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College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Universe

Dr. Universe: What can I do to help stop ocean pollution?

Dr. UniverseOne of the most important things we can do to prevent more pollution is to keep our garbage, especially plastic, out of the ocean. That’s what I found out from my friend Richelle Tanner, a marine biologist and researcher at WSU.

Tanner said it’s a lot easier to keep plastic out of the ocean than to get it out of the water. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates the amount of garbage humans put into the ocean every year is equal to about 90 aircraft carriers, those big ships » More …

Dr. Universe: How many peas would fit in the sun?

Dr. UniverseOur sun is so massive, you could fit more than one million earths inside of it. To find out how many peas would fit inside the biggest object in our solar system, I decided to ask my friend and mathematician Kimberly Vincent at Washington State University.

Vincent and her students said that to figure out how much of something can fit inside the sun, we need to know the volume of the sun. The volume is how much space something takes up. » More …

Dr. Universe: Why do we get phobias?

Dr. Universe: a cat in a lab coatWe all experience fear in our lives. It is a useful tool that helps humans and other animals survive. I happen to be afraid of dogs, thunderstorms, and water. But fears are quite different from phobias.

A phobia is an intense fear of an object or situation, often one that you actually don’t need to fear. It can create a lot of anxiety. It can cause your heart rate to speed up, make it hard to breathe, and trigger nervousness, vomiting, sweating, or dizziness.

Phobias usually fall into four groups. That’s what I found out from my friend Jake Zimmerman, who teaches abnormal psychology and is getting his Ph.D. at WSU. » More …

Dr. Universe: How do volcanoes erupt?

Dr. Universe behind a sleeping volcano.Wherever we find a volcano on the surface of our planet, we can find the source of an eruption beneath it. That’s what I found out from my friend John Wolff, a volcanologist at Washington State University in Pullman.

Our planet is home to all kinds of volcanoes that erupt in different ways. Some eruptions are quiet and continuous, with a slow flow of lava. Other volcanoes erupt explosively and » More …

Dr. Universe: All about bunnies

Dr. UniverseBunnies are hopping all over our planet. Some hop through snow and deserts while others hop through wetlands and woods. There are lots of different kinds of rabbits and they are all a little different. For the most part, a bunny hops, or actually runs, anywhere between 25 and 45 mph That’s even faster than most house cats can run.

My friend Paul Jensen, a graduate student researcher at WSU, studies snowshoe hares in northcentral Washington state to learn more about » More …

Dr. Universe: What would happen if we had three hearts and one of them stopped?

Dr. UniverseIt’s hard to say exactly what would happen if you had three hearts and one of them stopped. Humans, and cats, have just one heart, so we have no experience with this. Octopuses, on the other hand, do have three hearts.

When I called my friend Kirt Onthank, a professor at Walla Walla University who studies how octopus bodies work, he told me all about the three hearts. Before becoming a professor, he also studied biology here at Washington State University.

Onthank says the answer to your question depends on which of an octopus’s three hearts stops working. » More …

Dr. Universe: Why are animals symmetrical?

Dr. Universe: a cat in a lab coatIf we drew an imaginary line straight down the middle of the human body, it would look pretty similar on each side.

We see this kind of symmetry in lots of animals, from cats and birds to worms and frogs. In fact, about 99 percent of animals have bilateral or two-sided symmetry, says my friend Erica Crespi, a biologist at Washington State University who studies frogs and asks a lot of big questions about how animals develop.

Imagine if animals like frogs, birds, cats, or humans didn’t have their two-sided symmetry. Birds might have a hard time flying with one wing. Frogs might hop in circles » More …

Dr. Universe: What experiments can you recommend?

Dr. UniverseYou can try all kinds of fun experiments at home. It really all depends on what you are curious about. Lately, I’ve seen some really great sunsets and started wondering what gives them their colors.

I decided to ask my friend Tom Johnson, who leads fun physics demonstrations for kids visiting Washington State University. I asked him if he had any simple ideas for an experiment I could try out in my lab, or even the kitchen. One idea he had was to create a sunset in a cup. » More …

Dr. Universe: How do we get our personality?

Dr. UniverseEveryone is different. Maybe you are adventurous, shy, outgoing, funny, or kind. Before you were even born, your unique personality was beginning to take shape.

That’s what I found out from my friend Chris Barry, a psychologist at Washington State University. He studies personality in young people, including how people express themselves on social media. He was really excited to hear about this question from Jamie, age 11.

Part of the answer is that some of your personality comes from your parents. Just as parents pass down physical traits like hair and eye color to their offspring, they can also » More …

Dear Dr. Universe: Why does hair turn gray?

Dr. Universe examining a hair follicleHair comes in lots of different colors. There’s black, medium brown, auburn, light brown, strawberry blonde, and copper, to name just a few. But in the end, almost everyone will have hair that’s gray or white.

I decided to visit my friend Cynthia Cooper, a biologist and researcher at Washington State University, for help answering this question from Darae, age 10.

Ever since you were born, different cells have been working on your hair. Each hair sprouts from a follicle, a sort of little hair-making factory under your skin. Here, some of your cells are making your hair and others are coloring it. » More …