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.”
Sea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the ocean. Even as babies, sea turtles’ bodies have special traits for living at sea, helping them glide and paddle through the water. After emerging from their eggs, baby sea turtles (called “hatchlings”) scramble to the ocean to live the rest of their lives. Only female sea turtles return to land as adults, to lay eggs and begin the cycle again.
I talked with my friend Frank Paladino to learn more about sea turtles. He completed his Ph.D. at Washington State University. Today he is a professor at Purdue University-Fort Wayne and former president of the International Sea Turtle Society. He is especially interested in leatherbacks, the largest living turtle.
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.”