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Episode 7: Bird Migration, Touch Screen Technology, Goosebumps

Dr. Universe, a grey cat with a lab coat, looking through binoculars

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:

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The Latest Questions and Answers

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.”

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  • Dr. Universe: How does toothpaste clean your teeth? -Lucy, 10, Pullman, WA

    Dear Lucy,

    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.

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  • Why do we get goosebumps?

    Dear Nolan,

    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.

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  • How do touch screens work?

    Dear Nicholas,

    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 …

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  • Why do mirrors fog up when you breathe on them?

    Dear Zinnia,

    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.

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  • How do birds know where to migrate?

    Dear Jasmine,

    There are all kinds of different birds on our planet, and they migrate to different places.

    My friend Heather Watts, a researcher at Washington State University, is really curious about bird migration and told me more about how birds know where to go.

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  • Why does oil on the street look like a rainbow?

    When it rains, sometimes we can see oil on the street rise to the top of puddles and spread out into a rainbow of colors.

    One of the main reasons we see color is because of light, said my friend Cigdem Capan, a physics instructor at Washington State University.

    She reminded me that when our eyes sense colors, we can trace those colors back to different wavelengths of light. Perhaps you can make some waves in the air with your hand. Make small, tight waves. Now make a big, wide waves.

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  • How can you tell if a fish is female or male? Or if it is a kid or adult or teenager?

    Dear Hanaiah,

    There are more than 34,000 species of fish on our planet. It can be tricky to tell the age or sex of a fish, but biologists have come up with a few different ways to find out.

    My friend Paul Wheeler, a fish biologist at Washington State University, told me all about it.

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