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 know about it. That’s called describing a species. Scientists describe new insect species all the time.
Gardner told me scientists have described about 400,000 species of beetles so far. There are many more beetles we don’t know about yet. Altogether, there are probably between 1 million and 2 million beetle species.
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.
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.”
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 a tomb from Sumer (modern-day Iraq). That tomb was in the Royal Cemetery of Ur, so he named it the Royal Game of Ur.
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 needed and provided those things.”
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 breed dogs like Chihuahuas seem to live forever.”
There’s really nothing cuter than baby animals. Many animal parents invest lots of time into caring for their young and teaching them to survive.
I talked about your question with my friend Amber Adams-Progar. She’s an animal sciences professor at Washington State University. She’s also an expert in dairy cow behavior. She told me that non-human animals learn in ways that are like how humans learn.
From jellyfish to snakes to spiders, lots of animals use poison or venom. It helps them catch prey and defend themselves. Even the platypus and one very spicy primate called the slow loris use venom.
I talked about your question with my friend Blair Perry. He’s a biologist at Washington State University. He’s also a snake expert.
Perry told me the difference between poison and venom. They’re both toxic mixes of mostly proteins. But they get into your body in different ways. Poison is eaten, breathed in or absorbed through the skin. Venom is injected through a bite or sting.
When I reached out to my friend Christopher Clarke with your question, he said, “That’s so cool that a kid is asking about inflation!” I agree.
Clarke is an economics professor at Washington State University. He told me inflation is the average rise in prices for goods and services.
So, what are goods and services? Let’s say you go to a restaurant and order enchiladas. The enchiladas are goods. You can see them, touch them and taste them. Services are the other parts of your dining experience. The people who take your order, cook your food and wash your dishes are all providing services.
The price you pay for goods and services changes over time.
Maybe you dream of pointing your telescope toward distant galaxies. Or zooming in on microscopic life on Earth. Being a scientist is an amazing job. You can also do science for fun—no matter your age or anything else about you. It belongs to everyone.
I talked about science training with my friend Kalli Stephens. She’s earning her bachelor’s degree in genetics and cell biology from Washington State University. WSU has a strong undergraduate research program. So, Stephens has been working as a scientist while going to school.
When I read your question, I thought about elephants. There’s evidence that elephants have complex emotions—like grief when their relatives die or affection for humans who help them. Whales, dolphins, non-human primates and even dogs sometimes seem like they have complex emotions, too.
It makes us wonder if animals seek comfort and meaning the same ways humans do—like through religion. We truly don’t know the answer to your question. It’s something people have wondered about for a long time.
Exploring deep questions is the work of my friend Joe Campbell. He’s a philosopher at Washington State University.
We often think of religion as beliefs and behaviors. They relate to the supernatural—something beyond us and what we see in the natural world.
Campbell told me that underneath many religious beliefs and behaviors is a feeling: awe. It’s a proto-religious attitude. Proto means first.
My office is just down the road from the Washington State University composting facility. It processes more than 10,000 pounds of organic waste every month. That’s a lot of compost!
I talked about compost with my friend Jim Kropf. He works for WSU Extension. Extension programs connect universities with local communities. They offer classes and trustworthy, science-based resources that anyone can use online.
Kropf told me that composting is how nature recycles. “In the forest, leaves fall on the ground and come in contact with soil,” he said. “Worms, centipedes, microorganisms and fungi all work on those leaves to break them down into organic matter.”
Making compost is copying nature to make fertilizer for healthier gardens. It’s also a way to help our planet.
Starfish might have the coolest—and strangest—way of gobbling up a snack.
I learned all about it from my friend Cori Kane. She studied coral reefs when she was a biology Ph.D. student at Washington State University. Now she works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She writes policies to help protect the ocean and the animals that live there.
“Sea stars are probably one of the weirdest creatures. I don't know any other organism that basically barfs out its stomach to eat,” Kane said.
Yes, you heard that right. She said sea stars barf out their stomachs.
When I was a kitten, I loved collecting rocks and gems. So, I was very excited to talk about your question with my friend Johannes Haemmerli. He studies minerals in the School of the Environment at Washington State University.
Minerals are solids that form from non-living elements in nature. They have a very specific structure for how those elements are arranged. Haemmerli told me that nearly all gems are minerals or sometimes mixtures of minerals.
You’re right that gems form underground. A diamond forms when the element carbon is buried nearly 100 miles deep inside the Earth. It’s super-hot and there’s tons of pressure down there. Eventually the pressure pushes the carbon atoms together to form the mineral we call diamond. Above ground, where there is much less pressure, the same carbon can come together and form a mineral we call graphite. That’s the “lead” of your pencil.
One of my favorite things to do is look at pond water with a microscope. I love to see all the teeny tiny critters zooming around in a single drop.
I talked about microorganisms, also called microbes, with my friend Claire Burbick. She’s a microbiologist at Washington State University. She told me the key trait for microbes is size. Microbes are micro—which means extremely small.
There are lots of things that make a place feel like home. Your home is probably full of sights, sounds and smells that feel familiar and cozy. Those things are important for animals in captivity, too.
To find out more, I talked with Charles Robbins, a wildlife biologist at Washington State University. He started the WSU Bear Center. It’s the only grizzly bear research center in the United States.
“The most important thing to bears and probably most animals is a feeling of safety—that they’re not being hurt, and the food is good,” Robbins said. “Probably all the same things that … » More …
Your brain weighs less than 3 pounds but has the power to move your whole body. That’s because it’s part of your nervous system.
Your brain and the spinal cord that runs down your back make up your central nervous system. You also have a peripheral nervous system made up of nerve cells. These connect your brain and spinal cord to all the other parts of your body.
The universe is a big place. Thinking about how we fit into it is part of what makes humans (and cats like me) special.
I talked about your question with my friend Afshin Khan who studied astrobiology and environmental science at Washington State University. Astrobiologists explore how life began. They also look for signs of life outside Earth.
Khan told me your question is a huge mystery.
“We have very good ideas about what could have happened,” she said. “In different labs around the world, we’ve gotten very close to simulating some of those conditions. But simulations can only get so … » More …
Why do moon rocks taste better than Earth rocks? They’re a little meteor! In all seriousness, your question is something humans wondered about for a long time.
I talked to my friend Michael Allen, astronomy professor at WSU about how the moon formed. He told me we figured out the answer in 1972. That’s shortly after humans visited the moon for the first time.
An octopus has three hearts and long arms with suction cups. It probably seems very different from you. But you have the main ingredients of octopus ink in your body, too!
I talked about octopus ink with my friend Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, associate professor in WSU’s School of the Environment. She told me that ink isn’t just an octopus thing. Most animals called cephalopods (sef-uh-luh-pods) make it. These include octopus, squid and cuttlefish.
Cephalopods including octopuses use color a lot. They have sacs of colored pigments all over their bodies. They use those sacs to change their body color. That helps them blend into their environment.
They also make and store a dark pigment in special ink sacs.
At the end of the day, you probably curl up in a cozy bed for a little shut eye. Unlike you, most spiders have eight eyes, and they never shut any of them. They don’t even have eyelids!
I talked about spider sleep with my friend Richard Zack, an entomologist and professor in WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. He also runs the biggest insect museum in the state of Washington at WSU. He told me that spiders and insects do rest. They nestle into a safe spot and enter a “stupor,” which means they’re very still.
If you draw with a pencil, you can tell how soft the graphite inside is. Pieces of graphite break off to leave the pencil mark. But can you imagine drawing with a diamond? Diamonds and graphite are both what you might call rocks. How come they’re so different?
To find out, I talked to my friend Katie Cooper, a geologist and associate professor in the Washington State University School of the Environment. Geologists often study how different types of rocks and minerals form—and that’s the secret to whether they’re easy or hard to break.
Rocks are made of minerals, and minerals are made of elements, which are substances made of a single type of atom. You can get to know the Earth’s elements by looking at a Periodic Table.
Some minerals are made of a single element, like diamond and graphite, which are both made of carbon. Others are a mix, like limestone, which is made of calcium and carbon.
When you watch the zapping bolts during a lightning storm, you know how powerful electricity is. Humans have only been harnessing electricity to bring light and energy to our towns and homes for about 150 years—and metal is one of the main ways we get this powerful tool from place to place.
To learn more, I talked to my friend Bob Olsen, a professor emeritus in the Washington State University School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Olsen said it’s important to realize that we don’t need metal wires to move the waves that carry electricity, which are called electromagnetic waves. Some technologies, like cell phones, pick up waves that are sent through the air. Read More ...
If you ever visit the beach, take a look at all the animals: crabs scuttling across the sand, seals bobbing on the waves and sea stars tucked into tide pools. Maybe there are even whales spouting on the horizon. Earth’s oceans are home to thousands of creatures.
But, as you know, human pollution reaches our waterways and all the animals that live in them.
To learn more, I talked to my friend Erica Crespi, an associate professor in the Washington State University School of Biological Sciences. Crespi studies how animals that live in water respond to all kinds of stresses, including pollution. Read More ...
As winter gets underway here in North America, you may notice we don’t feel the sun’s rays for quite as many hours as we did in fall and summer.
To find out why this happens, I talked with my friend Vivienne Baldassare, an astronomer at Washington State University.
She said the reason we get fewer hours of daylight in the winter has to do with how Earth rotates. As our planet goes around the sun, it is always rotating. This rotation is also why we have day and night.
When I got your question, I headed straight to my kitchen cabinet. I grabbed some baking soda and baking powder from the shelf and made some observations.
Not only did the baking soda and baking powder look similar to one another but both contained an ingredient called sodium bicarbonate. Read More ...
That’s a great observation. When my friend Ashley Ingiosi was a kid, she remembers how napping in the car during a four-hour drive to her grandparents’ house seemed to make the time fly by. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience.
As a researcher at Washington State University, Ingiosi is really curious about what goes on within the human brain during sleep. She was happy to help with your question. Read More ...
You have all kinds of cells in your body that do lots of different things. In fact, there are about 200 different types of cells in the human body—from blood cells to skin cells to bone cells. To find out exactly what all those cells are made of, I visited my friend Deirdre Fahy.
Fahy is a scientist at Washington State University who is curious about how and why things work, including our cells. She reminded me the human body is made up of billions of cells. You might think about each cell as if it were a tiny room. But this room, or cell, is so small, you’d likely need a microscope to see it. Read More ...
There are a lot of different reasons why a clam might open its shell. My friend Jonathan Robinson, a marine ecologist at Washington State University, told me all about it.
If we spent some time where the ocean meets the shore, or the intertidal zone, we might observe how clams open their shells when they need to eat, breathe or move around. Read More ...
Dear Michael and Virgil,
If you’ve ever had a staring contest with a friend, you may have felt your eyes start to get tired and dry. Eventually, you just had to blink.
Blinking helps our eyes stay healthy, and my friend Dr. Karen Janout, a clinical assistant professor at Washington State University, told me all about it.
She said that with each blink, your eyelids help spread tears over the surface of your eyes—and you actually do this a lot. Humans blink an average of 15 to 20 times a minute, which adds up to somewhere around 5.2 to 7.1 million blinks a year. Read More ...
If you’ve ever eaten a handful of trail mix, you’ve likely eaten quite a few seeds from trees. Some nuts, like cashews and almonds, are also seeds that can give us energy when we hike or play.
Seeds actually store up their own energy in the form of something called starch, which is kind of like the food a seed needs to survive. The seed will use this stored up energy to start growing into a tree. Read More ...
When you eat food, you get a lot of important nutrients that help you grow. The trees that live on our planet also need some nutrients to grow.
Trees use their leaves to help capture energy from the sun to make their own food. But as you may have noticed, a lot of trees lose their leaves during certain times of the year.
Without leaves, they can’t make nearly as much food, and without those important nutrients, they can’t grow very fast.
That’s what I found out from my friend Tim Kohlhauff, a certified arborist and urban horticulture coordinator at Washington State University. He is very curious about the lives of trees. Read More ...
Worms can help the soil in a few different ways. One helpful thing worms do is move around different materials, such as leaves and grasses, and make holes in the soil.
That’s what I found out from my friend Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University, who was happy to help with your question.
“Worms are actually very strong,” Carpenter-Boggs said. “They can break through soil and make holes that allow air, water and plant roots to follow those channels.” Read More ...
We don’t know exactly why so many people are right-handed, but one place we might look for answers is in the material that makes a person who they are: genes.
The genes in your body help control all sorts of things from the color of your hair to your skin to your eyes. These traits can be passed down through generations—from grandparents to parents to you.
My friend John Hinz, who is a right-handed professor at Washington State University, knows a lot about genes and the study of how organisms pass their genes through generations.
Read More ...
About 300 years ago during another pandemic, there was a person named Sir Isaac Newton who spent a lot of time at home thinking about the universe.
He was thinking about how objects fall and started to wonder if the same force that made objects fall also kept the moon in its orbit. He called this force gravity.
That’s what I found out from my friend Guy Worthey, an astronomer at Washington State University. Gravity plays a big part in the answer to your question, and we’ll explore that in just a moment. Read More ...
When I got your question, I called up my friend and veterinarian Dr. Macarena Sanz who had just finished checking up on the horses at the Washington State University Teaching Hospital. She was happy to help.
“It’s a hard question to assess scientifically,” Sanz said. “But I think everybody who has worked with horses can tell you that horses really do have a certain sense about humans.” Read More ...
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. Read More ...
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. Read More ...
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.” Read More ...
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. Read More ...
Flying squirrels may not really fly, but they do have flaps of skin on their bodies that act like parachutes and help them glide through the air.
My friend Todd Wilson told me all about it. He’s a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Oregon and graduate of Washington State University who researches Pacific Northwest ecosystems and the animals that call them home— including flying squirrels. Read More ...
That’s a great observation about cats and dogs. Even I wasn’t sure why cats spin around before they sit down, so I took your question to my friend Dr. Jessica Bell.
She is a veterinarian at the Washington State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital and has seen quite a few cats and dogs walk in a little circle before they sit down.
“It’s a common thing we observe as veterinarians, but we can't talk to cats and dogs and ask them ‘why,’” she said. “From a behavioral standpoint, it probably stems back to their wild instinct.” Read More ...
When you take a whiff of stinky cheese, that smell is coming from one of its very important ingredients: microorganisms.
Microorganisms are so small, you’d need a microscope to see them, but sometimes they give off a big stink. To find out more about stinky cheese, I talked to my friend Minto Michael.
Michael is a professor of dairy science at Washington State University and told me microorganisms do a few different jobs to help make cheese. Read More ...
When we look around our world, we can find all kinds of shadows. One way we can explore the answer to your shadow question is with a little experiment.
My friend Anya Rasmussen, a physics professor at Washington State University, told me all about it.
First, you will need to cast your shadow on a wall. Rasmussen reminded me shadows form when an object—such as your body— blocks light and keeps the rays from reaching a surface—like a wall. Read More ...
While we can’t see black holes with our eyes, astronomers have figured out how to spot these objects in our universe.
One astronomer who is really curious about understanding black holes is my friend Sukanta Bose, a researcher at Washington State University.
First, he told me there are different kinds of black holes. Supermassive black holes can be millions to billions of times the mass of the Sun. We have a supermassive black hole in our own Milky Way galaxy called Sagittarius A*, which is pronounced as Sagittarius A-star. Read More ...
Just as blood moves important stuff around the human body, sugary sap moves important things around a tree.
My friend Nadia Valverdi told me all about it. She’s a researcher at Washington State University who studies how apple and cherry trees survive in different environments.
When we eat food, like a delicious apple or a handful of cherries, we get important nutrients. Read More ...
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 More ...
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 More ...
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 More ...
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 More ...
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 More ...
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 More ...
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 More ...
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.” Read More ...
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.
Read More ...
Bee wings may be small, but they are really strong. I learned all about bee wings from my friend Melanie Kirby, a honey bee researcher at Washington State University.
Kirby said you can think about bee wings as if they were a kite. If you make a kite out of thin tissue, it might rip. But if you make it out of a strong plastic film it will be stronger.
Bee wings are made of a material called chitin (KITE-IN) and it’s a lot like keratin, the material that makes up your fingernails. Chitin is what makes up the wings on each side of the bee’s body. Read More ...
We can find all kinds of leaves on our planet. Just think of tiny pine needles, fern fronds, ivy vines, or a big banana leaf.
My friend Eric Roalson is a professor at Washington State University who is very curious about plants. He said there are a few things that give leaves their shapes.
The shape of a leaf can depend on the family history of a plant, the group it belongs to, and the environment where it grows up. Read More ...
When you wash your hands with soap and water, a few different things happen to make bubbles.
Just like you, water and soap are made up of parts called molecules. Water molecules really like to stick together.
If you’ve ever jumped in a puddle or a pool, you may have even observed how water splashes in the shape of little drops. As water sticks together, it likes to form spheres. Read More ...
It might seem strange, but a small piece of something dangerous can protect you against something much more dangerous. This idea has been around for a long time—and it works.
To learn more, I talked to Guy Palmer at Washington State University. As a scientist who studies infectious disease, Palmer likes learning about how to protect both human and animal health. Vaccines are one way to accomplish this. Read More ...
Your spine is more than just a long line of bones. It’s the secret to jumping for joy, the base for all your best dance moves. Every time you run, climb, walk, and play, your spine is right there with you.
“Without a spine, our ability to move would be completely different,” Edward Johnson said. Johnson teaches Human Anatomy in the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University. He is very curious about how all the parts of your body work together.
All creatures with spines are called “vertebrates,” including humans. They get this name from their vertebrae: the special bones that make up the spine. Your vertebrae are different shapes and sizes, but they all connect together.
I’ve been wondering the same thing lately. Every time I go on walks, I notice new splashes of color. Watching bugs in the grass, I pretend they’re crawling through a jungle. Everything is bright and bursting with green.
When I saw your question, I knew Michael Neff would know the answer. Green is his favorite color, too. (In fact, when we talked over video, he wore a green Hawaiian shirt.) Neff researches plants at Washington State University, and he is especially curious about grasses.
If you chopped a piece of grass and looked at it with your eyes alone, you might not see much. But if you looked at it under a microscope, you’d see tiny structures containing even tinier parts.
If you wrote me a physical letter, it would take a few days to reach me. You put the letter in your mailbox. A postal worker picks it up. Then it travels between different post offices on its journey from you to me.
But within seconds of you sending this question over the Internet, it was sitting in my inbox. How can this be?
The whole Internet works like the mail system—but much faster. That’s what I learned from Adam Hahn, an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Washington State University.
When you picture the carrot section at a grocery store in the United States, you probably imagine rows of orange. But carrots can come in a rainbow of other colors: purple, yellow, red, and more.
And the first carrots weren’t orange at all. They were stark white.
That’s what I learned from Tim Waters, a Vegetable Specialist at Washington State University-Extension. He studies how to grow different kinds of vegetables, and helps others learn how to grow them too.
Some people get nervous when they go to the doctor. Maybe you’re one of them. You may not enjoy all of the visit, but you understand the doctor wants to help you. (And that a treat might await you at the end.)
But if an elephant gets sick, they can’t understand a doctor’s words. They may get confused and scared, until it’s too dangerous to help them.
That’s why sleeping darts—also known as tranquilizer darts—help so much.
“It’s safer for both the humans and the elephant because the humans aren’t right next to a wild animal, and the animal isn’t being chased to try to catch it,” Dr. Tamara Grubb said. She is a veterinarian at Washington State University who specializes in anesthesiology, drugs that make animals calm, sleepy, or unable to feel pain.
You’re not alone—cats don’t like broccoli much either. As a carnivore, I think a nice, meaty buffalo wing sounds great.
But humans are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat. They’ve developed a taste for all kinds of things growing and living all over the world. So where do individual people’s preferences come from?
To find out, I visited Carolyn Ross, a professor of Food Science at Washington State University. Like you, she is very curious about why people like the foods they like.
The next time you’re in the bathtub, turn a cup upside down on the water. Push down on it as hard as you can. See if you can get it to sink below the water.
It’ll be difficult to do! The air inside the cup makes it lighter than the water. But what happens if you turn the cup on its side, allowing water to rush in? You’ll see it’s easier to push underwater.
Those same basic forces make a submarine work.
That’s what I learned from Ian Richardson, an engineer at Washington State University. He is very curious about how liquids and solids interact. He has even helped NASA work on a submarine to someday go to Titan, one of Saturn’s moons.
There’s nothing like popcorn in progress: the snapping kernels, the warm buttery smell, and the knowledge that a delicious snack will be ready in minutes. It gives you some good time to think and wonder: how did humans first start doing this?
To find out where popcorn came from, I visited my friend Erin Thornton, an archaeologist at Washington State University. Archaeologists study how humans lived in the past—including the things they ate.
To learn the story of popcorn, we have to trace the history of maize.
Seashells come in an astounding variety. Some are curved and round, others long and tube-like. Some are smooth, others bumpy. Some are large, others small. Plus, they come in a rainbow of colors: red, green, brown, purple, pink, and more.
All that variety comes from the same source: little animals called mollusks, with a mighty muscle called a mantle.
I found out all about them from my friend Richelle Tanner, a scientist at Washington State University. She is very curious about the ocean and knows a lot about mollusks, a type of animal with a soft, moist body.
When you look up at the night sky, it can feel like the universe is a big blanket of stars above you. But unlike a blanket, the universe doesn’t have corners and edges. Far beyond what humans can see, the universe keeps going. As far as humans know, it never stops.
When I saw your question, I went straight to my friend Michael Allen to learn more. He is a Senior Instructor of Physics and Astronomy at Washington State University.
The universe is bigger than the biggest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s bigger than the biggest thing this cat can imagine. It’s so big that even your question has more than one very big answer.
Did you know even identical twins have different fingerprints? It can be hard to tell twins apart, but a close look at their fingertips can reveal who’s who. The reason lies partly in their genes, but mostly from the unique way everyone’s skin grows before birth.
That’s what I learned from my friend David M. Conley, a professor at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
“The reason fingerprints are unique is the same reason individual humans are unique,” Conley said. “Variation is the norm, not the exception.”
When the wind blows, it can do all kinds of things. It can help pick up tiny seeds and carry them away, so plants and flowers can grow in new places. It can push a big sailboat across an ocean. We can even harness the wind to make clean energy to power our homes and schools.
That’s what I found out from my friend Gordon Taub, an engineer at Washington State University. He is very curious about wind energy and told me more about why the wind blows.
The trees that lose their leaves in fall, such as chestnuts, oaks, aspens, and maples, are called deciduous trees. Once they lose their leaves, most aren’t able to take in carbon dioxide gas from the air or produce any oxygen.
That’s what I found out from my friend Kevin Zobrist, a professor of forestry at Washington State University.
“Don’t fret, though,” Zobrist said. “For they more than make up for it in the summer.”
Babies can communicate in a few different ways. For the most part, they use their emotions.
Humans come into the world crying, but that’s actually a good thing. In a way, babies start communicating from the moment they are born. Of course, it can be hard for their caregivers to know exactly what they mean with all those cries. Read More ...
If you have a long winter break ahead and are looking for a great way to spend the afternoon, you might just want to make your very own snow globe. There are a few different ways to build a snow globe, but the first thing you’ll need is the perfect container.
To make a small snow globe, you might use something like an empty baby food jar. Or maybe if you want to make a bigger snow globe, you could choose an empty spaghetti sauce jar. Read More ...
Our world is full of so many different places. They get their names in lots of different ways.
One way a place might get a name is from the person who explored it. The Americas are named after an Italian explorer, Amerigo Vespucci. But Amerigo wasn’t the first person to explore these continents.
There were already people living there when he arrived. Still, “America” was named after Amerigo. For the most part, people name things because they are claiming possession of a place. Because of that, sometimes the original names of places are lost or erased.
That’s what I found out from my friend Theresa Jordan, a history professor who teaches a geography course at Washington State University. Read More ...
You are running through the woods and a bear is chasing you, when all of a sudden you wake up in your bed and realize it was just a scary dream. Our nightmares can sometimes feel super scary, even if what’s happening isn’t real.
Fear is a natural part of being a human. In fact, you may have even felt shaky or sweaty after waking up from a bad dream. It’s all part of something we call the fight or flight response.
When humans are faced with something scary, this response helps them decide if they should face their fears and fight or run away by taking flight. This fight or flight response works even when you are asleep. Read More ...
We can learn a lot about animals of the past from fossils, the imprints or remains we find in rocks. One fossil found in the Bighorn Basin, Wyoming helped us learn about the oldest known horses.
These horses are called Sifrhippus (siff-RIP-us). They had four toes on each foot and were very small.
Believe it or not, these tiny horses weighed only about ten pounds. That’s just a bit heavier than your average house cat. According to the fossil records, Sifrhippus lived somewhere between 54 and 30 million years ago.
When I went to visit my friend Lane Wallett, she told me all about the history of horses. As a veterinarian and a paleontologist at Washington State University, she is very curious about both horses and fossils. Read More ...
Whether you say hello, ‘ello, hey ya’ll, toe-may-toe or toe-ma-toe, we all have a kind of accent that often comes from where we live or who lives around us.
That’s what I found out from my friend Nancy Bell, a Washington State University professor who is really curious about the way language works. She told me more about why we have accents and why we need them.
There are a lot of different accents. You might have friends who speak English but have a Scottish, Irish, Australian, or French accent.
Even in the U.S., there are many accents from the east to the west to the mid-west to the south. In those regions, people also speak many types of English such as Chicano English, African American English, or Indian English. Read More ...
Take a big, deep breath. As you inhale and exhale, you can probably feel the air taking up space in your lungs.
The air we breathe is made up of a few different things. It includes gases such as nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide—just to name a few. Animals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. But in the plant world, it’s the opposite.
Trees, plants, and even algae in the ocean, take in carbon dioxide from the air and, using the energy of the sun, transform it into the oxygen we all breathe. Read More ...
When you were a little kid, maybe you played Peek-a-Boo or sang “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” These kinds of games and songs have a lot of the different sounds we make when we are first developing speech.
A lot of humans start out playing with speech through cooing and crying. At about six months old, this cooing and crying turns to babbling. A baby might make sounds such as ma-ma, pa-pa, or ba-ba. Read More ...
Dogs are important to humans in all kinds of ways. The connection between the two goes back thousands of years.
A long time ago, wolves would trail along after humans on hunting trips and eat any scraps they could find. Eventually these wolves evolved into dogs that helped protect the hunters and gatherers. Read More ...
Dear Sophia Ivy,
If you’ve ever stayed up late and woke up really early, you may have noticed a little puffiness or swelling under your eyes.
When I asked my friend Devon Hansen about the answer to your question, she said that we first have to know a bit about how sleep works. Read More ...