Welcome back, young scientists. I’m Dr. Universe and if you’re anything like me you’ve got lots of big questions about our world. On this episode, we are talking birds, touch screen technology, and goosebumps. A big thanks to our narrator Natalie from Regional Theatre of the Palouse and to WSU researchers Heather Watts, Praveen Sekhar and Ryan Driskell for helping with the science on this episode. Listen now or find other episodes on:
Why are people most commonly right-handed?
We don’t know exactly why so many people are right-handed, but one place we might look for answers is in the material that makes a person who they are: genes.
The genes in your body help control all sorts of things from the color of your hair to your skin to your eyes. These traits can be passed down through generations—from grandparents to parents to you.
My friend John Hinz, who is a right-handed professor at Washington State University, knows a lot about genes and the study of how organisms pass their genes through generations.Read Story
How did people figure out how much a whole planet weighs?
About 300 years ago during another pandemic, there was a person named Sir Isaac Newton who spent a lot of time at home thinking about the universe.
He was thinking about how objects fall and started to wonder if the same force that made objects fall also kept the moon in its orbit. He called this force gravity.
That’s what I found out from my friend Guy Worthey, an astronomer at Washington State University. Gravity plays a big part in the answer to your question, and we’ll explore that in just a moment.Read Story
How do horses sense how you feel?
When I got your question, I called up my friend and veterinarian Dr. Macarena Sanz who had just finished checking up on the horses at the Washington State University Teaching Hospital. She was happy to help.
“It’s a hard question to assess scientifically,” Sanz said. “But I think everybody who has worked with horses can tell you that horses really do have a certain sense about humans.”Read Story
Why do we get sunburns?
Humans need sunlight to help keep their bones, blood and other body systems healthy, but too much time in the Sun can sometimes leave people with a sunburn.
Sunburns often strike when the body gets too much of a type of light, called ultraviolet light, from the Sun. As your body recognizes there is too much ultraviolet light, it turns on a defense system.
The immune system, which responds to invaders like viruses and other harmful things like ultraviolet light, kicks in. Some people might see their skin get red or blistered. They might feel itchy or painful. But not everyone experiences sunburn in quite the same way.
A big part of the answer to your question also has to do with human cells. My friend Cynthia Cooper, a researcher at Washington State University, knows a lot about cells and how they work.Read Story
How did Saturn’s rings form?
We still don’t know exactly how the rings around Saturn formed, but scientists who study Saturn’s rings have come up with a couple of ideas.
One common theory many scientists agree upon is that Saturn’s rings are made from the little leftover pieces of what used to be a moon.
My friend David Atkinson is really curious about the solar system and told me more about it. He is a graduate of Washington State University and now works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He also worked on the Cassini-Huygens space research mission which helped us learn more about Saturn, Saturn’s large moon Titan, and the entire Saturn system.Read Story
How do trees give us air to breathe?
Our planet is home to all kinds of different plants, and they help make a lot of the oxygen we breathe. To find out how plants make oxygen, I asked my friend Balasaheb Sonawane.
Sonawane is a scientist at Washington State University who researches photosynthesis, or the ways plants use energy from the sun and make oxygen. He said that in a way, plants breathe, too.
“They don’t have a nose or mouth,” Sonawane said. “They have tiny microscopic organs on their leaves called stomata.”Read Story
Dr. Universe: How does toothpaste clean your teeth? -Lucy, 10, Pullman, WA
If you are anything like me, every day you squeeze a little toothpaste onto your toothbrush and brush your teeth. Toothpaste gets its cleaning power from a few different ingredients.
My friend Mark Leid was happy to tell us about how they work. Leid spent part of his career teaching future dentists. He is also dean of the Washington State University College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences.
First, he told me the outer covering of a tooth is called enamel. It’s the hardest tissue in the whole human body—even harder than bone—and it helps with things like chewing your food.Read Story
Why do we get goosebumps?
If you’ve ever been outside on a cold day, you may have noticed how your arm hairs stood up and you felt some goosebumps.
Humans get goosebumps for different reasons and one of those reasons has to do with temperature.
My friend Ryan Driskell, an assistant professor at Washington State University, is really curious about the innerworkings of skin.Read Story
How do touch screens work?
When I got your question, I decided to do a little experiment. First, I tapped my paw on a tablet and sent a message to a friend. Next, I put on a pair of wool mittens and started typing, but the screen did not respond. Finally, I used a banana to see if I could use it to swipe the screen. It actually worked.
I wondered what exactly was going on here and decided to take our questions to my friend Praveen Sekhar. He’s an associate professor in the Washington State University School of Engineering and Computer Science.
Sekhar told me our … » More …Read Story
Why do mirrors fog up when you breathe on them?
That’s a great observation. When you breathe out, you let a couple of different things into the air.
Not only do you breathe out carbon dioxide, but you also breathe out teeny tiny droplets of water. These water droplets are so small we can’t see them with our eyes.Read Story
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