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2017 Curiosity Challenge Winners

Congratulations to the 2017 Curiosity Challenge Winners! We challenged 5 – 14 year olds to write an essay, draw, or take a picture about their curiosity and tell us how it prompted them to explore your world. These are our winners! Abigail Glover How Do Birds Learn to Fly? Age 11 Addie Ehrbar Why Do Guitars Have 22 Frets? Age 12 Agnes Shales Dream Age 11 Alaa Zad How Do Guide Dogs Know Where To Go? Age 8 Alexander Vecchioli Can We Harness Light for Space Travel? Age 11 Alice Garmarnik Why Do We Have Fear? Age 12 Alyssa Holton Will People Live on Other Planets? Age 8 Amiel Potashman Why Is the Sun Super Hot? Age 9 Anaya Raikar How Do Radioactive Waves Harm You? Age 9 Ani Ghonyan Why Does a Snail Live Under the Sea? Age 7 Anissa Kun Why Do Fingers Get Wrinkly in Water? Age 8 Ashmita… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How do Brains Think?

Hi Maise, That’s a good question! You probably know that your brain is important for a lot of what you do: learning new lessons in school, remembering those lessons when you take a test, controlling your hands as you write the answers to your test, and even telling your lungs to breathe while you’re working! Your brain works in a similar way to do all those tasks. The main way your brain works is by making connections between its different parts. In the early 1900s, a scientist named Ivan Pavlov did a famous experiment with his dogs that helped us learn how the brain makes these connections. Pavlov wanted to know if he could train his dogs to think about food every time he rang a bell. He started by ringing a bell every time he fed his dogs. One day Pavlov rang the bell without giving the dogs food,… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Does an Octopus Breathe in Water?

Hi Alexis, awesome question. My name is Brian Helmuth, and I’m a marine biologist at Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center. I study the oceans to see how they are changing, and to find ways of protecting them. I don’t know about you, but my favorite character in Finding Dory is, all 8 arms down, Hank the octopus, who is able to move around outside of his tank and hide just about anywhere. There are real octopus who have escaped from their aquariums to eat fish in another tank next door, and then returned home after putting the lid back on the tank to hide what they have done! But back to your question, like humans, octopus need to breathe oxygen to survive. But, unlike people, an octopus can be in air for only a few minutes. They much prefer to be in the water where they can breathe with their gills…. Read More

Curiosity Challenge: What would happen if we could see Carbon Dioxide?

  Great question, Alex. Each time you exhaled, you would notice a little puff of CO 2 leaving your lungs, a byproduct of your body using the energy from your breakfast to fuel your day. There would be seasonal changes, too. Forests, grasslands, and soils would be sucking in CO 2 during the summer, and then puffing out CO 2 during the winter. The oceans would also have their own seasonal pulses of CO 2 into or out of the water. This time of year, as trees begin to drop leaves and to use those sugars they’ve stored up for a long winter, you might see a halo of CO 2 being released. These are natural emissions, and eventually the carbon in that CO 2 will end up being taken up by plants and algae and will once again enter food webs, perhaps into the plants or animals that will one day end up… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How does the brain process information?

Dear Jessica, Thanks for your question! To think about how the brain processes information, I think we must first consider how our brains gain access to information. Because the brain is confined within our heads and mostly separated from the rest of the world, there must be something external to the brain that communicates information from the outside world. In fact, this is the precise purpose of our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Information comes in the form of patterns of light (images), vibrations of the air (sound), physical touch, and the chemical compounds around us that we taste and smell. Each of these types of information is received by a particular type of nerve cell, called peripheral neurons, in the relevant parts of our bodies. We have these neurons in our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and underneath our skin, which when activated, send electrical signals to neurons… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: Why Do Flowers Smell Good?

Allie W, Age 12 Dear Allie, Flowers smell good and also look colorful for the same reason, to attract insects and birds. Flowers want these flying creatures to come visit them, so they can help them reproduce. Insects and birds spread the pollen and seeds of flowers to other ones, so they can be fertilized. This is also how flowers become fruit. Beware, some flowers only smell good to some insects and in fact they smell foul to people. For example “Stinking Corpse Lily” and “Western Skunk Cabbage” smell just like their household name implies. These flowers want to attract flies, like the ones that you commonly see circling in garbage pails. They are very large and beautiful, but luckily not chosen for common yard ornaments! Doris Glykys is a Principal Chemical Engineer at Amgen.  She’s passionate about bringing lifesaving science to the people.

Curiosity Challenge: Can Humans and Animals Understand Each Other?

Hey there, CSF fans, followers, and supporters! Anna Bishop here with a cool Zoosemiotics (animal communication) question from Ella Nelson, age 11, who wants to know if humans and animals understand each other. Excellent question! The answer is everyday and never: it depends on the animal, of course! If you were to scold your dog for getting into the garbage, he might not understand all of your words, but he would know you were angry because of your face, voice, body language, and gestures. He might feel ashamed, because he knows it is something he should not do. However, if you were to scold a chameleon, you might as well scold the wall. Chameleons, in the wild, do not communicate with one another, so their understanding of communication is essentially non-existent. They may be afraid of the loud noise, but they would not understand that you were trying to tell… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How do Cells Work?

Hi Jollie, thanks for the question. This is a hard question to answer because cells are so different from each other. Cells are specialized to do the job they perform. Nerve cells look completely different than liver cells and perform a different function within the body. Also animal, plant, and bacterial cells all differ from one another. To answer your question I’m going to focus on the general principles that enable animal cells to function.   Cells were initially discovered (observed) following the invention of microscopes in the 17th century.  Cell theory, stating that cells form the fundamental unit of life, was put forward over 150 years later. In the 20thand 21st centuries a major goal of biological research has been to understand how cells work, so that we can recognize what goes wrong in disease and how best to intervene to cure the condition. The working of individual cells… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Can Lizards Regrow Body Parts?

      You may know that some animals, such as reptiles and amphibians, can grow back lost body parts, but how do they do that?   Image via Wikimedia Commons The process that allows animals, such as reptiles, to grow back their lost body parts is called regeneration. In order to understand regeneration, we must learn about DNA and gene regulation. Every living organism, from bacteria to plants, and including humans, are made up of cells. Cells are known as the smallest unit of living things. Cells are really small, and you need a microscope to take a close look at them. In fact, the human body is made up of trillions of cells!    You may also know that DNA is called the genetic material in our cells. DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid, and it contains instructions for our cells. DNA is made up of nucleotides. We have… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Were Animals Created?

Hi there CSF followers, fans, and supporters! Anna Bishop here again, answering an awesome biology question from Ava Hartshorn, Age 7: How Were Animals Created? ( a picture of animal cells under a microscope) Well, it all started about 575 million years ago, a time called the Ediacaran Period, when primitive animals began to develop. Lumps of cells probably weren’t what you were thinking of when you thought of animals! But lumps of cells created the first animals on Earth. There are three educated guesses about how this happened. The first thought is that animals were made from clumps of cells (the smallest units of life) that banded together (like a slime mold) in a group called a “grex,” and helped each other survive. Did you know a slime mold can move around, and is a kind of animal? Another idea is that one cell’s center separated into many cells,… Read More