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Articles on Significant Terms

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Given the complexity of polycules, it’s important for participants to be on the same page. Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

What’s a polycule? An expert on polyamory explains

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, his on-and-off girlfriend, Caroline Ellison, and others involved in the company were reportedly in a polycule together.
Insect bites or stings, like the one on this person’s hand, are a manifestation of inflammation. Suthep Wongkhad/EyeEm via Getty Images

What is inflammation? Two immunologists explain how the body responds to everything from stings to vaccination and why it sometimes goes wrong

Inflammation is a complicated and important part of how the immune system responds to threats to the body. But when the inflammatory response goes awry, it can lead to serious problems.
Boddhisatva Avalokiteśvara, considered to be a compassionate protector, is believed to regularly visit Earth. taikrixel/ via iStock Getty Images Plus

What is a bodhisattva? A scholar of Buddhism explains

Buddhists believe that bodhisattvas reside in heavenly realms but can also appear on Earth disguised as humans, animals or other types of beings.
A raccoon with a fish at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples, Fla. Michael Siluk/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What is a wetland? An ecologist explains

The US Supreme Court opens its 2022-2023 term with a case that could greatly reduce federal protection for wetlands. Here is what makes these ecosystems valuable.
Blockchain transactions are carried in blocks. The amount of energy it takes to add a new block varies widely depending on how it’s done. Yuichiro Chino/Moment via Getty Images

What is proof-of-stake? A computer scientist explains a new way to make cryptocurrencies, NFTs and metaverse transactions

Ethereum, one of the world’s largest blockchains and host of decentralized finance, NFTs and billions of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency, is poised to dramatically reduce its energy consumption.
U.S. banana growers heavily influenced several Central American governments in the early 20th century. George Rinhart/Getty Images

What’s a banana republic? A political scientist explains

The US grows hardly any tropical fruit. So why are politicians and political commentators saying the country is at risk of devolving into a banana republic?
President Ronald Reagan, shown here speaking in Moscow in 1980, was an early adopter of neoliberalism in the U.S. Dirck Halstead/Liaison

What is neoliberalism? A political scientist explains the use and evolution of the term

The word ‘neoliberal’ gets thrown around a lot, often with differing and even contradictory meanings. Here, a political economist explains the origins and evolution of this complex concept.
A bridge and road submerged by floodwaters from the North Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Kentucky, July 28, 2022. Leandro Lozada/AFP via Getty Images

What is a flash flood? A civil engineer explains

As recent deluges in St. Louis and Kentucky show, flash flooding can happen in urban and rural areas, with deadly results in either setting.
The control room of the California Independent System Operator, which manages the flow of electricity on the state’s power grid. Rolf Schulten/ullstein bild via Getty Images

What is curtailment? An electricity market expert explains

Sometimes wind and solar power produce more electricity than the local grid can handle. Better energy storage and transmission could move extra energy to where it’s needed instead of shutting it off.
Entertainer and author Janelle Monáe performs during the 2019 Grammys flanked by android-like backup dancers. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

What is Afrofuturism? An English professor explains

Even though Afrofuturist works are set in fictional worlds, they provide a blueprint for social, political and economic systems free from exploitation and oppression.
In an ectopic pregnancy, when the growing embryo causes a uterine tube rupture like the one in this micrograph, the patient could die from internal bleeding or infection without emergency surgery. Cultura RM Exclusive/Michael J. Klein, M.D./Image Source via Getty Images

What is ectopic pregnancy? A reproductive health expert explains

Treating a potentially deadly pregnancy complication gets caught up in the abortion debate. A nurse-midwife explains why it shouldn’t.
A digital twin attempts to capture every aspect of a real thing, including up-to-the-moment changes. lambada/E+ via Getty Images

What are digital twins? A pair of computer modeling experts explain

A digital twin is to a computer model as live video is to a still photo. These virtual replicas can be used to understand and make predictions about a wide range of complex systems, including people.
Cancer-causing viruses like HPV can cause cells to divide indefinitely and, in the case of Henrietta Lacks, become immortal. Tom Deerinck/NIH via Flickr

What are HeLa cells? A cancer biologist explains

The immortal cancer cells of Henrietta Lacks revolutionized the fields of science, medicine and bioethics. And they still survive today, more than 70 years after her death.
The white ‘bathtub ring’ around Lake Mead, shown on Jan. 11, 2022, is roughly 160 feet high and reflects falling water levels. George Rose/Getty Images

What is dead pool? A water expert explains

The Colorado River provides water and electricity to 40 million people in the western US, but falling water levels threaten both of those resources.

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