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Introducing the Ask Dr. Universe Podcast

Dr. Universe, a grey cat with a lab coat, looking through binocularsYou’ve read the Q&As. You’ve seen me on Northwest Public Broadcasting. Now, you can listen to the podcast.

On the Ask Dr. Universe podcast, you’ll hear from real researchers at Washington State University as we investigate science questions from kids around the world. Learn about how coins are made, robot languages, bee wings, how food gives us energy, if dogs can tell time, and explore a tiny world of microbes. Here’s the transcript. Listen now or find me on apps like iTunes, Spotify, Buzzsprout, or Stitcher. 

 

An important video message from Dr. Universe

The Latest Questions and Answers

  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • 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 …

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  • Why is it effective to wear a face mask?

    Dear Marin,

    Whenever I go out and about, I make sure to wear my face mask. Like you, I wanted to find out exactly how they work.

    First, I talked to Marian Wilson, an assistant professor and nurse at Washington State University who is curious about how face masks protect people.

    “When we talk, sneeze, sing, or laugh, we spread droplets into the air all the time,” she said. “With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, we know people may have virus in their droplets.”

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  • How are gummies made?

    Gummies can come in all different shapes and flavors. Maybe you’ve had gummy worms, gummy bears, or peach rings.

    It turns out that gummies require just a few simple ingredients. That’s what I found out from my friend Connie Remsberg, a pharmacist at Washington State University.

    She said making gummies requires a little gelatin, water, a mold, and some help from a grown-up.

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  • Why do ants build hills?

    Ants build mounds in all shapes and sizes. Beneath those piles of dirt, ants are building their underground homes.
     
    That’s what I found out from my friend Rob Clark, an entomologist who studies bugs on plants. His job is to figure out if bugs make a plant sick or help the plant grow.
     
    He told me ants are one of the most diverse insect families. Scientists know about nearly 13,000 species—and each ant species makes a different kind of nest.

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  • Do robots have their own language?

    Robots do have their own language—and yes, there’s a translator.

    That’s what I found out from my friend Manoj Karkee, an engineer at Washington State University who is also really curious about robots.

    Karkee and his team work on lots of robots that help farmers do important jobs. They can program robots to do different tasks such as pick apples or pull weeds.

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  • How are coins made?

    In the United States, pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and other coins are made through the U.S. Mint. It turns out, they’ve been making a lot more coins than usual during the global pandemic. But more on that in a moment.

    It takes both science and art to make coins. Coins are made from metals that have been mixed together. We call these kinds of metals alloys. The very first coins in the world were made thousands of years ago in Turkey from electrum, an alloy of gold and silver. A penny is made from an alloy of copper and zinc.

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