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Curiosity Challenge: Weather and Animals in Antarctica

“What’s the weather like in Antarctica?” — Aaliyah Bester, 7 “How do animals survive in the Antarctic?” — Josephine Sawyer, 8 My friend Rachel stands on the bottom of the world with the Geographic South Pole marker! Courtesy of Rachel Bowens-Rubin. The Antarctic is a really “cool” place–both because of how neat it is, and because it’s so cold!  In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth was −89.4 °C (−128.9 °F), at the Vostok Station in Antarctica.  I’ve been hearing a lot about Antarctica lately because my friend Rachel has just returned from a trip to the South Pole, which is right in the middle of the continent.  Rachel is an astrophysicist, which means that she studies the physics of stars and planets by looking at them through a telescope.  She was using a telescope at the South Pole to search for special waves in space that might… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: “What is Global Warming?”

“What is Global Warming?”  — Madi Corvi, Age 12   You’ve asked a very important question, Madi, and one of my favorite topics to talk about!  Lots of scientists have been wondering what has been causing the hottest years on record (most of which have been happening in the past decade), and if humans are part of the cause.  They agree that the earth has been heating up and cooling because of natural reasons (like volcanic eruptions, or changes on the sun) for thousands of years…but the recent temperature increase has been sharper than ever before.  Since that temperature spike has occurred during the time when humans have been on the planet, most scientists agree that humans are probably the cause.  When talking about global warming, it’s important to make it clear whether we’re talking about natural climate cycles or anthropogenic–a word that means “caused by people”–climate change.   There… Read More

How big were T. Rex’s feet?

In our Curiosity Challenge Series… How big were T. Rex’s feet? Question submitted by Aidan Barry, Age 5 Great question, Aidan! While not the biggest carnivorous dinosaur (that distinction belongs to the Spinosaurus), Tyrannosaurus Rex (T. Rex) is arguably the most popular. It is estimated that an adult T. Rex was roughly twelve feet tall – more than double the height of the average American male adult – and weighed about seven tons (about the weight of an African elephant). We often think about – and mock! – the puny size of T. Rex’s arms, but its feet were decidedly more impressive. Foot size can be estimated by looking at a T. Rex skeleton and by measuring T. Rex footprints. No complete T. Rex skeleton has ever been found (the closest we’ve gotten is Sue, the resident T. Rex at the Fields Museum in Chicago, who is about 90% real… Read More

More on the Brain: How Do Our Brains Control Our Bodies?

By Paola Salazar   [“El Jaleo” by John Singer Sargent, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, MA.] 12-year-old Amanda Kelly asks how it is that one organ (the brain) can control an entire body’s functions and motions. Again, the MIT student group Communicating Science provided an answer for us. The brain is made up of a vast number of special communication cells called neurons that carry signals around the body. The brain has a sort of special highway of neurons that carry instructions directly to your spine. This is the spinal cord, where motor (for motion) and sensory (for feeling) nerves branch out. [http://www.headbacktohealth.com/dictionary.html] From the spinal cord, the motor signals are sent out to your muscles, where they release tiny signal molecules called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters cause your muscles to contract, leading to motion.  We don’t really understand how the spinal cord knows which signals to send to which muscles,… Read More

How Does the Brain Work?

By Paola Salazar  The Curiosity Challenge Why is the sun yellow? Why do grass and dirt have a stronger scent after it rains? How and why do my nails keep growing? What is a black hole? A while back, we offered children and teens an opportunity to submit questions related to any topic in science, tech, engineering and mathematics that they may have, and here we’ve done it again.     The Curiosity Challenge for ages 5-14 encourages curiosity.  We ask the students to enter their question about the world in whatever form – essay, poem, drawing, photograph.  All good science starts with our curiosity and questions of the world around us.  This series of blog posts will highlight some of the questions we have received through the Curiosity Challenge and some answers to them. We’ve reached out to graduate students and researchers in each field, and have begun getting some… Read More

Curiosity Challenge 2014

We have had another wonderful year for Curiosity Challenge questions and winners! Curiosity Challenge Book 2014 – Cambridge Science Festival from CSciFest   Curiosity Challenge Book 2014 – Cambridge Science Festival Some of these wonderful questions were answered by a group from eMIT, a blog written by MIT graduate students to explore how science and technology affect our daily lives.   Why Do Some People Have Allergies? (Aine Büchau, Age 12) Our bodies have immune systems that search for harmful germs and destroy them. We need our immune systems to protect us. As people grow up, their immune systems get to know what is friendly (like food) and what isn’t (like the flu virus). What would happen if your body decided that your food was an enemy? That is precisely what happens in people who have allergies: the immune system tries to fight off normally harmless things like pollen, cat… Read More

Why Are Clouds White?

Gianna, Age 6, asked: Gianna’s entry was entitled “A Day in the Sun”   Great question, Gianna! To answer it, we have to first talk about waves, like the kind you see in the ocean. Ocean waves look sort of like this: Scientists call the top of the wave the “peak” of the wave. The arrows point to the peaks of the wave. Waves can come in different sizes. The wave on the top is “shorter” than the wave on the bottom, because the distance between two peaks is bigger: Smaller wave Bigger wave Believe it or not, light is a kind of wave, too! Like with ocean waves, we can say whether the light wave is big or small, depending on the distance between two peaks. Small wave Big wave Now, light comes in lots of different colors, right? Well, it also comes in lots of different sizes! Some… Read More

Curiosity Challenge: Questions & Answers

Many of you already know about our Curiosity Challenge for students ages 5-14.  For those who don’t know, it’s a call out to 5-to-14-year-olds to tell or show us what they are curious about. We get all sorts of cool entries.  Like this one: What color is lightning? – Noor Hassan, age 7 Or this one: When people have different emotions, how does it affect their face? – Omar Mohamed, Age 9 This year we had a record number of entries – over 2000 from students all over Massachusetts.  We get questions that showcase incredible creativity, that prompt us to think about our own curious questions, that make us want to immediately look up answers, and some of the best that challenge our perceptions of the day-to-day.  We’ve wanted to post up some of these questions online and post alongside some answers as well. A few months back, a lovely… Read More