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College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Universe

Dr. Universe: Why do leaves change colors?

Cartoon cat in a lab coat, Dr. Universe, studies plants under a microscope.Ever since I was a kitten, I’ve loved picking up big maple leaves in the fall. I’d take them home, put them under a piece of paper, and rub the side of a crayon over the top. It makes a great print of the leaf.

Leaves actually get their color from things called pigments. While scientists can use chemicals to make different crayon colors, nature can use pigments to create its own colors. » More …

Dr. Universe: What are shooting stars made of?

Dr. UniverseIf you are anything like me, you probably like watching for shooting stars in the night sky. A shooting star, or a meteor, is usually a small rock that falls into Earth’s atmosphere.

When I went to visit my friend Michael Allen, a senior instructor of astronomy and physics at WSU, he told me a lot of shooting stars are no bigger than a pencil eraser.

“The earth is going to pass a random pebble once in a while and that will make a streak in the sky,” he said. » More …

Dr. Universe: How does the moon glow?

Ask Dr. Universe by Washington State UniversityOur moon is one of the brightest objects in the night sky. But unlike a lamp or our sun, the moon doesn’t produce its own light.

Light can travel in lots of different ways. Moonlight is actually sunlight that shines on the moon and bounces off. The light reflects off old volcanoes, craters, and lava flows on the moon’s surface.

That’s what I found out from my friend Julie Menard, a geologist and researcher at WSU who studies what makes up the rocky planets in our solar system. » More …

Dr. Universe: Why do people litter?

Dr. UniverseThere is a lot of litter on our planet, but it hasn’t always been that way. For most of human history, people made stuff out of things they found in nature. They might make tools out of rocks or sticks. These things break down and become part of the soil again.

It wasn’t until the invention of new materials, like plastic, that we started creating more litter. In fact, along with the rise of these new materials came the word “litterbug.”

That’s what I found out from my friend Erik Johnson. He’s a WSU sociologist who is really curious about culture, the ways people interact and live together, and » More …

Dr. Universe: Why do we dance?

Dr. UniverseIf we traveled around the world, we would see all kinds of dancers. We might see classical ballerinas in Russia. We might see break dancers performing on the streets of New York. We might even see tango dancers in Argentina.

While the exact reasons we dance remain a mystery, there are a few theories about it.

That’s what I found out from my friend Ed Hagen, an anthropologist at WSU who has researched the roots of dance. » More …

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 …