Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Ask Dr. Universe

Dr. Universe looking through a microscope

Introducing the Ask Dr. Universe Podcast

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

Episode 2: Ants, Face Masks, Pins and Needles, Gummies, Spider Webs

Have you ever wondered why ants build hills? Why face masks are effective? Why we sometimes get that pins and needles feeling when we sit too long? How gummies are made? Why spiders hang upside down in their webs? On this episode, we’ll dig into these great kid science questions with help from researchers at Washington State University.

Listen now or find me on apps like iTunes, Spotify, Buzzsprout, or Stitcher.

The Latest Questions and Answers

  • How does stained glass get its colors?

    Dear Emily,

    Ever since humans discovered they could use sand to make glass, they’ve been experimenting with it. They even learned how to control the colors.

    My friend Dustin Regul is a stained glass artist and painter who teaches fine arts at Washington State University. He told me more about where glass gets its color.

    “It’s actually metals that help change the color of the glass,” he said.

    Read Story
  • Why does the internet go down?

    The internet has helped many people connect with classmates, friends and family during the pandemic. But you’re right, sometimes the connection gets lost.

    My friend Dingwen Tao, an assistant professor of computer science at Washington State University, said we can think about the internet like a highway of information.

    You may remember from our question about how the internet works that information, like the data that makes up your favorite cat video or science website, travels through electronic signals we cannot see with our eyes.

    Read Story
  • How do you make cider?

    We can make cider with juice from apples. There are many different kinds of apples and a few different ways to squeeze out the juice.

    My friend Bri Valliere told me all about it. She’s a food scientist at Washington State University who knows a lot about cider.

    The first step is to pick out the apples. Honeycrisp apples will make a sweet cider. Granny Smiths are more acidic and will make a tart cider.

    “We could make a single batch of one kind, or we could mix different kinds of apples together and see how it turns out,” she said. “No matter what, it’s going to taste good.”

    Read Story
  • Why do mushrooms grow in rings?

    When you see a ring of mushrooms, it’s likely they are exploring for food under the ground.

    Giant mushrooms in your backyard are not animals or plants. They are part of another class of living organisms called fungi. But like you and me, they do need food to survive.

    That’s what I found out from my friend David Wheeler, an assistant professor at Washington State University, who knows a lot about fungi.

    He said the mushrooms are just one part of fungi. The other part that explores the soil for food actually lives under the soil.

    Read Story
  • How did the COVID-19 pandemic start?

    It turns out scientists around the world are investigating this very question.

    It’s likely the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, started in an animal before jumping to humans. But exactly how it all happened is still a kind of mystery.     

    That’s what I found out from my friend Michael Letko, a researcher at Washington State University who studies viruses and how they cross different species.

    Read Story
  • How does exercise help us? What is the best exercise?

    When we exercise, it helps the body and mind in so many different ways.

    One important muscle that benefits from exercise is the heart. Maybe you’ve felt your heart beat harder and faster when you run or climb at the playground.

    As the heart gets stronger, it also gets better at pumping blood around the body. That’s really important because your blood is full of oxygen you need to help fuel all your body’s systems.

    That’s what I found out from my friend Chris Connolly, an associate professor at Washington State University who knows a lot about the science of exercise.

    Read Story
  • Why do we get tears when we yawn?

    You’re right, a lot of people get tears when they yawn. When you yawn, you actually use lot of muscles in your face. Maybe you can feel the stretch in your jaw, cheeks and eyes.

    As the muscles in your face contract, they can put a lot of pressure on the plumbing system that is in charge of making your tears.

    That’s what I found out from my friend Karin Biggs, an adjunct professor at Washington State University who teaches anatomy.

    Read Story
  • Why do apes walk on their knuckles?

    Dear Sam,

    A lot of apes walk on their knuckles. Gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos use their knuckles for stability and balance.

    That’s what I found out from my friend Nanda Grow, an anthropologist and wildlife biologist at Washington State University who studies primates.

    “Gorillas and chimpanzees both do knuckle walking, but they do different kinds,” she said.

    Read Story
  • Why do we get pins and needles when we don’t move for a long time?

    If you’ve ever had a leg or an arm “fall asleep,” the nerves in your brain and body were sending you an important message.

    That’s what I found out from my friend Darrell Jackson, a researcher at Washington State University who studies how drugs affect the nervous system.

    The nervous system is made up of bundles of nerve fibers that help humans think, feel and navigate the world. These nerves also help people sense things like temperature, vibrations, pressure and pain.

    Read Story
  • Why do garden spiders hang upside down in the middle of their webs?

    Dear Abree,

    That’s a great observation. Garden spiders and other orb-weaver spiders can crawl all around their webs, but we often see their heads pointing down toward the ground.  

    My friend Todd Murray, an entomologist at Washington State University, told me about a group of scientists that had a question a lot like the one you’ve asked.

    These scientists used mathematical models to learn about orb-weaver spiders and how they move around the web. They discovered spiders that wait with their head down for prey can reach prey faster than spiders that wait with head up for their prey.

    While there are exceptions, … » More …

    Read Story


An important video message from Dr. Universe


Got Cat Mail?

Sign-up for the weekly e-newsletter to get the latest answers, activities, and videos!

Grown-ups can follow Ask Dr. Universe on

Twitter and Facebook