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Curiosity Challenge: Who Taught the First Teacher?

  Great question Onasis. The most straight forward answer I can give is: their parents. Teaching and learning in its earliest form would have occurred by imitation.  Our early ancestors would have imitated their parents, just like animals on nature TV shows imitate their parents’ hunting and survival skills.  The acquisition of language and the generation and use of tools enabled the initial advancement of the human species from small groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to larger agricultural communities, in what is termed the Neolithic Revolution. The benefit of agricultural food production to the individual health in these communities is not entirely clear.  But, ultimately, these communities supported larger populations. The development of larger communities led to the specialization of skills and roles within the community, for example farming, building, and trade. These communities developed into sophisticated societies with governmental structures, formalized ideology, and religion. The ancient Greeks and Egyptians are… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: Mucus!

Every year in the Curiosity Challenge we get questions about mucus.  Why do we get stuffy noses when we get sick?  What is that yellow stuff anyway? Some of our friends have made a great video to explain it!  MIT alum, Thomas Crouzier (now assistant professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden), and Julia Co (now a postdoc at Stanford) wanted to share with the world their favorite material, mucus! With support from the Materials Research Society Foundation, and together with animator, Mair Perkins, they’ve created a short animation about how mucus keeps us healthy. Check it out:  

Curiosity Challenge: “How Do Volcanoes Erupt?”

A spectacular eruption in Stromboli, Italy. Image via Places Under the Sun. “Why Do Volcanoes Have Lava?” — Alondra Sanchez, 6 “Why Do Volcanoes Erupt?” — Darcy Baker, 6 “How Do Volcanoes Erupt?” — Sara Solomon, 9 “What’s In a Volcano?” — Schnaubelt Baronvil, 10 A volcanic eruption is probably the most dramatic event that occurs in nature.  Imagine living next to a mountain that’s normally peaceful and calm.  Then, one day, the ground shakes, the mountain explodes, hot ash rains from the sky, and a wave of hot molten rock comes downhill–right towards you!  The giant clouds of ash belched up by the volcano block out the sun, sometimes for so long that the entire region’s climate changes.  It’s no wonder that most ancient cultures thought that volcanoes were controlled by gods.  We now know a great deal about volcanology–the science behind volcanoes–but we’re still in awe of these… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: Who Created Numbers and Letters?

By Ben Tolkin Great question, but it will need quite a long answer! You’re asking about two of the most fundamental of human activities: mathematics and language. I’ll start with letters. Who invented letters? For the most part, letters weren’t just “invented” by a single person one day (though there are a couple of interesting exceptions I’ll talk about at the end!) The letters we use for writing English (and the letters used by most European languages) are slightly modified versions of the letters used by the Romans for writing Latin, which were based on Greek letters, which in turn came from even earlier ones… Almost every writing system currently used is descended from just a handful of very early writing systems. Writing was invented independently in at least two places: the Fertile Crescent (modern-day Iraq) in 3000 BCE, and ancient Mesoamerica (Central America and Mexico) around 600 BCE. The… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: The Amazing Adaptations of Plants Through the Years

Via TerryGardens.com. Plants are an essential part of life on Earth: even if an animal doesn’t eat plants directly, it certainly relies on them in some other way.  For example, a wolf might not eat grass, but it hunts animals that do, takes shelter in the trees of the forest, and breathes the oxygen that plants have released.  How did plants become such a staple of our existence?  The same reason why every living thing is the way it is: they have evolved that way. Charles Darwin, famous for the theory of evolution. Via Simple Capacity. You’ve probably heard of Charles Darwin, a famous scientist.  Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection is what most scientists study to answer questions about how plants and animals have changed over time–and how we can answer your question about the very first plants.  In nature, certain traits make some organisms more successful than others, allowing them… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Do Bones Heal When They Break?

By Paola Salazar So, how do bones heal when they break? I’m actually super excited you asked! Bone healing is very fascinating stuff. When you break a bone, as soon as it happens, your body starts working up a storm to fix it. The first in the line of duty is your blood: it begins to cluster around the location of the break and forms a blood clot, where cells called phagocytes then begin cleaning the area of any unwanted bacteria and germs that may have gotten in through the break and injury. This all happens in the first few hours after the injury. After a few days or 2-3 weeks, a soft callus made by cells known as chondroblasts forms around the site of injury. Towards the end of the 2nd week, a harder callus gets formed by osteoblasts, cells that actually create new bone material. The last team… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How does a digital camera take and save photos?

Via www.udemy.com “I am curious how pictures are taken and saved.”  –Jameson Gannon, 14 It’s hard to imagine a world without digital cameras.  While some die-hard photographers still insist that old-fashioned chemically-reactive film produces better photographs, it’s hard to argue against digital cameras’ ease of use and convenience.  Turning that gorgeous sunset or that sumptuous-looking meal that your eyes see into a picture file to share with your friends?  It’s a pretty remarkable feat!  It also takes more steps than you’d expect. Your Selfie is Made of Electrons To break this process down, let’s think about what makes an “image” to begin with.   Grass is green because it reflects the green wavelength of light.  Via Okidata.com. Visible light waves are hitting objects, the object’s electrons are absorbing some light frequencies and reflecting others, and these reflected light waves are interpreted by our eyes (or our cameras) as different colors based… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: Hieroglyphs!

By Paola Salazar Long before we had most of our modern written and spoken languages, humanity’s earliest civilizations began writing in more simple terms—usually, this consisted of shapes and drawings as well as dashes or circles to represent numbers. There are several ancient forms of this, but one of the most renowned is the Egyptian hieroglyph, or mdju netjer, meaning “words of the gods.” Interestingly enough, while writing is pretty widespread across different cultures and social classes nowadays, hieroglyphs started off 3,300 years ago as a way to keep record of their nobility’s belongings, property, and domains, as well as religious and other important information. Eventually, the language got much more complicated, resulting in more than 700 individual signs! Hieroglyphswere mostly used to along the walls of temples and monuments, with one of two other forms of writing being used elsewhere or later in time—Hieratic (sort of like cursive, and… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: How Did Intelligence Evolve Over Time?

By Paola Salazar How intelligence evolved over time is not a simple question to answer, even with dozens of researchers spending lifetimes looking into it. Generally, intelligence across species is considered to be a result of how an animal responds and manipulates its environment. Our level of intelligence tends to be attributed to several different theories and has been a process of development for around 10 million years. There’s much debate around the different ideas about how we evolved into intelligent beings, but we’ll do our best to highlight the general idea behind a few of the standing theories! One theory is that the evolution of our intelligence is a result of our use of communication. The idea is that since we started walking upright and had our opposable (moveable) thumbs, we gradually began having more activities and capabilities that we wanted to pass on to younger generations, like how… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: Astronaut Training & Space

by Ben Tolkin How can floating underwater mimic the zero gravity condition of outer space? – Samantha Zhang, age 10 Going into space is hard. Really, really hard. Astronauts work with some of the most complicated and expensive technology ever made, in an environment that’s both highly dangerous and completely unlike anything they’re used to. If you make a mistake on a space station hundreds of miles above the Earth, you might not get a second chance to make things right. Before going into space, you have to make sure you can do every part of your mission perfectly, 100% of the time, and that means practice, practice, practice. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to train for space travel; outer space is (literally!) like nothing on Earth. One of the hardest things to train for is weightlessness. Although there is gravity in outer space, astronauts in orbit don’t feel it… Read More