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Ask Dr. Universe Podcast | How Do You Science Series
Meet a Student Scientist
How do you become a scientist? What does a scientist’s day look like? Is being a scientist fun? Dr. Universe talks with Kalli Stephens, a student scientist at Washington State University. We learn about what she does in the lab and how to find your place in science as a young person.
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Do ants hibernate in the winter?
When most people think about hibernation, they picture bears snoozing away the cold winter in their dens. You’re right that other animals do that, too.
I talked about your question with my friend Laurel Hansen. She’s an entomology professor at Washington State University. Her specialty is carpenter ants.
“We think most ants in our temperate climate will have diapausing larvae and what I would call overwintering adults,” Hansen said.
Diapausing and overwintering are like hibernating but not quite the same. There are a few things to know about ants to understand what these terms mean.Read Story
How many beetles are there in the world?
If beetles seem to be everywhere, that’s because they are. Some beetles stand out because they’re colorful. Think about jewel beetles and ladybugs. Others play useful and weird roles in the ecosystem—like the poop-rolling dung beetle. Their ancestors probably even ate dinosaur poop.
Nobody knows exactly how many beetles there are, but scientists have some ideas. I talked about it with my friend Joel Gardner. He’s the collection manager for the insect museum at Washington State University.
When scientists find a new species, they describe what it looks like. They give it a name. They publish that information so other people … » More …Read Story
What is the difference between B cells and T cells in the immune system?
Everyone who heard your question agreed that it’s a sophisticated one. To get my paws around the answer, I talked with my friend Phil Mixter. He’s an immunology professor at Washington State University.
He told me all living things need to protect themselves from microbes that could make them sick. These are called pathogens. They can be bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.
“Almost every organism I can think of—from plants to animals and beyond—has a defense system to handle the possibility that another organism might sneak in,” Mixter said.Read Story
Did dinosaurs eat humans?
If you looked inside a T. rex mouth, you’d see some 12-inch teeth. That’s longer than my tail!
I asked my friend Aaron Blackwell if dinosaurs used those big chompers on humans. He’s an anthropologist who studies human biology at Washington State University. He told me dinosaurs and humans didn’t live at the same time.
“Dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago—before there were even primates,” Blackwell said. “So, they could never have eaten a human or even a monkey.”Read Story
What if there were no predators to eat the birds?
Don’t let the lab coat fool you. I enjoy chattering at birds as much as the next cat. Staring out the window and vibrating my mouth to “chirp” helps me relax after a long day.
My wild cousins do take things a bit further—namely, predation. It’s not pretty, but it’s an important part of keeping life in balance.
I talked about predators with my friend Travis King. He’s a Ph.D. student at Washington State University. He studies big cats like lynx and jaguars.
“It’s a balancing act between predators, disease, food and space,” King said. “If you take away … » More …Read Story
Who invented games?
Board games, video games, a long piece of yarn… I love them all. I took a break from batting around a catnip-filled mouse toy to talk about your question with my friend, Washington State University professor Jordan Clapper, who told me the answer is a mystery.
“That’s almost impossible to know—for some really fun reasons,” Clapper said. “Every culture has games. It even extends beyond being human. If you’ve ever seen a dog or a cat play, they’re playing a game. “
The earliest board game we’ve found is more than 4,600 years old. Archaeologist Leonard Woolley dug it up in … » More …Read Story
Black History Month
February is a great time to celebrate Black scientists who changed the world—and those transforming science right now.
I talked about Black History Month with Amir Gilmore. He’s a professor and associate dean in the College of Education at Washington State University.
“There are so many things that Black people have created that we just don’t think about,” he said. “So, when I think about Black History Month, it gives me joy that other people made these inventions. Where would we be without refrigerated trucks or stoplights? Where would we be without telephone technology? I’m thankful that Black people thought about what the world … » More …Read Story
Is it true that seven human years equals one dog year?
Humans have kept dogs as pets for more than 14,000 years. That close friendship inspires scientists to explore questions like yours.
I talked about how dogs age with my friend Ryan Baumwart. He’s a heart doctor for dogs. He teaches in the veterinary hospital at Washington State University.
I asked Baumwart if a dog year is equal to seven human years.
“I think it’s a good general rule,” he said. “But some larger breed dogs like bullmastiffs and Great Danes have a shorter lifespan of 6 to 8 years. So if you do the math, they get shorted. Then some small … » More …Read Story
What causes the oceans to rise?
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?
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