Subscribe to Dr. Universe’s weekly e-mail
Sign-up for the weekly e-newsletter to get the latest answers, activities, and videos!
The Latest Questions and Answers
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.
APPLE PODCASTS SPOTIFY STITCHER
Women’s History Month
March is a great time to celebrate women’s history and women in STEM.
I talked about Women’s History Month with Pamela Thoma and Jan Dasgupta of Washington State University. Thoma leads the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program. Dasgupta is the director of the Data Analytics program.
“The folks represented in different history and heritage months have always been important to the history of the United States—even before it was the United States,” Thoma said. “They push us to achieve its ideals.”
Those ideals include things like fairness.
Dasgupta is concerned about fairness in data science. Lots of decisions are made using data … » More …Read Story
How does evolution work?
When I thought about evolution, I always pictured big changes that happened over long time periods—like how birds evolved from dinosaurs.
But then I talked with my friend Jeremiah Busch. He’s a biologist at Washington State University. He told me evolution is happening all the time.
“As soon as you see that evolution is occurring around us, it changes the way you think about the world,” Busch said.
There are a few ways evolution happens. These include mutation, gene flow, genetic drift and natural selection.Read Story
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