Science News for Students: Explainer - What is Puberty?

Hormones slowly transform kids to adults by altering tissues throughout the body.

Article includes Power Words:

adolescence: A transitional stage of physical and psychological development that begins at the onset of puberty, typically between the ages of 11 and 13, and ends with adulthood.

anatomy: (adj. anatomical) The study of the organs and tissues of animals. Or the characterization of the body or parts of the body on the basis of structure and tissues. Scientists who work in this field are known as anatomists.

body clock: (also known as biological clock ) A mechanism present in all life forms that controls when various functions such as metabolic signals, sleep cycles or photosynthesis should occur.

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.

cortex: The outermost part of an organ, such as the kidney or brain. Or the outer part of some microbes or plant, such as a tree’s bark or a mango’s rind. (in hair) The protein-based layer of a hair shaft  (the layer responsible for a hair’s color) that is below the cuticle.

develop: To emerge or to make come into being, either naturally or through human intervention, such as by manufacturing. (in biology) To grow as an organism from conception through adulthood, often undergoing changes in chemistry, size, mental maturity, size or sometimes even shape.

egg: The unfertilized reproductive cell made by females.

endocrine system: The hormones (chemicals secreted by the body) and the tissues in which they turn on (or off) cellular action. Medical doctors who study the role of hormones in health and disease are known as endocrinologists. So are the biologists who study hormone systems in non-human animals.

estrogen: The primary female sex hormone in most higher vertebrates, including mammals and birds. Early in development, it helps an organism develop the features typical of a female. Later, it helps a female’s body prepare to mate and reproduce.

fertile: Old enough and able to reproduce.

fetus: (Adj. fetal ) The term for a mammal or other large animal during its later-stages of development in the womb. For humans, this term is usually applied after the eighth week of development.

hormone: (in zoology and medicine) A chemical produced in a gland and then carried in the bloodstream to another part of the body. Hormones control many important body activities, such as growth. Hormones act by triggering or regulating chemical reactions in the body. (in botany) A chemical that serves as a signaling compound that tells cells of a plant when and how to develop, or when to grow old and die.

limbic system: A group of structures deep within the brain that play a role in behavior, memories and emotions. Two of its primary structures are the hippocampus and amygdala.

mammal: A warm-blooded animal distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, the secretion of milk by females for feeding their young, and (typically) the bearing of live young.

masculine: Of or relating to men.

mature: (adj.) Connoting an adult individual or full-grown and fully developed (non-juvenile) form of something. (verb) To develop toward — or into — a more complex and full-grown form of something, be it a living thing, a technology or an idea.

muscle: A type of tissue used to produce movement by contracting its cells, known as muscle fibers. Muscle is rich in protein, which is why predatory species seek prey containing lots of this tissue.

organ: (in biology) Various parts of an organism that perform one or more particular functions. For instance, an ovary is an organ that makes eggs, the brain is an organ that makes sense of nerve signals and a plant’s roots are organs that take in nutrients and moisture.

prefrontal cortex: A region containing some of the brain’s gray matter. Located behind the forehead, it plays a role in making decisions and other complex mental activities, in emotions and in behaviors.

psychologist: A scientist or mental-health professional who studies the human mind, especially in relation to actions and behaviors.

puberty: A developmental period in humans and other primates when the body undergoes hormonal changes that will result in the maturation of reproductive organs.

reproductive organs: The organs in a creature’s body that allows it to make and deliver eggs or sperm, and where appropriate, to nurture developing eggs and fetuses.

sperm: The reproductive cell produced by a male animal (or, in plants, produced by male organs). When one joins with an egg, the sperm cell initiates fertilization. This is the first step in creating a new organism.

stress: (in biology) A factor — such as unusual temperatures, movements, moisture or pollution — that affects the health of a species or ecosystem. (in psychology) A mental, physical, emotional or behavioral reaction to an event or circumstance (stressor) that disturbs a person or animal’s usual state of being or places increased demands on a person or animal; psychological stress can be either positive or negative.

testosterone: Although known as a male sex hormone, females make this reproductive hormone as well (generally in smaller quantities). It gets its name from a combination of testis (the primary organ that makes it in males) and sterol, a term for some hormones. High concentrations of this hormone contribute to the greater size, musculature and aggressiveness typical of the males in many species (including humans).

trait: A characteristic feature of something. (in genetics) A quality or characteristic that can be inherited.

trauma: (in medicine) An injury, often a fairly severe one. This term also can refer to a severely disturbing incident (such as witnessing a battlefield death) or memory.

zits: A colloquial term for the pimples caused by acne.

Science Topics
Health & Medicine
K-6, Middle School
4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade

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