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Ask Dr. Universe Podcast | How Do You Science Series

Meet a Neurobiologist

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How do you become a scientist? What does a scientist’s day look like? Is being a scientist fun? Dr. Universe talks with Marcos Frank, a brain scientist at Washington State University. Tune in to hear about his path to becoming a scientist and how science works in real life.

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  • What causes the oceans to rise?

    Dear Ash,

    There are two ways to answer your question. One looks at why the ocean rises and falls every day. The other explores what’s causing sea level to rise over time.

    I talked about both with my friend Jonathan Robinson. He’s the Beach Watchers coordinator at Washington State University Snohomish County Extension.

    If you’re at the beach during high tide, the beach looks smaller because the water comes up higher onto the beach. The tides are what make that happen, Robinson told me.

    Read Story
  • How do animals teach their kids how to survive if animals can’t talk?

    Dear Riley,

    There’s really nothing cuter than baby animals. Many animal parents invest lots of time into caring for their young and teaching them to survive.

    I talked about your question with my friend Amber Adams-Progar. She’s an animal sciences professor at Washington State University. She’s also an expert in dairy cow behavior. She told me that non-human animals learn in ways that are like how humans learn.

    Read Story
  • How are animals not affected by their own poison?

    Dear Jad,

    From jellyfish to snakes to spiders, lots of animals use poison or venom. It helps them catch prey and defend themselves. Even the platypus and one very spicy primate called the slow loris use venom.

    I talked about your question with my friend Blair Perry. He’s a biologist at Washington State University. He’s also a snake expert.

    Perry told me the difference between poison and venom. They’re both toxic mixes of mostly proteins. But they get into your body in different ways. Poison is eaten, breathed in or absorbed through the skin. Venom is injected through a bite … » More …

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  • How does sleeping charge us up?

    Dear Joaquin,

    I love curling up under a pile of blankets at bedtime and waking up refreshed in the morning. You might be surprised to hear that scientists aren’t sure why sleep makes us feel that way.

    I talked about how sleep works with my friend Marcos Frank. He’s a brain scientist who works in the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University.

    “Without sleep, we do poorly on a lot of tasks, and our brains and bodies don’t work as well,” Frank said. “But why is not entirely clear.”

    Read Story
  • Why do you get acne?

    Dear Joey,

    Whether we call them pimples, spots or zits, acne is something most people experience. As many as 95% of people have some acne sometime. That’s nearly everybody.

    I talked about acne with my friend Sarah Fincham. She has a clinical doctorate in nursing. She’s a nurse and a professor in the College of Nursing at Washington State University.

    If you look at your skin, you’ll see tiny openings called pores. These pores connect to oil-producing glands under our skin. They’re called sebaceous glands, and the oil they make is called sebum.

    Read Story
  • What causes inflation?

    Dear Raymond,

    When I reached out to my friend Christopher Clarke with your question, he said, “That’s so cool that a kid is asking about inflation!” I agree.

    Clarke is an economics professor at Washington State University. He told me inflation is the average rise in prices for goods and services.

    So, what are goods and services? Let’s say you go to a restaurant and order enchiladas. The enchiladas are goods. You can see them, touch them and taste them. Services are the other parts of your dining experience. The people who take your order, cook your food and wash your dishes are all … » More …

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  • How long do you have to train to become a scientist?

    Dear Katelyn,

    Maybe you dream of pointing your telescope toward distant galaxies. Or zooming in on microscopic life on Earth. Being a scientist is an amazing job. You can also do science for fun—no matter your age or anything else about you. It belongs to everyone.

    I talked about science training with my friend Kalli Stephens. She’s earning her bachelor’s degree in genetics and cell biology from Washington State University. WSU has a strong undergraduate research program. So, Stephens has been working as a scientist while going to school.

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  • Do animals have religion like humans?

    Dear Anna,

    When I read your question, I thought about elephants. There’s evidence that elephants have complex emotions—like grief when their relatives die or affection for humans who help them. Whales, dolphins, non-human primates and even dogs sometimes seem like they have complex emotions, too.

    It makes us wonder if animals seek comfort and meaning the same ways humans do—like through religion. We truly don’t know the answer to your question. It’s something people have wondered about for a long time.

    Exploring deep questions is the work of my friend Joe Campbell. He’s a philosopher at Washington State University.

    We often think of religion … » More …

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  • How do I make compost?

    Hi Miracle,

    My office is just down the road from the Washington State University composting facility. It processes more than 10,000 pounds of organic waste every month. That’s a lot of compost!

    I talked about compost with my friend Jim Kropf. He works for WSU Extension. Extension programs connect universities with local communities. They offer classes and trustworthy, science-based resources that anyone can use online.

    Kropf told me that composting is how nature recycles. “In the forest, leaves fall on the ground and come in contact with soil,” he said. “Worms, centipedes, microorganisms and fungi all work on those leaves to break them … » More …

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  • How do starfish eat?

    Dear Hailey,

    Starfish might have the coolest—and strangest—way of gobbling up a snack.

    I learned all about it from my friend Cori Kane. She studied coral reefs when she was a biology Ph.D. student at Washington State University. Now she works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She writes policies to help protect the ocean and the animals that live there.

    “Sea stars are probably one of the weirdest creatures. I don’t know any other organism that basically barfs out its stomach to eat,” Kane said.

    Yes, you heard that right. She said sea stars barf out their stomachs.

    Read Story