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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

SciStreet: Mystery Tube

If you joined us at today’s Harvard Chocolate Festival, then you might have seen us walking around with some mysterious white tubes. We challenged you to figure out how they worked — in case you didn’t get it, or want to make your own, here’s how they were put together! No matter which string you pull, it causes all of the other strings to shorten so that only one string is long. Here’s the secret: On the inside, the two strings are loosely looped together. It’s important to note that they’re not tied in any way. The same effect can be done by threading the two strings through a washer. The washer must be left free-floating and not secured to either string. There’s an excellent set of instructions available at this Berkeley site.

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

Science of Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! Just to add a little science to your holidays: why do we get sleepy after eating turkey? Well, it turns out that we can’t blame turkey for our post-Thanksgiving dinner food comas. Check out this clip of the Mythbusters episode where they tested this myth. From the Mythbusters Myth Results page: Enjoy your Thanksgiving nonetheless!

Stories Under the Stars

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to attend Stories Under the Stars, an event hosted by NOVA’s Ari Daniel and co-produced by Ari and the Museum of Science. It took place in the Charles Hayden Planetarium, where we became completely immersed in the dome of visuals. The theme of the show was “Light in the Dark” and this theme was taken both metaphorically and literally. What followed was an hour of story telling, live music, and phenomenal visual graphics. Ari managed to seamlessly integrate his storytelling and radio clips, so it felt as if he was having the conversation right there in front of you — despite half of it being pre-recorded. These stories certainly had elements of science, but they were also deeply human stories. Everything from the first light in the universe to the light of a candle on the counter were ways to think about and pursue our humanity…. 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

SciStreet: Augmented Reality Sandbox

Science on the Street’s Augmented Reality Sandbox is an adaptation of the original sandbox designed at UC Davis. SciStreet created this version of the sandbox to be portable and adaptable to many different locations. The sandbox runs off a projector, an XBox Kinect, and a laptop running the projection software. As visitors push the sand around, the topographic map updates in real time, allowing them to witness the effects of their actions. The sandbox displays a number of different properties and can be used to discuss various geographic concepts. It has a color-coded elevation map: white for the highest elevation and blue for the lowest. There are topographic contour lines which match the elevation map. It even has a feature to simulate rainfall, by holding your hand above the the sand. Whether you’re learning about how to read topographic maps, water flow, or watersheds, the AR Sandbox is an excellent… 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