March 23, 2001

Lab scientists contribute to physics dictionary

Lab physicists Don Correll and Bob Heeter were recent collaborators on the CRC Press Comprehensive Dictionary of Physics, published earlier this year.
Both Correll, who is director of the Lab’s Science & Technology Education Program, and Heeter, who is a Lawrence Fellow at the Lab, are associated with nationally recognized plasma education activities. They responded last year to a request by the CRC Press editor to add plasma terms to the Comprehensive Dictionary project ( http://members.aol.com/physdict/ ).

There are actually three separate dictionaries, all of which will be combined into the comprehensive volume. The three separate works are entitled: Dictionary of Pure and Applied Physics (published on Dec. 23, 2000); Dictionary of Material Science and High Energy Physics (published on Jan. 25); and Dictionary of Geophysics, Astrophysics, and Astronomy (available on June 13).

Correll and Heeter’s contributions were included within the Plasma Physics terms contained in the Material Science and High Energy Physics dictionary. The primary purpose of the three dictionaries is to help scientists to use terminology clearly and consistently. The dictionaries can also help students, teachers and technical writers to fully understand papers, articles, dissertations and books in which physics-related terms appear.

"Bob and I were surprised by the scope of writing precise definitions of plasma terms which both of us have used in publications for years. Making sure that the plasma definitions were self-consistent with each other and applicable to a wide range of users added additional challenges," Correll said.

Added Heeter, "The specialized terms that help scientists communicate are like a foreign language to those who aren’t already experts. In addition to helping reduce some of these language barriers, defining key, fundamental terms for the dictionary also helped me reinforce my own knowledge."

Correll and Heeter took their contribution one step further. Working with Mitch Alvarez, STEP’s information technology manager, they created a database-driven Website that allows users to submit new plasma terms, search for specific terms or browse alphabetic listings.(http://education.llnl.gov/plasmadictionary).

Plasma scientists are encouraged to add terms and definitions. Correll reported the results of the Web version of a Plasma Dictionary at last October’s annual meeting of American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics. The plasma dictionary Website’s primary use is by students, teachers, researchers and writers for enhancing literacy in plasma science, serving as an educational aid, providing practical information and helping clarify plasma writings.

Correll and Heeter share a common view for the future of the Plasma Dictionary Website, adding "we hope it will evolve and grow along with the language of plasmas, becoming a peer-reviewed reference for the field."