When we hear a funny joke, there are lots of different things that happen in the brain and body. My friend Paul Bolls, the director of the Media Mind Lab at Washington State University, told me all about it.
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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.
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.
We don't just use our ears to hear music. A big part of hearing also has to do with our brains. Our ears certainly are necessary to help us hear, but it is our brain that helps interpret the sounds in our environment.
Maybe you’ve heard a little voice in your head say “ba-da-ba-ba-bah, I’m lovin’ it!” when you saw a sign for McDonald's or thought “snap, crackle, pop” when you crunched on a spoonful of Rice Krispies cereal.
As a cat, I’ve often wondered the same thing about my whiskers. I asked my friend Jennifer Slovak about it. She’s an Assistant Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine at Washington State University who knows a whole lot about whiskers.
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 …
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.
If you were to travel around the world, the word “science” might look or sound very different. In Spanish, it’s ciencia. In Japanese, 理科. In German, wissenschaft! And in French…well, it’s also science. But with an accent.
Whether it comes from trees or is made by scientists in a lab, rubber can really bounce. Well, a rubber band or rubber on your shoes might not be very bouncy. But a super bouncy rubber ball? It can really catch some air.
Our animal kingdom is full of different eyes. The human eye weighs less than an ounce. That’s about as heavy as 11 pennies. But I suppose the answer to your question really depends on which eyeballs you are curious about. Perhaps you are looking for an answer about the biggest animal eyes on our planet.
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 …
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 …
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.
Each volcano’s life is a little different. Many of them are born when big chunks of the Earth’s crust, or tectonic plates, collide or move away from each other. The moving plates force hot, liquid rock, or magma, to rise up from deep within the Earth.
It’s usually later in life that we see the more dramatic signs of aging, like gray hair, wrinkles, and lots of birthday candles on our cake. But we really start growing older from the time we are born.
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.
Last fall, my friend Lee Kalcsits and I went exploring in the apple orchards of Wenatchee. The apples were ripe and the leaves were changing from green to gold. We plucked a few leaves and took them back to his lab.
Your question reminds me of an experiment: You put a ringing alarm clock in a jar and use a hose to slowly suck out all the air. As the air escapes, the ringing gets quieter until there’s no sound at all.
The inside of the jar becomes what scientists call a vacuum. It’s empty. Just like space.
Your question takes us on a journey deep into the Earth. Figuratively speaking, of course. It’s really hot under Earth’s surface. It’s so hot it can melt rock. This melted rock is known as magma. And anything that erupts magma is a volcano.
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.
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 …
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 …
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.
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 …
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.
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.
Where does dirt come from? -Brian, Pullman, WA
In just a word, the story of soil goes something like this: “CLORPT!" It’s fun to say, and it helps explain how tough rock turns into the soft soil farmers need to grow food and feed the world. Read More ...
About 85-feet long (half a football field) and 65 tons (about 7 T-Rexes), the largest dinosaur scientists know about is Dreadnoughts. She was a plant-eater and with her 37-foot-long neck probably had no problem reaching the leaves at the top of trees.