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Why does meat brown on the grill?

Why does meat get brown on the grill?

– Christina, Seattle, Wash.

Dear Christina,

You know summer is just around the corner when the smell of barbecue is in the air. It’s a great question you ask and it leads us to the Meats Lab at Washington State University. That’s where I met up with my friend and animal scientist, Jan Busboom. » More …

Does science get harder every year?

Does science get harder every year or is that just me?

-Keegun, 8th grade, E. Wash.

Dear Keegun,

We’ve got about three pounds of brain in our heads that help us look for answers and solve all kinds of problems. But it isn’t always easy. Sometimes an experiment doesn’t go the way I expect or I get stuck on a particularly tricky science question. » More …

Does interacting with animals help us?

Dear Dr. Universe: Do you know how human and animal interactions help our mind grow? Does it help us? Does it do nothing? This has fascinated me for a very long time.

– Gabby G., 11, Berlin, VT

Dear Gabby,

Our brains are pretty busy. They are constantly thinking, feeling, and sensing our world. One thing that can help some people relax is spending time with an animal friend. You might play fetch with a dog, sit with a cat, brush a horse, or even watch a goldfish zip around its bowl.

People who spend a lot of time with animals might tell you that something special seems to be going on here. But scientists are looking for evidence and want to find out for certain just what is going on. They want to know more about what happens when animals and humans spend time together.

One scientist who studies human and animal interaction is my friend Phyllis Erdman at Washington State University. After her day at work, she said, the first thing she does is go home and play with her dogs.

Everybody knows that we feel good when we are with animals, Erdman said. But we also need the science to back up the idea. She said one notion scientists test out has to do with different chemicals that are in our brains. Our body makes all kind of chemicals and some can make us feel pretty happy.

When babies and mothers bond, scientists often see the chemical oxytocin (ox-ee-toe-sin) at work in their brains. It turns out that oxytocin may be released when people spend time with animals, too.

The chemical helps us build trust and bond with each other. When it’s released in the brain, it lets you know that something, usually good, is happening. Maybe that thing is spending time with a whole bunch of kittens or puppies. The interaction can be good for the animal, too. We are social. And we like a good ear scratch or belly rub.

Erdman has actually worked with dogs and kids to study their interactions, too. She’s also worked with horses. Just brushing and taking care of the animal helped kids feel like they could let go of stressful things.

A lot of human and animal interaction scientists study behavior. But now many are becoming curious about actual changes in the brain itself. New studies are exploring images of the brain when animals and humans spend time together.

The field of human and animal interaction is growing, Erdman said. Perhaps by the time you get to college, we will have more answers to your question. Who knows, maybe you’ll even be one of the people to help us research big questions about how humans and animals can help each other out.

Sincerely,
Dr. Universe

 

ABOUT ASK DR. UNIVERSE

  • Ask Dr. Universe connects K-8 students with researchers at Washington State University through Q&A. Students can submit science questions on the ASK page.
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  • Do you want to reprint this Q&A? Just send a message to Dr.Universe@wsu.edu

Bones: How are they made?

How are bones made? -Oscar, 10

Dear Oscar,

A couple months before you were born, your skeleton was soft and bendy. It was made out of cartilage, the same material that’s in your nose and ears now. But when certain cells in your body called osteoblasts and osteoclasts began to work together, new bone started to form. » More …

Are we getting lazier?

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. » More …

Why is yawning contagious?

Why is yawning contagious? -Grant, 10, Pullman, WA

Dear Grant,

When I got your question, I met up with my friend Hans Van Dongen, a scientist at Washington State University in Spokane. He works in a research lab where they study sleep. As a cat who appreciates naps, it’s one of my favorite places to visit. » More …

Do animals dream?

Dear Dr. Universe, Please answer this question: Do animals dream? What dreams do they get? I humbly request you to answer these questions. BYE! Or should I say MEOWY! -Prahlad R.

Dear Prahlad,

After a quick catnap and a stretch, I went to visit my friend Marcos Frank, a scientist at Washington State University who studies animal sleep.

» More …

Are aliens real?

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 Earth’s closest cousin so far. Some are calling it Earth 2.0. It has a Sun just like Earth does and if it has a rocky surface like scientists predict, it might even be a good place to grow plants.

My friend Dirk Schulze-Makuch studies life in the universe as an astrobiologist at Washington State University. He explained that for life to exist on Earth it needs a few ingredients. It needs liquid water, just the right combination of elements, and a source of energy, such as our Sun. These are required for every living thing we know of, from bacteria to plants to intelligent life forms, like humans.

dru-hero-poseIntelligent life, said Schulze-Makuch, is especially rare.

“For 4.5 billion years, on our planet we’ve only had one species so technologically advanced,” he said. “That’s us.”

But the ingredients for life on Earth might not be the exact same for life on other planets, explained Schulze-Makuch.

He has studied thorny devil lizards in one of Earth’s driest desert environments to find clues about life on Mars. It can be hard for thorny devils to find liquid water in the desert, so they’ve adapted to their environment. They can grab water from the air and use special groves on their spines to get a drink.

Scientists wonder if, just as the thorny devils have adapted to their environment, life forms on other planets may also have adapted to their environments. Scientists also think about how organisms can survive in environments that aren’t like Earth’s.

Take a tiny living thing called the tardigrade. Astronauts, who observed these creatures hanging on to their space shuttle, learned the tardigrade could survive in extreme conditions of space without any kind of space suit.

“The tardigrade shows how amazingly inventive life is once it has originated on a planet,” Schulze-Makuch said. “Not only microbial life, but all life, including multicellular life.”

Schulze-Makuch thinks we will find microbes, such as bacteria or fungi, on other planets in the next ten to twenty years.

“We simply don’t know the answers,” he said. “But if it’s out there we’ll have to go find it.”

I’m keeping my paws crossed for a whole planet of cats. But finding even a tiny organism like a microbe would be a huge discovery. It would change our understanding of life as we know it.

Sincerely,

Dr. Universe

Have a question? Ask Dr. Universe. You can send her an e-mail at Dr.Universe@wsu.edu.