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Tag: humans

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

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

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

Editing the Genome: An Event Retrospective

Museum of Science. Genome Editing: Now We Can, Should We? It was a complex question that greeted attendees of the Museum of Science on Tuesday evening: Now that we can edit the genome, should we? The evening started with thought provoking presentations given by Kevin Esvelt (MIT Media Lab) and Sam Lipson (Cambridge Public Health Dept). They introduced the CRISPR/ Cas9 genome editing technology, which was developed in 2013 by several groups including scientists in Cambridge, MA. The technology enables genome editing of any organism by a cut and paste mechanism that replaces the original DNA sequence with an engineered sequence designed by scientists. Changes to the genome can be limited to specific target cells or can be propagated across an entire species via a process called ‘gene drive’. The presenters also discussed the current environment of legislation around genome editing and the secretive nature of science, performed effectively behind… 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: 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: 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: 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