Ampere: The standard unit used to measure the strength of an electrical current.
Alternating Current (AC): Electric current in which the electrons periodically and rapidly change direction.
Atlatl: A tool used by prehistoric hunters to throw projectile weapons such as spears and darts. It consisted of a long, hollowed-out rod made from bone or wood, with a hook at one end and a handle at the other. The design of the tool gave the hunter extra leverage, allowing him to hurl the weapon with great velocity.
Atom: The most basic unit comprising matter. Atoms consist of electrons, protons and neutrons.
Aurochs: Extinct form of wild ox believed by archaeologists to have been first domesticated in Asia and Europe by around 6,000 BCE.
Battery: Two or more cells connected together to store electricity.
Biodiesel: Diesel fuel made from biomass.
Bioenergy: Any energy derived from biological sources.
Biofuel: Any fuel derived from a biomass, such as wood or ethanol.
Biogas: Methane-rich gas produced by the breakdown and decomposition of organic material, most commonly manure, plants, or food waste.
Biomass: A renewable energy source comprised of organic matter that can be used as, or converted into, fuel.
Boiler: A device that applies heat energy to water, producing steam to drive an engine or turbine.
Burning glass: A system of mirrors and lenses used in pre-modern times to concentrate and intensify solar energy.
Cam: An irregularly-shaped disk connected to a rotating shaft that gives a reciprocating motion to another wheel or shaft with which it comes into contact.
Camshaft: A shaft having one or more cams attached to it.
Circuit: A complete path comprised of conductors through which an electric current can flow.
Cogeneration: The production by a power plant/facility of both electricity and useful thermal energy.
Crank: Part of a machine that transforms rotary motion (generated by turning a handle positioned at a right angle) into reciprocal motion to move another part of the machine.
Crankshaft: A shaft having one or more cranks attached to it.
Conductor: A substance that allows for the passage of electrical current through it.
Current: The rate at which charged electrons move past a given place in an electric circuit. The current of an electrical charge is typically measured in amperes.
Current Wars: A public relations battle in the United States in the late nineteenth century between advocates of alternating current and direct current electricity.
Direct Current: A type of electric current in which the electrons flow in one direction only, such as that produced by electricity.
Domestication: The process of taming wild animals for human use, particularly for work or food.
Electrical circuit: A closed path through which a current of electricity flows.
Electrical current: The flow of electrons through a conductor.
Electrical grid: An integrated system of electricity generation, transmission and distribution that includes connections to power plants/facilities, transmission lines, and individual consumers.
Electromagnetism: The properties associated with the interactions of electric and magnetic fields.
Electron: A minuscule subatomic particle that carries a negative charge. The movement of electrons from one place to another creates electricity.
Energy: The ability to do work. It is usually measured in watts.
Ethanol: A colourless, flammable chemical compound that is commonly used as a biofuel. It is more commonly known as alcohol.
Flume: A narrow, artificial chute or trough through which water travels.
Fossil fuel: Any carbon or hydrocarbon fuel derived from the decomposition of organic material.
Fuel: Any substance that stores potential energy that can be released as heat energy, most often through combustion.
Generator: A machine that converts mechanical energy into electrical energy.
Geothermal reservoir: A subterranean deposit of extremely hot water and steam heated by magma but trapped beneath the Earth’s surface. Under particular conditions, such reservoirs can be tapped by drills and used to drive steam turbines, producing electricity.
Gigawatt (GW): A measurement of energy equal to one billion watts.
Gigawatthour (GWh): One billion watthours.
Head (Hydraulic): The height difference between the source of water flow at a dam and its outflow. The greater the head, the greater potential energy stored by the water, and thus the greater capacity of a dam to produce power.
Hearth: A confined space, surrounded by stone, where controlled fires were burned for heat, light, cooking, or ceremonial purposes. In modern times, the hearth came to refer simply to the floor of a fireplace.
Hominin: The group including modern humans as well as all primate ancestors of humans that walked upright on two feet and had large brains.
Horse Revolution: A broad term describing the social, political, economic and cultural changes that occurred among the Plains First Nations peoples due to the arrival of the horse in the eighteenth century.
Hydropower: Power derived from harnessing the kinetic energy of moving water, not necessarily to generate electricity.
Hydroelectricity: The generation of electricity achieved by using the kinetic energy of flowing or falling water to drive a turbine generator.
Industrial Revolution: A period in history marked by the application of new technologies (particularly steam power) to production and transportation, and the centralization of production in factories. The Industrial Revolution began in England in the late eighteenth century, and spread to other countries over the following decades.
Kilowatt (kW): A measurement of energy equal to one thousand watts.
Kilowatt hour (kWh): On thousand watt hours (i.e., 1,000 watts either produced or consumed in an hour).
Kinetic energy: The energy possessed by something due to its motion. Kinetic energy can be converted into mechanical energy by a machine; for example, a waterwheel can convert the kinetic energy of moving water into mechanical energy to turn a grindstone.
Leyden Jar: Form of electricity storage invented in 1746 that consisted of a water-filled glass jar surrounded inside and out by metal foil or wire. When an electric charge was passed to the jar, it would be stored in the metal foil/wire for a short period of time (up to a few days).
Mechanical energy: Energy comprised of the total of an object’s kinetic energy (when it is in motion) and its potential energy (when it is not in motion, but it is in a position and orientation gives it stored energy).
Megawatt (MW): A measurement of energy equal to one million watts.
Megawatthour (MWh): One million watthours.
Neutrons: A minuscule subatomic particle that carries no charge. Together with protons, neutrons comprise the nucleus of an atom.
Ohm: The standard unit used to measure the electrical resistance of a conductor.
Overshot waterwheel: A vertical waterwheel that sits underneath a source of water (usually an aqueduct). The water falling from above is captured by blades on the wheel, causing it to rotate.
Passive solar energy: Energy from the Sun that is used without first converting it into another form, such as electricity. Most often, passive solar energy is used for heating buildings and is maximized through architectural design.
Photovoltaic effect: First observed by scientists in 1839, the process by which certain substances generate electricity when exposed to light.
Potential energy: Energy that is stored in an object. Fossil fuels, for example, have potential energy that is released when burned. A rock sitting at the top of a hill has potential energy that is released when it rolls down the hill.
Proton: A minuscule subatomic particle that carries a positive charge. Together with neutrons, protons comprise the nucleus of an atom.
Radiant energy: The energy of electromagnetic waves.
Resistance: The property of a substance that opposes the flow of an electrical current. The extent of a conductor’s resistance is measured in ‘ohms.’
Semiconductor: A solid material whose capacity to conduct electricity falls in between conductors (which conduct electricity well) and insulators (which do not). The most common semiconductor in the world, silicon, generates an electrical charge when exposed to solar energy.
Silicon: The most common semiconductor in the world, and the primary material used in making photovoltaic solar cells. When exposed to solar energy, silicon produces an electrical charge, thus providing the foundation for solar-powered electricity generation.
Solar cell: A device that converts light into electricity through the photovoltaic effect.
Solar energy: Heat and light energy from the Sun’s radiation.
Solar thermal: A system that collects solar energy and uses it to heat water or provide space heating, without first converting it into electricity.
Transformer: A device that alters the voltage and current of electricity. Transformers were crucial in the development of alternating current electricity grids—electricity would be delivered at very high voltage across transmission lines, and then reduced to a lower voltage before delivery into homes and business, allowing for safe use.
Travois: A transportation device consisting of two poles tied together and splayed outward. The narrow part of the ‘V’ is harnessed to an animal, while the wide part (usually webbed) would hold the load.
Turbine: A machine that converts the kinetic energy of a fluid (such as water, steam or air) into mechanical energy to turn a rotor. The vast majority of the world’s electricity is generated by turbines that combine high-speed rotation and proximity to magnets to create powerful electromagnetic fields.
Undershot waterwheel: A vertical waterwheel that sits partially submerged in a river or stream. The flow of water provides the energy to push the blades on the submerged portion of the wheel, causing it to rotate.
Volt (V): The standard unit to measure the force of electricity. One volt is equal to one amp of current when acting against one ohm of resistance.
Voyageur: Labourers responsible for the transportation of goods during the fur trade.
Water frame: A water-powered machine invented in 1769 that spun cotton into yarn and one of the first significant applications of water power to production in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution.
Watt (W): The standard unit used for measuring both electricity and power. The rate at which electricity is used, or work is done, is measured in watts.
Watt-hour (Wh): A quantity of electrical energy when one watt is used for one hour.
Windpumps: Machine invented in the mid-nineteenth century that used wind power to pump water from underground. Windpumps were used on individual farms and ranches, and became an iconic feature of the Prairie landscape.