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Ask Dr. Universe Uncategorized

Dr. Universe: Why do dogs and cats spin around before they sit down? – Antonio, 10, Richmond, Va.

Dear Antonio, 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 ...

Dr. Universe: Why do we get pins and needles when we don't move for a long time? -Joycelyn, 9

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 More ...

Why do we have eyebrows? -Zach, 11, Kettle Falls, Wash.

Dear Zach, Humans have hair on their heads, arms, and as you mention, even the face. If you feel your face, you might feel some small, fuzzy hairs on your cheeks and forehead. But the hair of your eyebrows is usually a bit thicker. I asked my friend Mark Mansperger why we have eyebrows. He’s an anthropologist at Washington State University. Eyebrows appear to serve two main purposes, he said. One of the purposes of eyebrows is to keep things like rain or sweat from rolling down your forehead and into your eyes. “It guards your eyes in that way,” Mansperger says. Read More ...

Dr. Universe: Why do we sneeze? -Nyuma, 10, North Carolina

Imagine you are home sick from school or are just playing outside when all of a sudden—ah-ah-ah-choo! It might seem like that sneeze came out of nowhere, but a lot of things went on in the brain and body to make it happen. That’s what I found out from my friend Hans Haverkamp, a scientist at Washington State University who is really curious about the human body and how it works. Read More ...

Dear Dr. Universe: Why do we dance? – Helen H., 11, California

If we traveled around the world, we would see all kinds of dancers. We might see classical ballerinas in Russia. We might see break dancers performing on the streets of New York. We might even see tango dancers in Argentina. While the exact reasons we dance remains a mystery, there are a few theories about it. That’s what I found out from my friend Ed Hagen, an anthropologist at Washington State University who has researched the roots of dance. Read More ...

Dear Dr. Universe: I have a question for you. Why do you get dizzy when you read on the road? -Rebecca, 10

Without even thinking about it, humans can use their eyes, ears, sense of touch, and brain to keep their balance. But sometimes these senses get a little mixed up. Imagine you are in the car reading your favorite book. All of a sudden the road starts winding. As you look down at your book, your eyes focus on the pages. The book doesn’t appear to be moving, so the eyes send a signal to your brain that you could be sitting still. At the same time, something is stirring in your inner ears. Lots of tiny little hairs called cilium are inside your ears doing an important job. They help you sense how your head is moving in the world. Read More ...

Why do you grow new taste buds? I read in a book once that you grow new taste buds every week. I started wondering how and why? I'm hoping you can help me with my question. -Tyra, 10, Jacksonville, NC

Dear Tyra,

You read it right— taste buds can have a lifespan of anywhere from one to two weeks. That’s what I found out from my friend Charles Diako who researched food science at Washington State University. Before he explained exactly how and why we grow our taste buds, he told me two important things about them.

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Dr. Universe: How is wasabi made and where does it come from? – Christian, 12

Dear Christian,

When you think of wasabi, you might think of that hot green paste people serve up with sushi. Some restaurants put a bit of wasabi on your plate, but it’s usually not real wasabi. It’s actually a mixture of horseradish, mustard, and green dye. Real wasabi is a lot different.

That’s what I found out from my friend Thomas Lumpkin, a plant scientist who studied wasabi as a researcher at Washington State University. Wasabi is a plant that mainly grows in Japan in the cool, running water of mountain streams and springs.

Illustrated, cartoon cat with labcoat» More …

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Dr. Universe: Do you have any experiments you can recommend? Thanks! -Etta, 7, Milwaukee

Dear Etta and Friends:

You can try all kinds of fun experiments at home. It really all depends on what you are curious about. Lately, I’ve seen some really great sunsets and started wondering what gives them their colors.

I decided to ask my friend Tom Johnson, who leads fun physics demonstrations for kids visiting Washington State University. I asked him if he had any simple ideas for an experiment I could try out in my lab, or even the kitchen. One idea he had was to create a sunset in a cup.

Maybe you can try it, too. You’ll need a flashlight, a … » More …

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Dr. Universe: How is glass made? And, what is it made out of? What about thick glass like they are putting up on the Space Needle? – Tali, almost 8 years old, Seattle, Wash.

Dear Tali,

We can make glass in factories and we can find it in nature. Some volcanoes make glass. When they spew out lava, it often cools into obsidian, a black glass. Glass can also form on sandy beaches. Small tubes with smooth glass on the inside may appear after super-hot lightning strikes the sand.

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Hi Dr. Wendy Sue: Me and my brother had a little bit of an argument about the point that there is no such thing as cold. He said liquid nitrogen produces cold, which I think is absurd, but lack the knowledge to explain it. Can you please explain to us why there is no cold? – Brody, 12

Dear Brody,

It’s a snowy morning and the thermometer reads 20 degrees Fahrenheit. You grab a jacket and a pair of mittens for your paws. It’s going to be a cold day.

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Dr. Universe: In space, which way is up? –Pablo, 10, Spokane, WA

Dear Pablo,

We might not always think about it, but every day gravity keeps us pulled to the Earth. It’s what brings us back down when we jump on a trampoline. It’s why a Slinky tumbles down stairs.

Now think about what it would be like to live in a place with very little gravity. Let’s say you were 200 miles off the ground, orbiting earth in the International Space Station. Here, the idea of up and down really gets flipped around.

On Earth, the human balance system helps the head figure out how move up … » More …

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Dear Dr. Universe: Why is the map the way it is? - Pablo, Spokane, Wash.

Dear Pablo,

Next time you eat an orange, try getting the peel off in one piece. Next, try to flatten out your peel. You’ll likely find it a bit tricky to make something round perfectly flat.

The same is true when we map our three-dimensional world onto a flat surface. It doesn’t work very well. That’s what I found out when I went to visit my friend Rick Rupp, a Washington State University researcher.

Rupp is an expert on geographic information systems, which can help us capture and analyze the geography of our planet. He explained that maps can show us all kinds of … » More …

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Dear Dr. Universe: HOW DOES WATER IN THE OCEAN MOVE? I THINK IT’S BECAUSE OF THE WIND. –Case, 5, Yakima

Dear Case,

You know, most cats like to stay a comfortable distance from water.

But when I got your science question about our big ocean, I was ready to jump right in.

Ocean water moves in all kinds of ways. Waves curl and crash on the shore. Big conveyer belts of water, currents, flow for thousands of miles around our planet. The tides go out and come back in.

And yes, the wind plays a big part in all of it. That’s what I found out when I went to visit my friend Jeff Vervoort, … » More …

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How do spiders make silk? And other questions to explore in October

How do spiders make silk?

Spiders can do some amazing things with their sticky, stretchy, and super-strong silk. Us cats are pretty curious about these little silk-spinning machines, too. Besides chasing spiders around, I’ve watched them use silk to build webs, catch bugs, and protect their young spiderlings.Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 9.05.13 AM

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Do bats have habits?

You are onto something. Quick, to the bat-lab! That’s where I met up with my friend Christine Portfors, a scientist at Washington State University who studies fruit bats.

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Why … » More …

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How do plants hold dirt? -Gordon, Pullman, WA

Dear Gordon,

The other day, I wandered into a Washington State University greenhouse and ran into my friend Mechthild Tegeder, a professor and expert on plants.

She gently dug a small plant out of a pot so we could take a closer look. When she lifted it up, I pawed at the clumpy soil hanging from the bottom to reveal some stringy roots.

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Are we getting lazier? -Aaryan, 9, Timber Ridge

Dear Aaryan,

We cats have a reputation for being lazy. We sleep a lot. But the truth is when I got your question, I didn’t know much about laziness. So, I decided to talk about it with a couple of psychologists here at Washington State University.

My first stop was the Psychology of Physical Activity Lab. That’s where I met up with my friend, Professor Anne E. Cox.

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Dr. Universe, How are magnets made? -Andrea, 8, Berkeley, CA 

                                                                                   

Dear Andrea,

When I saw your question, I headed straight for the Magnetics Lab and met up with my friend John McCloy. I found out the word “magnet” comes from a Greek word for the region of modern-day Turkey we once called Magnesia. That’s where people found magnets in nature.

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Dr. Universe: Are aliens real? -Lily, 10, New York City, NY Is there life on other planets? -Heidi, Cincinnati, OH 

Dear Lily and Heidi,

Well, we don’t know for certain. Looking up to the stars at night, I’ve often wondered if alien cats are out chasing alien mice or taking naps on other planets.

My imagination aside, your questions are like those scientists are asking, too. And it’s no wonder we are so curious.

With billions of planets in our galaxy, including small Earth-like worlds, the possibility of life out there is an exciting thought to many people. So, humans have set out to look for planets that might support life.

In fact, this month scientists announced the Kepler spacecraft’s discovery of … » More …

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The Science of Baseball

At the WSU Sports Science Lab, a team of engineers tests out all kinds of baseballs and bats. In the lab, canons send baseballs flying up to 585 mph. That’s nearly five times faster than the fastest human pitch on record.

They use their expert knowledge on energy, force, and speed to find out what happens when a bat and ball collide. They measure how the equipment performs and make sure the equipment is safe for athletes to use during the game.

You could be an engineer one day, too. Stay tuned for more from the Sports Science Lab. In the meantime, check out videos from the lab on their » More …

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Dr. Universe: What is something a lot of people might not know about sharks?

It’s Shark Week, so I made a visit to my friend Jon Mallatt. He’s a Washington State University biologist who has studied the jaws of ancient sharks.

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Jon Mallatt: Some of them, such as tiger sharks, cat sharks, and even great white sharks, have quite large brains—relative to their body weight— and are intelligent. They are not “primitive” animals. The shark relatives, Manta rays and devil rays, have even larger brains than any shark.

Dr. U: How long have sharks been around, anyways?

JM: At least 420 million years and maybe 460. It is … » More …

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Dr. Universe: What materials would you use to make a rocket -Freya, Scotland

Dear Freya,

Whether it’s a model rocket you build in the backyard or one that launches a space shuttle, there are lots of materials you could use. So, when I saw your question I grabbed my lab coat and safety goggles, and zoomed over to my friend Jake Leachman’s lab. He’s a rocket scientist and engineer at Washington State University.

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Why do we get jealousy? I can feel it sometimes, too, but I don't know why.  -Hailey, 10, London, Ontario

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Dear Hailey,

Cats love attention, but we don’t get jealous like humans do. It’s one of those emotions that set human beings apart from other creatures in the animal kingdom. But I can’t imagine it’s the most pleasant. The poet William Shakespeare once called jealousy a green-eyed monster. Still, it’s an emotion that can help you navigate the world.  

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Can you grow stuff like thread, cloth, silk, and most importantly, clothing? -Jay, Colorado

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Dear Jay,

We can use all kinds of animal, bug, and plant materials to make cloth. Even some of the tiniest living things on the planet can make cloth, too.

I heard about this from my friend Hang Liu, a Washington State University professor who studies the science of materials we use and wear every day.

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Do bats have habits? -Elliot 

Dear Elliot,

You are onto something. Quick, to the bat-lab! That’s where I met up with my friend Christine Portfors, a scientist at Washington State University who studies fruit bats.

Portfors explained that while bats don’t quite have habits like humans, they do have behaviors.

Bats are nocturnal. They sleep during the day and wake up in the early evening. The first thing they’ll do when they wake up is fly around and around their caves for a while.

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