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Washington State University
College of Arts and Sciences Dr. Universe

Dr. Universe: Why do apes walk on their knuckles?

Dr. Universe.A lot of apes walk on their knuckles. Gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos use their knuckles for stability and balance.

That’s what I found out from my friend Nanda Grow, an anthropologist and wildlife biologist at Washington State University who studies primates.

“Gorillas and chimpanzees both do knuckle walking, but they do different kinds,” she said. » More …

Dr. Universe: What is a sinkhole? What causes one?

Dr. Universe: a cat in a lab coatSinkholes can be scary to think about. They don’t happen too often, but when they do, they can take people by surprise. The solid ground disappears, and a hole suddenly appears.

It might seem like sinkholes appear out of nowhere. But they actually need specific conditions to form.

To have a sinkhole, you first must have a cave. » More …

Dr. Universe: How do earthquakes happen?

Dr. UniverseWe’ve had a lot of earthquakes on our planet this year. Maybe you’ve learned about them from the news or felt one shaking up your own neighborhood. Earthquakes can happen in a few different ways.

First, it is important to know a bit about the Earth’s outer layer, or crust. The crust is made of seven big pieces called “plates.” They are about 60 miles thick and sort of float on the molten rock beneath them. That’s what I found out from my friend Sean Long, a WSU geology professor who knows a lot about earthquakes. » More …

Dr. Universe: How was popcorn discovered?

Dr. UniverseThere’s nothing quite like making popcorn: the snapping kernels, the warm buttery smell, and the knowledge that a delicious snack will be ready in minutes. It gives you some good time to think and wonder: how did humans first start doing this?

To find out where popcorn came from, I visited my friend Erin Thornton, an archaeologist at WSU. Archaeologists study how humans lived in the past—including the things they ate. To learn the story of popcorn, we have to trace the history of maize. » More …

Dr. Universe: Where does the universe end?

Dr. UniverseWhen you look up at the night sky, it can feel like the universe is a big blanket of stars above you. But unlike a blanket, the universe doesn’t have corners and edges. Far beyond what humans can see, the universe keeps going. As far as humans know, it never stops. To learn more, I went straight to my friend Michael Allen. He is a senior instructor of physics and astronomy at WSU.

The universe is bigger than the biggest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s bigger than » More …

Dr. Universe: Why won’t sea turtles lay eggs in the ocean?

Dr. UniverseSea turtles spend almost their entire lives in the ocean. Even as babies, sea turtles’ bodies have special traits for living at sea, helping them glide and paddle through the water. After emerging from their eggs, baby sea turtles (called “hatchlings”) scramble to the ocean to live the rest of their lives. Only female sea turtles return to land as adults, to lay eggs and begin the cycle again.

I talked with my friend Frank Paladino to learn more about sea turtles. He completed his Ph.D. at » More …

Dr. Universe: Do babies have ways of communicating?

Dr. UniverseHumans come into the world crying, but that’s actually a good thing. In a way, babies start communicating from the moment they are born. Of course, it can be hard for their caregivers to know exactly what they mean with all those cries.

I learned a lot about how babies use emotion to communicate from my friend Masha Gartstein, a professor of psychology at Washington State University. She told me that crying is just one way babies communicate. After two or three months, babies » More …

Dr. Universe: Why do we have eyebrows?

Illustration of Dr. Universe looking at a hair follicle. Humans have hair on their heads, arms, and even the face. If you feel your face, you might feel some small, fuzzy hairs on your cheeks and forehead. But the hair of your eyebrows is usually a bit thicker.

I asked my friend Mark Mansperger why we have eyebrows. He’s an anthropologist at Washington State University Tri-Cities.

Eyebrows appear to serve two main purposes, he said. One of the purposes of eyebrows is to keep » More …

Dr. Universe: Why do people like different kinds of music?

Dr. UniverseHumans have been experimenting with all kinds of sounds, lyrics, and instruments for thousands of years. There are hundreds of genres of music, so while you might like one kind, a friend might like something completely different. Or maybe you became friends because of your similar taste in music.

My friend Horace Alexander Young is a WSU musician and professor. When I went to visit him, » More …

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 …