either disposed or reused as a raw material.

carbon footprint: A popular term for measuring the global warming potential of various products or processes. Their carbon footprint translates to the amount of some greenhouse gas — usually carbon dioxide — that something releases per unit of time or per quantity of product.

caustic: An adjective for alkaline materials that can chemically burn or corrode tissue. A common example is lye (potassium hydroxide). Some people also use caustic to describe strong acids that also burn and corrode. To be accurate, however, caustic term should be applied only to alkaline chemicals.

chemical: A substance formed from two or more atoms that unite (bond) in a fixed proportion and structure. For example, water is a chemical made when two hydrogen atoms bond to one oxygen atom. Its chemical formula is H2O. Chemical also can be an adjective to describe properties of materials that are the result of various reactions between different compounds.

climate: The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change: Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

compound: (often used as a synonym for chemical) A compound is a substance formed when two or more chemical elements unite (bond) in fixed proportions. For example, water is a compound made of two hydrogen atoms bonded to one oxygen atom. Its chemical symbol is H2O.

corrosive: An adjective for something that can weaken, erode or damage materials (usually metal or rock) gradually as a result of chemical reactions.

crystal: (adj. crystalline) A solid consisting of a symmetrical, ordered, three-dimensional arrangement of atoms or molecules. It’s the organized structure taken by most minerals. Apatite, for example, forms six-sided crystals. The crystalline components of a rock are usually too small to be seen with the unaided eye.

develop: To emerge or to make come into being, either naturally or through human intervention, such as by manufacturing.

dissolve: To turn a solid into a liquid and disperse it into that starting liquid. (For instance, sugar or salt crystals, which are solids, will dissolve into water. Now the crystals are gone and the solution is a fully dispersed mix of the liquid form of the sugar or salt in water.)

diversity: A broad spectrum of similar items, ideas or people. In a social context, it may refer to a diversity of experiences and cultural backgrounds. (in biology) A range of different life forms.

electrical conductivity: The ability of some substance (such as water or metals) to transport an electrical charge or current.

electricity: A flow of charge, usually from the movement of negatively charged particles, called electrons.

electron: A negatively charged particle, usually found orbiting the outer regions of an atom; also, the carrier of electricity within solids.

element: A building block of some larger structure. (in chemistry) Each of more than one hundred substances for which the smallest unit of each is a single atom. Examples include hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, lithium and uranium.

engineering: The field of research that uses math and science to solve practical problems. Someone who works in this field is known as an engineer.

environment: The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of things in the vicinity of an item of interest).

fluoride: A chemical, such as sodium fluoride, that contains the element fluorine. In small doses, fluorides can help prevent tooth decay.

fluorine: An element first discovered in 1886 by Henri Moissan. It takes its name from the Latin word meaning “to flow.” Very reactive, chemically, this element had little commercial use until World War II, when it was used to help make a nuclear-reactor fuel. Later, it was used as ingredients (fluorocarbons) in refrigerants and aerosol propellants. Most recently, it has found widespread use to make nonstick coatings for frying pans, plumbers’ tape, and waterproof clothing.

football field: The field on which athletes play American football. Owing to its size and familiarity, many people use this field as a measure of how big something is. A regulation field (including its end zones) runs 360 feet (almost 110 meters) long and 160 feet (almost 49 meters) wide.

formic acid: A strong-smelling, colorless irritant that occurs naturally in the venom of some ants. The venom can kill many types of insects.

fossil fuel: Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.

materials scientist: A researcher who studies how the atomic and molecular structure of a material is related to its overall properties. Materials scientists can design new materials or analyze existing ones. Their analyses of a material’s overall properties (such as density, strength and melting point) can help engineers and other researchers select materials that are best suited to a new application.

mechanical: Having to do with the devices that move, including tools, engines and other machines (even, potentially, living machines); or something caused by the physical movement of another thing.

membrane: A barrier which blocks the passage (or flow through) of some materials depending on their size or other features. Membranes are an integral part of filtration systems. Many serve that same function as the outer covering of cells or organs of a body.

metal: Something that conducts electricity well, tends to be shiny (reflective) and is malleable (meaning it can be reshaped with heat and not too much force or pressure).

microscope: An instrument used to view objects, like bacteria, or the single cells of plants or animals, that are too small to be visible to the unaided eye.

mineral: Crystal-forming substances that make up rock, such as quartz, apatite or various carbonates. Most rocks contain several different minerals mish-mashed together. A mineral usually is solid and stable at room temperatures and has a specific formula, or recipe (with atoms occurring in certain proportions) and a specific crystalline structure (meaning that its atoms are organized in regular three-dimensional patterns). (in physiology) The same chemicals that are needed by the body to make and feed tissues to maintain health.

molten: A word describing something that is melted, such as the liquid rock that makes up lava.

MXenes: A class of super-thin, layered synthetic nanomaterials that are planar in structure (like sheets of paper). They are made from alternating layers of of atoms. One layer is made of linked atoms of some transition metal (which is referred to as M). The next layer will be linked atoms of another element that’s referred to as X (which is typically carbon, nitrogen or bromine). Being so thin, these materials have an enormously high surface area, relative to their mass. Many also are chemically reactive.

nanometer: A billionth of a meter. It’s such a small unit that researchers use it as a yardstick for measuring wavelengths of light or distances within molecules. For perspective, an average human hair is about 60,000 nanometers wide.

nitrogen: A colorless, odorless and nonreactive gaseous element that forms about 78 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. Its scientific symbol is N. Nitrogen is released in the form of nitrogen oxides as fossil fuels burn. It comes in two stable forms. Both have 14 protons in the nucleus. But one has 14 neutrons in that nucleus; the other has 15. For that difference, they are known, respectively, as nitrogen-14 and nitrogen-15 (or 14N and 15N).

oxygen: A gas that makes up about 21 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. All animals and many microorganisms need oxygen to fuel their growth (and metabolism).

physicist: A scientist who studies the nature and properties of matter and energy.

pollutant: A substance that taints something — such as the air, water, our bodies or products. Some pollutants are chemicals, such as pesticides. Others may be radiation, including excess heat or light. Even weeds and other invasive species can be considered a type of biological pollution.

potent: An adjective for something (like a germ, poison, drug or acid) that is very strong or powerful.

salt: A compound made by combining an acid with a base (in a reaction that also creates water). The ocean contains many different salts — collectively called “sea salt.” Common table salt is a made of sodium and chlorine.

Sandia National Laboratories: A series of research facilities run by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. It was created in 1945 as the so-called “Z Division” of nearby Los Alamos Laboratory to design, build and test nuclear weapons. Over time, its mission expanded to the study of a broad range of science and technology issues, mostly related to energy production (including wind and solar to nuclear power). Most of Sandia’s roughly 10,000 employees work in Albuquerque, N.M, or at a second major facility in Livermore, Calif.

society: An integrated group of people or animals that generally cooperate and support one another for the greater good of them all.

sodium hydroxide: A chemical that is used in the production of paper and soap. It is used to make solutions more basic (alkaline).

surface area: The area of some material’s surface. In general, smaller materials and ones with rougher or more convoluted surfaces have a greater exterior surface area — per unit mass — than larger items or ones with smoother exteriors. That becomes important when chemical, biological or physical processes occur on a surface.

transition metal: Also known as transition elements. These metals are found in the center of the periodic table. In comparison to other elements, their properties tend to be more unpredictable. This unpredictability is due to their valence electrons being located in an electron shell section known as the d block. Mercury is one example.

unique: Something that is unlike anything else; the only one of its kind.


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