Birds could get their sense of direction from quantum physics

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annual: Adjective for something that happens every year. (in botany) A plant that lives only one year, so it usually has a showy flower and produces many seeds.

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.

biology: The study of living things. The scientists who study them are known as biologists.

birds: Warm-blooded animals with wings that first showed up during the time of the dinosaurs. Birds are jacketed in feathers and produce young from the eggs they deposit in some sort of nest. Most birds fly, but throughout history there have been the occasional species that don’t.

coauthor: One of a group (two or more people) who together had prepared a written work, such as a book, report or research paper. Not all coauthors may have contributed equally.

colleague: Someone who works with another; a co-worker or team member.

compass: An instrument that uses magnetized substances to show the direction of magnetic north.

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

field: (in physics) A region in space where certain physical effects operate, such as magnetism (created by a magnetic field), gravity (by a gravitational field), mass (by a Higgs field) or electricity (by an electrical field).

laser: A device that generates an intense beam of coherent light of a single color. Lasers are used in drilling and cutting, alignment and guidance, in data storage and in surgery.

magnet: A material that usually contains iron and whose atoms are arranged so they attract certain metals.

magnetic field: An area of influence created by certain materials, called magnets, or by the movement of electric charges.

migration: (v. migrate) Movement from one region or habitat to another, especially regularly (and according to the seasons) or to cope with some driving force (such as climate or war). An individual that makes this move is known as a migrant.

morph: Short for metamorphosis, it means to change from one form to another (such as from a caterpillar to a butterfly) or from one shape to another. Or it can mean to evolve or mutate, where one or more parts of the genome undergo some sort of change in their chemistry — and potentially in their function. (in non-living systems) It refers to some thing, some policy or some activity that has undergone change, becoming something that looks or seems new and different.

navigate: To find one’s way through a landscape using visual cues, sensory information (like scents), magnetic information (like an internal compass) or other techniques.

parallel: An adjective that describes two things that are side by side and have the same distance between their parts. In the word “all,” the final two letters are parallel lines. Or two things, events or processes that have much in common if compared side by side.

physics: The scientific study of the nature and properties of matter and energy. Classical physics is an explanation of the nature and properties of matter and energy that relies on descriptions such as Newton’s laws of motion. Quantum physics, a field of study that emerged later, is a more accurate way of explaining the motions and behavior of matter. A scientist who works in such areas is known as a physicist.

probability: A mathematical calculation or assessment (essentially the chance) of how likely something is to occur.

protein: A compound made from one or more long chains of amino acids. Proteins are an essential part of all living organisms. They form the basis of living cells, muscle and tissues; they also do the work inside of cells. Among the better-known, stand-alone proteins are the hemoglobin (in blood) and the antibodies (also in blood) that attempt to fight infections. Medicines frequently work by latching onto proteins.

quantum: (pl. quanta) A term that refers to the smallest amount of anything, especially of energy or subatomic mass.

quantum physics: A branch of physics that uses quantum theory to explain or predict how a physical system will operate on the scale of atoms or sub-atomic particles.

superposition: (in quantum physics) The ability of some minute subatomic-scale particle to be more than one place at the same time. It has to do with particles in the quantum world having the weird capacity to exist in all possible states (or positions) at once. (in geology) An understanding that unless subsurface strata of soil and rock have been disturbed somehow, the age of the materials will get successively older with depth.

wavelength: The distance between one peak and the next in a series of waves, or the distance between one trough and the next. It’s also one of the “yardsticks” used to measure radiation. Visible light — which, like all electromagnetic radiation, travels in waves — includes wavelengths between about 380 nanometers (violet) and about 740 nanometers (red). Radiation with wavelengths shorter than visible light includes gamma rays, X-rays and ultraviolet light. Longer-wavelength radiation includes infrared light, microwaves and radio waves.

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