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Ask Dr. Universe Podcast | How Do You Science

Meet a Science Librarian

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

Today we’re talking about libraries with David Luftig, a science librarian at Washington State University.

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  • How are the insides of an insect different from a human?

    Dear Landon,

    I love taking selfies with my insect friends. They’re so tiny and look so different from a big cat like me.

    But my friend Rich Zack told me that insects and humans have lots in common. He’s an insect scientist at Washington State University.

    “There are body systems that every animal needs,” Zack said. “Insects are relatively advanced animals, so they do a lot of things like humans do.”

    That means many of an insect’s body systems are like yours. But there are three body systems that are super different for insects. Those are the skeletal, circulatory and respiratory systems.

    Read Story
  • Why are dolphins mammals and not fish?

    Dear Evie,

    As fellow mammals, you and I have a lot in common. It’s easy to see our similarities because humans and cats spend lots of time together. We may even be roommates or family.

    But humans and cats don’t usually have dolphin besties. It’s harder to see what we have in common when our bodies and lives are so different.

    To better understand mammal life, I talked with my friend Kevin Turner. He teaches marine biology at Washington State University.

    “The name mammal comes from the presence of mammary glands,” Turner said. “So, the major characteristic of mammals is that we have … » More …

    Read Story
  • Why does milk cure the spicy feeling in your mouth after you eat something spicy but water doesn’t?

    Dear Eloise,

    My work as a science cat has introduced me to human foods—like chips and salsa. I love the spicy taste of salsa, but I always keep a saucer of milk handy.

    I talked about why milk calms the spicy feeling with my friend Emily Cukier. She’s a chemistry librarian at Washington State University.

    She told me that the spicy feeling comes from something called capsaicin. The amount of capsaicin in a pepper determines how hot it is.

    Read Story
  • How do people get ear infections?

    Dear Lydia,

    Ear infections aren’t fun. They can make your ears hot, itchy or painful. They can cause lots of pressure or make it harder to hear. Sometimes fluid leaks out of your ear.

    I asked my friend Bevan Briggs why that happens. He’s a nurse practitioner and professor at Washington State University.

    He told me people usually get outer ear or middle ear infections.

    Your outer ear includes the flappy part attached to your head—called the auricle or pinna. It also includes the ear canal. That’s the tunnel that goes into your head. At the end of the ear canal, there’s a thin, … » More …

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  • Why do we have to go to sleep at night, but the other side of the world is having morning?

    Dear Braelyn,

    If I drew a straight line through the Earth to the opposite side of the planet from me, I’d hit a place called Port-aux-Français. That’s an island near Antarctica. Mostly scientists live there.

    Right now, it’s 12 PM, or noon, on Friday for me. But those scientists are probably snoozing in their beds. For them, it’s after 12 AM, or midnight, on Saturday. They’re already living in my tomorrow. Weird!

    I talked about why that is with my friend David Luftig. He’s a science librarian at Washington State University. Science librarians are experts in two things: science and helping people find … » More …

    Read Story
  • How do flowers use sunlight and water to grow?

    Dear Jackie,

    When I was a kitten, my family measured how tall I was. They marked it on the wall. It was amazing to see how much I grew.

    I talked about how plants grow with Helmut Kirchhoff. He’s a scientist at Washington State University. He studies plants and biochemistry.

    He told me plants grow by making new cells. To make a new cell, an existing cell splits into two. That’s called cell division. Then, the new cells grow bigger. That’s called cell growth. So, a plant can make its stem or roots longer by making new cells in those places. When it’s … » More …

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  • Why do marine mammals have horizontal tails?

    Dear Peyton,

    When you think about a whale, you probably picture an enormous sea creature without legs. But what if I told you the first whale had four legs and could walk on land?

    I talked about whales and other marine mammals with my friend Kevin Turner. He teaches marine biology at Washington State University.

    He told me marine mammals have horizontal tails because they flex their bodies up and down to move. Fish flex their bodies side to side. Scientists think it has to do with the way different animals evolved.

    Read Story
  • How do animals breathe underwater?

    Dear Kinsley,

    Have you ever seen a diving beetle? They’re one of my favorite animals. They live underwater and breathe air from a bubble attached to their butts.

    I talked about all the ways animals breathe underwater with my friend Wes Dowd. He’s a marine biologist and animal physiologist. He studies how living things interact with the world around them.

    Animals need oxygen. For air-breathers like us, oxygen is mixed into the air. For water-breathers, oxygen is mixed into the water. To get oxygen into our bodies, we all need organs and tissues made of very thin material with lots of surface area. … » More …

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  • How can we help bees survive harsh winters?

    Dear Carla,

    I keep mason bees. They sleep in cardboard tubes all winter long. I worry about my little bees until I see them chew out of their nesting tubes in the spring.

    I talked about how mason bees and all kinds of bees survive winter with my friend Brandon Hopkins. He’s an insect scientist at Washington State University. He manages the honey bees on campus.

    The honey bees we see in North America today first arrived with Europeans in the 1600s. We love honey bees because they pollinate our crops and make delicious honey. But there are lots of bees that have always … » More …

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  • Why do birds circle?

    Dear Eden,

    I live close to a natural area with lots of birds of prey like hawks and eagles. I love to watch them sit in ginormous nests on top of electrical poles. Or swooping around in big circles while they search for a meal.

    I talked about why they circle with my friend Jennifer Phillips. She’s a wildlife ecologist at Washington State University. She studies the relationship between birds and the environment.

    She told me that birds of prey fly in a circle because they’re riding warm air currents called thermal updrafts or thermals. As the sun heats the Earth, some pockets … » More …

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