Why do apples have stems? Why do fruits start out as flowers? How did the first apple grow when no one was there to plant its seed? Why can you make a seedless grape and not a seedless apple? Why are apples so juicy? How is apple juice made? Why are apples hard and pears soft? In this episode we take a field trip to Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, Vermont to learn more about apples. Our guides are 10-year-old Rupert Suhr, his father, Bill, and apple expert Ezekiel Goodband.
Why are some fruits a flower before they?re fruit? - Grayson, 8, San Jose, California
Actually ALL fruits start as flowers (but not all flowers turn into fruit). Growing fruit is a way that some plants reproduce. Fruit is the nice ripe container that holds the seeds, which humans or animals will eat and then spread around (often through their poop), allowing new plants to grow.
But that process begins with a flower. The outer part of the flower often has beautiful colors and shapes and smells?and that?s all part of the way the plant tries to attract a bee or other pollinator:
?The flower has an ovary at the base of the petals. The petals are enticing a bee to come with the pollen from another blossom that it?s visited and there?s some nectar that the bee can collect and while the bee is doing that it?s shedding some pollen,? explains Ezekiel Goodband. ?That pollen completes the information that the apple needs to start growing. So the flower is to attract the bee.?
That ovary at the base of the flower will start to grow and that will become the apple that you eat. If you look at the bottom of an apple?the opposite end of where the stem is attached to the tree?you can actually see where the flower used to be. It even kind of looks a little bit like a tiny flower.
We?re exploring a part of the world that not much is known about?in fact, you could be one of the people who help us understand and learn more about this very important, and very large, part of our earth.
The land underneath the ocean is as varied and interesting as the terrain up on dry land?with mountains and canyons, plains and forests. (That?s right, forests! There are kelp forests where the kelp is as much as 150 feet tall!) In this episode, what?s known--and unknown--about the bottom of the ocean. How deep IS the deepest part of the ocean? And how was the Mariana Trench formed? We get answers from Jamie McMichael-Phillips and Vicki Ferrini of Seabed 2030, a global collaboration designed to map the sea floor, by 2030.
?How deep is the deepest part of the ocean?? ?Freya, 8, Wellington, New Zealand
The deepest part of the ocean is the Challenger Deep, 11,034 meters in the Mariana Trench. It?s about seven miles deep! How did the trench get so deep?
The same processes that formed canyons and mountains on dry land also formed the depths of the ocean and the islands that peek above the water.
In the case of the Mariana Trench, it was formed by the process of subduction?when one tectonic plate slides under another. A tectonic plate is a gigantic piece of the earth?s crust and the next layer below that, called the upper mantle. These massive slabs of rock are constantly moving, but usually very slowly, so a lot of changes to the earth?s structure take place over a long time. But sometimes something like an earthquake can speed that process up.
A trench is formed when one plate slides or melts beneath another one.
The Mariana Trench is the deepest trench in the world?farther below sea level than Mount Everest, is tall!
Kala wants to know why we say soccer in the United States, when the rest of the world calls the game "football." In this episode we hear from people who make their living in the game: professional players, coaches and commentators.
?Why is soccer called 'soccer,' instead of being called 'football?'? - Kala, Colchester, Vt.
"It's an interesting question because so many people around the world play the game of football," said David Saward, now-retired men's coach at Middlebury College.
"What happened with the words soccer and football goes back to the 1800s when the game was developed. There were two groups of people in Britain who got together to set the rules of two different games, one that was known as rugby football, and another that was known as association football. From those two first words: 'rugby' and 'association,' came two very separate games. Rugby was abbreviated to the word 'rugger.' And out of the word 'association' came 'soccer.' That's the root of where the two differences came."
So although these days you probably won't hear many Brits calling the sport "soccer," the word actually originated there. Americans brought the nickname to the US, and as the sport became popular, soccer stuck.
"When you look around the world," says Coach Saward, "there are all sorts of different forms of football: American football, Australian rules football, Gaelic football, rugby football and association football. I think for the clarity of everyone over here when we say the word football, we think of people running around with helmets and pads on; so soccer is a very clear distinction."
In this episode of But Why we visit a credit union to learn what money is all about. And Felix Salmon, Anna Szymanski and Jordan Weissman from Slate Money answer questions about why money plays such a big role in modern society. How was money invented? Why can't everything be free? How do you earn money? How was the penny invented? Why are dimes so small?
Related Episodes: What Is The Biggest Number?
Who invented money? - Luca, 9, Ashland, Ore.
There's no first person we can point to who invented money. The idea of money has evolved as human society got more complicated. In the early days of humankind, people mostly bartered. Bartering is essentially trading.
But over time people realized they needed to have a system for dealing with things when there wasn't an easy trade. If you have something I want but I don't want anything you're offering because I really need something else, how do we work it out? That's where the earliest forms of money emerged. First they were things like shells or rocks. Then pieces of clay with symbols or faces pressed into them. These things don't have much value by themselves, but if everyone agrees that they're going to use them as a symbol of value, you can trade them and start a system of payment.
Eventually these objects became more formalized, turning into coins and paper dollar bills, like the ones we use today. These days there's another method of buying and selling: the credit or debit card.
Five-year-old Odin in Wyoming is about to start school and he sent us this question: If I?m terrified about kindergarten do I have to go? What should I do if I?m scared? What if kids are mean to me? In this episode, tips and suggestions from our listeners for kids returning to school, along with answers from guidance counselor Tosha Todd and National Teacher of the Year Juliana Urtubey.
Related Episodes: Why Do We Have To Go To School?
First day of school book recommendations from Tosha Todd
Back to school tips
Make a hug button! Draw a heart on the inside of your hand. Draw a heart on your parent?s hand. Squeeze them together to charge your hug button. If you feel nervous at school, push the hug button and it will send you a hug. - Tosha Todd, school guidance counselor
Keep a picture of your family in your backpack. You can share with your teacher the things your family does for fun. That will help your teacher understand your family. - Juliana Urtubey, National Teacher of the Year
If you're nervous try to have fun and try to make some friends and the school year will be a lot better.- Zoe, 10 Colorado
Remind yourself that you are brave and confident. - Clarissa, 8, Ontario
Get into a school routine now. Pick out your clothes the night before. Maybe pack your lunch too. - Tosha Todd
When I start school I feel nervous, but when I step in I feel ok. For the first few days I play by myself. When those first few days are done, I play with others. - Julius, 8, Ontario
Take a deep breath, be kind to someone and they'll be kind to you. - Zoe, 6, California
Get everyone's names and if you forget them it's ok to ask again. - Lucy, Vermont
Say hi to all the kids. - Ben, 6, Michigan
You're going to make friends, and your mom and dad will pick you up; they're not going to leave you there forever. - Sly, 7, New York
Have you ever been threading one leg through a pair of pants in the morning and wondered?why do we wear pants anyway? Or wondered why pockets in clothing designed for girls are sometimes smaller than the pockets in clothing designed for boys? In this episode we?ll tackle your questions about clothes with fashion historian and writer Amber Butchart.
?Why do we have to wear clothes?? - Bhakti, 9, Australia
Many people think we started to wear clothes for practical reasons of warmth and protection.
?We don?t have fur like other animals, so when modern humans started moving into colder parts of the world, we needed to protect ourselves somehow if it?s cold and snowy. This is one answer, that we wear clothes for protection,? said Amber Butchart. Butchart is a dress historian, author and broadcaster. She studies how the clothes we wear are connected to where we live and what kind of culture we grow up in, and what time period we?re growing up and living in.
Butchart says, while the protection theory explains why we have to wear something?to cover our skin from the elements, there are a lot of other answers that help explain the style of clothes we wear, or don?t wear. These have to do with culture and society, and ideas about modesty as well. In this case modesty means what?s considered proper, broadly accepted as not being too wild or ?out there.? A lot of how we dress comes down to what is considered appropriate in our current culture.
?The idea is that these cultural codes built up across millennia and centuries and centuries, ideas that parts of our body should be covered up,? Butchart explained. ?We have these social ideas to do with what parts of the body should and shouldn?t be on display, but we also have that combined with this need, especially in colder parts of the world, for protection from the elements.?
But when it comes to fashion, what you wear communicates something about you to the outside world, and clothing has gone through many changes throughout history. Listen to the episode to learn more!
What is the cleverest thing hippos can do? This week we?re answering seven quirky questions about animals! Why do elephants like peanuts? Why do cows put their tongues up their noses? Has anyone ever ridden a tiger? How do woodpeckers cling to trees? Why is some bird poop black and some is white? Why do people make animals like sharks and bears sound way scarier than they are? Answers from Keenan Stears of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Christine Scales of Billings Farm & Museum; shark researcher Kady Lyons and the Bird Diva Bridget Butler.
What is the cleverest thing a hippo can do? ? Elliot, 8, England
We turned to Keenan Stears of the University of California, Santa Barbara for some help with this tricky query.
?The first thing that comes to mind that highlights the intelligence of hippos,? he told us, ?is the ability to identify hippo friends from hippo enemies by the smell of their dung.? Dung is another word for poop.
?Dominant male hippos use dung middens to mark their territories. A dung midden is a place where an animal repeatedly goes to drop their dung. The dung middens act as a way that hippos can keep track of the other hippos in the area. So when moving through the environment, hippos can sniff out areas where their hippo friends live, versus areas where their hippo enemies live and they can do all of this just by smelling the dung in middens.?
Bet you didn?t think the cleverest thing hippos can do would involve poop! And just in case it wasn?t totally clear, a midden is basically a waste pile. So a dung midden is kind of like a toilet or an outhouse. It?s where the hippos go repeatedly to poop. But, as Stears told us, it also serves another purpose. While humans can?t tell their poop from someone else?s, other animals can sniff out individuals this way, and use dung or urine?pee?to mark their territories.
Hippos aren?t the only animals to use dung middens this way, by the way. Rhinoceroses do this too! Other animals, like dogs, cats, rabbits and monkeys also sniff feces and urine as a way to learn about their fellow species, but they don?t always leave their ?messages? in the same place.
What are fireworks made of, why are they bright and loud, and how do people make them? And, why do Americans celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks? We learn about pyrotechnics with licensed fireworks professional John Steinberg. And David Chavez, an explosives expert at Los Alamos National Laboratory tells us how changes to the materials used in fireworks can make them better for the environment and unleash new, more vibrant colors in the night sky. We also address firework safety and how to impress your friends by knowing what kinds of metals are in the fireworks you?re watching or the sparklers you?re playing with.
NOTE: We know not all kids (or adults) enjoy the noise of fireworks. We do play the sound of fireworks at the very beginning and very end of the episode. And John Steinberg offers some advice to people who dislike fireworks in the middle of the episode.
Why are fireworks bright? ?Dash, 4, Omaha, NE
Steinberg told But Why that the brightness is the main purpose of fireworks.
?You?re painting the in sky with light. It has to be bright enough to create the color and the effect you want to in the sky. Second, fireworks are explosive. You can?t be right up in front of it like a painting in an art gallery. You have to be some distance away, so the fireworks have to be bright enough for you to appreciate it,? he said.
Fireworks are created by burning materials that shine brightly when burned. Those fires are very hot! ?The types of things we burn in fireworks burn very brightly, and they?re chosen for those properties,? Steinberg said.
Fireworks are created by a combustion in the sky ? a combustion is something that burns.
?You need a fuel and you need something to burn that fuel,? Chavez said. ?An example of a fuel would be gasoline or wood in a fireplace. In fireworks, the fuels are the chemicals that we use to make the firework itself. The oxidizer is another chemical. When those two things burn, they burn very hot. And those high temperatures excite the coloring agents that we have in fireworks.? The coloring agents are metals.
?Anytime you see red, that?s strontium. If you see a pinkish-purple, that?s potassium. Yellow is from sodium. Orange comes from calcium. The green is from barium, but now you can use boron. Blue is from copper. And these can be mixed to make other colors.
?You need a really hot fire to be able to excite these atoms, to make them give off their color. But when they are that hot, it makes the colors come out really bright.?
Chavez and other scientists have found ways to change the fuel source of fireworks to create less soot. Those changes also allowed them to replace barium, which can get into water sources, with boron, a greener way to create those green fireworks.
This week, we're revisiting one of our favorite older episodes from the past. We?re going to learn a little bit about the history of noodles--and how to make them!
We?re joined by Jen Lin-Liu, author of the book On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Pasta and Love.
And we also get an exciting hand-pulled noodle demonstration from Tony Wu, who was the executive chef at M.Y. China, a restaurant in San Francisco?s Chinatown, when we originally recorded this audio in 2019. Wu can hand-pull 16,000 strands of noodles from one lump of dough in just two minutes...while blindfolded! Narrating this noodle-pulling exhibition is celebrity chef Martin Yan, who owned the restaurant. (M.Y. China closed during the pandemic.)
The first written references to noodles or pasta can be found in Chinese texts dating back about 3200 years. Author Jen Lin-Liu says it's likely that pasta developed in China and in the Middle East within a couple hundred years ago. But what likely didn't happen was the often repeated idea that Italian explorer and trader Marco Polo "discovered" noodles during his two decades traveling in east Asia and then introduced them to Italians upon his return.
"Probably what happened," Lin-Liu told But Why, "was they were invented in China and they were also invented somewhere in the Middle East a little bit later, probably a few hundred years later. And there were two parallel cultures of noodles that developed separately.
"And then," Lin-Liu continues, "because of the interactions between cultures later on, they started merging. So they were probably eating noodles in Italy and China at separate times and they didn't have much to do with each other at the beginning."
As for how noodles are made, the ingredients are pretty basic: just flour and water. Sometimes eggs are used in place of water in Italian pasta. They can then be turned into noodles or pressed into different shapes. Sometimes they're filled with meat and cheese or other ingredients and turned into dumplings or tortellini or other filled-pasta shapes.
Making pasta takes skill, both to get the consistency right and to make the perfect shapes. At Martin Yan's San Francisco restaurant M.Y. China, executive chef Tony Wu puts on a weekly show for diners, displaying his ability to hand-pull 16,000 strands of noodles from one lump of dough in under two minutes. Yan calles him a "human pasta machine," and we get to experience the excitement in this episode.
Are seeds alive? What are they made of? Here in Vermont it's planting time, and we've been getting a lot of questions about seeds from kids around the world. In this episode we'll explore the importance of preserving seed diversity with Hannes Dempewolf of the Global Crop Diversity Trust. Crop Trust manages a repository of seeds from around the world at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway, above the Arctic Circle.
Plus, ethnobotanist and Abenaki scholar Fred Wiseman shares a little bit about a project called Seeds of Renewal, which aims to find seeds traditionally grown by Abenaki people in our region and return them to cultivation.
More Plant Episodes:
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault contains an enormous wealth of seeds from around the world. Unlike other seed banks, the vault is designed not to be used unless there are no other options in other seed banks. Seed banks are places where seeds are stored for future use in case of a disaster or crop failure, and are sometimes given out to help establish new populations of heritage or rare plants and crops. Seed banks also promote genetic diversity by keeping many varieties of seeds from many different plant species.
"Are seeds alive?" - Evie, 5, Hawaii
Yes, seeds are very much alive! At least the seeds that we use to grow food are alive. Seeds can die if they're not properly cared for, if they get too hot or cold or wet. But under the right conditions, they're just dormant.
"It means they're sleeping basically," Dempewolf says. "Seeds are dormant and they need to be activated to grow. They need light to grow, along with humidity and warmth, that's the conditions that allow seeds to grow."
"Different species of plants have very different kinds of seeds and different types of seeds also need very different conditions to grow. Some grow with very, very little humidity with very little wetness, and some need a lot. Some need to be submerged in you know under water for a while until they can grow. Some need to be frozen first before they can grow. Some seeds are made that they have to first be eaten by an animal and then pooped out again, so they can grow. Some grow with very, very little wetness, and some need to be submerged underwater for a while until they can grow. Some need to be frozen first before they can grow. Seeds are amazingly complex."
Our guest this week is a lexicographer. That's someone who studies words and, in this case, edits dictionaries. Emily Brewster is a senior editor at Merriam-Webster and host of the podcast Word Matters.
Emily answers a question from 8-year-old Emma in Kentucky, who wants to know how words are added to the dictionary. But before we can answer that, we'll tackle 7-year-old Julia's question, "How are new words created?" Join us for an episode about how words are created, when they've reached a critical level of use to get their own dictionary entry, and when words are removed from the dictionary. Get ready for some word nerdery!
More Word Episodes:
"How do words get added to the dictionary?" - Emma, 8, Kentucky
Lexicographers like Emily Brewster read and listen a lot and pay attention to the new words that people are using. They collect these examples and determine how many instances there are of the word and what different kinds of sources are using the word.
"If all the examples are only appearing on TikTok, then that tells us one thing about the word. But as soon as they're also appearing in, you know, a magazine that you would see at the dentist's office, then that tells us something else about the word's status," Emily explains. "So we are always looking for information, for evidence, of how words are being used by the people who speak the English language. And when we have enough evidence that the word is really part of the language, that it's a word that most people already will recognize when they hear it, that's when we know that it's ready to be added to the dictionary."
For example, the word COVID-19 was a word created by the World Health Organization about a year and a half ago. "It got into our dictionary faster than any other word in the history of the dictionary has ever been added. Because what we knew immediately was that this word was not going away, that everybody was talking about this word," Emily says.
Sometimes dictionary editors update the definition of words that were already included. For example, the definitions of "pod" and "bubble" were updated this past January to include a new meaning: people you might have grouped up with when you weren't seeing other people because of the pandemic.
Other new words recently added to the dictionary include: "makerspace," where people get together in a common area and often share tools to make their own projects; "BIPOC," an abbreviation for Black, Indigenous and People of Color; and "second gentleman," in reference to Vice President Kamala Harris's husband.
Once it's been established that a word is in widespread use, an editor will carefully read through evidence of the word in use and formulate a meaning in very careful language. Another editor will determine how old a word is and its earliest usage, another will look at the word's history, and the word will get a pronunciation. Then it's ready to be added to the dictionary.
Merriam-Webster updates their online dictionary with new words or new definitions of words a few times a year. Emily says words don't usually get taken out of dictionaries, but editors do make choices about which words appear in print dictionaries.
How do people whistle? How does whistling make a sound? Why does your tongue change a whistle higher or lower? Can you get a trophy for whistling? Can people with laryngitis whistle? Get ready, we learn all about whistling with musician and champion whistler Emily Eagen and musician Yuki Takeda. And who whistles our theme song? We'll hear from musician Luke Reynolds, and a kid whistling chorus from our listeners!
How do you whistle? - Aurelia, 6, New York
Emily says the first thing you should do is lick your lips or use lip balm. "If your lips are dry when the air passes it doesn't feel good," she says. Then you'll make your lips kind of into a pucker, circle your lips tightly.
Next, stick your tongue touching your bottom teeth. Then you make kind of a yuh, yuh, yuh sound. "But instead of saying the words, make it with a little stream of air. You want to let air pass over the top of your tongue and out your lips. You're making a tiny little instrument by curling your tongue."
"I like to think about between your nose and your lips, that's a little body part called a philtrum. I like to pretend that my whistle is coming out of that. That helps me make the sound have a little focal point," she says.
Emily says it helps to make little sounds when you practice. "Pretend your sipping tea with that little tiny space there. You don't want to push too much. If you blow too much air it won't work. You have to be really gentle."
Once you find your first whistle, it's all about practice and playing around to see what sounds you can make.
"If you move your tongue forward, the notes go up, and if you move your tongue down, the notes go down," she says. If you can make a variety of notes, then you can start putting them together to make music!
How are rocks made? Why are some rocks hard and others soft? How do rocks shine? How are geodes and crystals made? Why do some rocks have gems in them? Answers to your rock questions with Hendratta Ali, rock doctor! Ali is a geologist who studies and teaches at Fort Hays State University in Kansas.
Is it OK to do something that you were told not to do and then never tell anybody? In this episode we tackle that thorny question from 10-year-old Finn from Seattle. We'll also wrestle with the question, "Why do people make really bad choices and want other people's lives to be harder?"
We're tackling some ethical dilemmas in this episode and we're letting kids give the answers! We also get a response from ABC Radio's Short & Curly, a podcast devoted to ethics for kids.
Here's how some of our young listeners answer the question about whether it's ever okay to break a rule and lying about it:
"No, because it usually just means you get in trouble." - Juniper
"I think so. If you're protecting somebody or keeping a surprise." - Camille
"It depends who told you. Like if your parents told you, then you shouldn't do it. Or if you do it, you should tell them you did it. But if it's like a mean person you met on the street it's ok. And it depends what it is. Because if it's a bad question, you shouldn't do it either way if it's a bad thing. If it's a good deed you should do it. And if you did that, why wouldn't you tell anyone?" -Sylvie
"No, not really. If you don't tell anyone about it. It's mostly the doing it and then not telling anybody about it. Mostly what isn't the good thing about it. It's a little bit worse, if you don't tell someone you might get a feeling where you feel kind of embarrassed. And you don't tell anybody and it just sticks with you the rest of your life." - Piper
Have you ever felt competitive with a friend or a sibling? Competition comes up in a lot of different ways in life. Maybe you're running a race with a friend and you want to beat them! Maybe you're trying to play a song without making a mistake and you're competing against yourself.
Sometimes competition feels good and fun. It can make you want to do better, and make a game more enjoyable. But not always. Sometimes competition feels bad. Like it's too much pressure, or takes away from the fun of being with your friends. Some people really don't like competition at all.
3-year-old Kai from Tokyo, Japan asks: "Why do we need to compete with other people, especially friends, for example on a sports day or at gym class?"
In this episode we discuss competition with anthropologist Niko Besnier. And we'll hear from 12-year-old Harini Logan, a competitive speller from San Antonio, Texas, and 10-year-old Del Guilmette, an athlete from Monkton, Vermont.
We put Kai's question to Niko Besnier, anthropologist at the University of Amsterdam. One of his books is called The Anthropology of Sport, written with Susan Brownell and Thomas F. Carter. He says there are two reasons that people take part in competitions:
"One is that sports are fun. It's fun to play with your friends and classmates, to run, jump, play ball. We've all experienced this rush of pleasure and fun doing these things. But the other aspect that's contradictory to the fun part is that it enables us to measure our strength, our speed, our physical ability against those of other people. It's the competition part of sport, and competition can become extremely serious. Frequently, the fun part of sport gets lost."
Besnier says when competition gets out of hand it can lead to hurt feelings, and on a larger scale, competition can lead to things like war and inequality.
But with the right attitude, competition, especially when we compete against ourselves, can help us get better at sports and academics.
That's how it is for Harini Logan. She's a competitive speller who has made it to the Scripps National Spelling Bee twice!
"Competition teaches you a lot, whether it's the preparation leading up to that competition or the outcome," Logan says. "It can teach you a lot about not only your abilities, but also new things that can change the way you look at life. When you're preparing for a competition you can learn how to work hard, and how not to give up on something. And during the competition you learn teamwork. That's one thing you learn in spelling bees, because you want to be with your community, your friends. One thing to learn if you win: sportsmanship! You don't gloat about it, you still appreciate yourself but you don't overdo it so others don't feel bad. And if you don't win it doesn't matter. [You just say:] I'm going to try harder next time."
Competing also helps us get better. That's how 10-year-old Del Guilmette views it. He likes to play against tough teams when he plays sports, because that's how you get better.
"The best players at the game, whatever sport it is, they didn't get better because they played teams that they knew they were going to beat. They played those teams that were better than them. They got better and they practiced!"
Listen to the full episode to hear more about how these mature young competitors think about the value of competition.
In the ice age, megafauna roamed North America: mammoths, saber-toothed cats, even giant land sloths! What happened to them? In this episode we answer questions about the ice age: What was it? Did birds live during that time period? How about giraffes? Did people live with woolly mammoths? Why did mammoths go extinct? We'll answer your questions with Ross MacPhee, senior curator at the American Museum of Natural History and author of End of Megafauna: The Fate of the World's Hugest, Fiercest, and Strangest Animals. And we'll hear from Nathaniel Kitchel, a Dartmouth researcher who used carbon dating to discover the age of a mammoth rib. Plus, John Moody, of the Winter Center for Indigenous Traditions in Norwich, Vermont, on how mammoths appear in the oral history of the Abenaki people.
"What was the ice age?" -Karen, 5, Wilmington, Delaware
In the Pleistocene era, which lasted from 120,000 years ago to 15,000 years ago, ice covered the landscape in much of the northern hemisphere. Ice covered all of Canada down into the Northern United States and all of northern Europe. And there were smaller ice sheets in Russia. How did this happen? Scientists think it was a buildup of ice over time.
"The theory is that the winter never ended," explained Ross MacPhee. "You would have snowfalls in the winter and it never really got warm enough to get rid of it completely. The next year that would be built on, built on and built on. And the thing about snow is that it kind of makes its own weather. If you have snow it gets very cold! And that preserves the snow pack for a very long time."
The weight of that snow would compact into ice, eventually covering parts of the world in great sheets of ice. It might help to think of the process as a little bit like what happens when you have a favorite sledding hill: the snow is light and fluffy when you start, but if you sled down it enough times (and walk up the hill, too), eventually the paths get icy from the footsteps and sleds continually packing the snow down.
It wasn't just ice sheets that were a feature of the ice age. All of that water caught up in the ice made sea level drop 300 feet lower than it is now. That exposed lots of land that is now covered in water, including a land bridge connecting Alaska and Russia!
This land bridge allowed a number of species to move into North America from Asia, like bison. And some North American animals went into Asia, like camels and horses! Bear species traveled in both directions. Humans also used the land bridge to migrate into North America, though scientists think some early humans probably used boats too.
Mammoths also migrated over that land bridge! They originated in Asia and came into North America. But there were other species of megafauna that roam the landscape as well, like giant condors, saber toothed cats and even giant sloths.
These species went extinct at the same time as mammoths, as the ice age was ending. Listen to the episode to learn more about the theories of why so many large animals went extinct around the same time.
In 2019, we answered a question about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge mass of plastic and other trash swirling around in the Pacific Ocean. Mary James heard that episode and was so inspired, she created a device to help clean up the plastic in the ocean. In this episode of But Why, we learn about her invention, the mermicorn!
Listen back to Why Is There A Big Patch Of Garbage In the Pacific Ocean?
Kids: we'd like to know what you think could be done about all the garbage in the ocean. Download our learning guide above to draw a picture or describe an invention you would make to help clean it all up.
Mary James sent her picture of the mermicorn to the Little Inventors competition, for Canadian children. See Mary's entry here. Her invention has been chosen from among hundreds of other submissions to be turned into a prototype, a model of what the real thing might look like. There are Little Inventors competitions in the UK as well, and lots of countries and organizations sponsor design challenges for kids. See if you can find one where you live!
On Thursday, February 18th, a robot called a rover is expected to land on the surface of Mars, and begin collecting information scientists hope will help us learn if life ever existed on that planet! We answer your Mars questions with Mitch Schulte, NASA program scientist for the Mars 2020 mission.
NASA has a number of ways that you can watch the landing live on February 18th at 11:15 a.m. PST / 2:15 p.m. EST / 19:15 UTC.
The rover is called Perseverance, which means not giving up, continuing to work toward a difficult goal even when challenges are placed in your way.
And it is quite a challenge just to get to Mars! The rover was launched on a rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida more than 6 months ago, by NASA, the U.S. Space Agency. And it has been traveling through space ever since, on a path to Mars. And now, people all over the world are eager to watch it land on Mars and get to work.
And it?s not just Perseverance that is going to land on Mars. There?s also a helicopter, called Ingenuity, which means cleverness, creativeness and resourcefulness all rolled into one. Ingenuity, the helicopter, is basically a drone?there?s no one inside driving it around, just as there are no people onboard the rover. But ingenuity is the first helicopter to ever test-fly on another planet!
How is chocolate made? Why can't we eat chocolate all the time? Why is chocolate dangerous for dogs? Why do adults like coffee? In this episode, we tour Taza Chocolate in Somerville, Massachusetts to learn how chocolate goes from bean to bar. Then we visit a coffee roaster in Maine to learn about this parent-fuel that so many kids find gross! And we'll learn a little about Valentine?s Day.
"How is chocolate made?" - Samarah, 8, Johnson, VT
"Chocolate actually comes from cocoa beans--which is no bean at all--they are seeds of the cacao trees," says Ayala Ben-Chaim of Taza Chocolate. Taza is a "bean-to-bar" chocolate maker. That means starting with raw cocoa beans and going all the way through the process to turn those beans into a chocolate bar you can buy in a store. (Some chocolatiers get chocolate that's already mostly made and they just add stuff to it and shape it.)
The tree that those cocoa beans come from is called the Theobroma cacao tree, which grows in warm tropical parts of the world--within 20 degrees of the equator. Taza Chocolate sources (buys) cocoa beans from farmers in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Belize and Bolivia.
It takes about five years from when it's planted for a cacao tree to produce cocoa pods. "Cocoa pods are a little bit funny to look at. They look like a gourd growing off of the tree, or like a lumpy tiny American football. The cocoa pods grow off of the branches of the tree like apples, but they also grow right off of the trunk of the tree," Ben-Chaim explains.
"The next step in the process is fermentation. Fermentation is so important in chocolate making. And this is one of the things that is so surprising about chocolate making.
After the beans ferment, they spend a week drying in the sun on wooden planks. At this point they look like almonds. Next, they are packaged and shipped to wherever they'll be made into chocolate.
The first thing the chocolate maker will do is roast the beans at 200 degrees for about an hour, which gives them a nice toasted flavor.
"We also start to separate the thin outer shell that surrounds the inner part of the cocoa bean. Our next step is to separate that shell from the inner part of the bean, called the nib. We do this by winnowing the cocoa beans, using a machine," says Ben-Chaim.
"At Taza Chocolates we use a traditional Mexican milling style using a molino - or mill - to grind the cocoa beans down," Ben-Chaim says, demonstrating. "Over time, those cocoa nibs will be turned into a cocoa liquor, which is smooth and chocolaty. Imagine a chocolate waterfall. It looks beautiful, it smells chocolaty and delicious and yet it is not very tasty because we're missing a really important ingredient, and that is sugar."
Sugar is added to the chocolate liquor, then the sweetened chocolate is ground again, and other ingredients are sometimes added, like spices or coffee or fruit.
At this point some chocolate makers will conche the chocolate, which blends and mixes the chocolate at a high temperature over many hours, which makes it smooth and creamy. Taza doesn?t conche their chocolate. The next step is tempering. Tempering the chocolate makes it glossy and brittle. Then the chocolate is poured into molds and cooled. Then it's wrapped up and ready to take home.
Also in this episode: we visit 44 North Coffee to learn more about the mysterious beverage that so many adults like to drink--coffee!
What makes a cactus a cactus? And what are you supposed to call a group of these plants--cacti, cactuses, or cactus?! We'll find out in today's episode, as we learn more about the cactus family with Kimberlie McCue of the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. She'll answer kid questions about why cactuses are spiky and how they got those spikes, as well as why teddy bear cactuses aren't actually cuddly!
Those prickly spines that are so characteristic of the cactus family are actually modified leaves! Cactuses don't have the kind of leaves like a maple or oak tree. But they might have had leaves that were at least a little more like that way way back in the past. Over time, those leaves evolved into the spiky spines we see on cactuses today because they help the plants survive in hot, dry environments.
Why are cactuses spiky? -Noah, Iowa
"They can be a defense mechanism to discourage herbivores - animals that eat plants - from eating the cactus. But, also, spines create shade!" explains Kimberlie McCue.
"When you're covered in spines, as the sun moves across the sky, those spines are casting shadows on the body of the cactus. They're little shade umbrellas!"
All cactuses are native to desert environments, and some live in places where it never rains at all. So how do they get water to survive? Well, Kimberlie tells us that these plants grow not too far from the ocean.
"Early in the morning, there will be fog that comes off the water. Those spines provide a place for the water to condense, form little droplets of water that run down the spine, to the body of the plant, down to the ground and to the roots."
Cactuses are also extremely important parts of their desert environments, as they hold soil in place and provide shelter for birds and other animals. Those insects and birds in turn help pollinate the cactus flowers. Cactuses are also an important local food source for humans.
Unfortunately, cactuses are in danger from people who poach (illegally take) wild plants from their environment. Kimberlie McCue says one way to help make sure cacti stay healthy and plentiful is to be careful when you buy cactus plants. Check to see where the plant seller got the cactus and make sure they're taking care to be ethical stewards of these plants before you buy.
Why are whale sharks called whale sharks? Why are guinea pigs called pigs if they're not pigs? Why are eagles called bald eagles if they're not bald? You also ask us lots of questions about why and how animals got their names. So today we're going to introduce you to the concept of taxonomy, or how animals are categorized, and we'll also talk about the difference between scientific and common names. We'll learn about the reasoning behind the names of daddy long legs, killer whales, fox snakes, German shepherds and more! Our guests are Steve and Matt Murrie, authors of The Screaming Hairy Armadillo, and 76 Other Animals With Weird Wild Names.
There are some animals whose names don't really seem accurate-like daddy long legs...which certainly aren't all daddies! Or bald eagles that very clearly have plenty of feathers on their heads. Or guinea pigs, which aren't actually pigs!
And then there are animals with awesomely silly names. Have you ever heard of the umbrella bird? How about the sparklemuffin peacock spider! Or the monkeyface prickleback, the sarcastic fringehead, and the white-bellied go-away bird!
How do animals get their names? Well, there are two types of animal names: Scientific names and common names.
Scientific names are used as a way to categorize all living things, so even if you don't know a lot about an animal, you can learn a lot about them by knowing their scientific name. There are eight different levels that living things get grouped into: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species.
The broadest category is called the domain. There are three domains: archaea, bacteria, and eucarya. Bacteria and archaea are both categories of micro-organisms. All animals and plants belong in the eucarya domain.
Below domain is kingdom. There's a kingdom for animals called Animalia and a kingdom for plants called plantae. (And a few others as well.) As you go through the classification system it gets more and more specific. So, take humans: we belong to the eucarya domain, the animalia kingdom, the chordata phylum (because we have a backbone), the mammalia class (because we're mammals), the primate order, homonidae family, homo is our genus and homo sapien is our species name.
All species have two official scientific names, kind of like how you have a first name and a family name. So the species name for humans is homo sapien. The species name for a common black rat is rattus rattus. An Asian elephant is elephas maximus.
Those names sound fancy, and originally the scientific names of animals were in Latin or Greek, but they don't have to be Latin or Greek anymore, they just have to sound like they are!
But we don't typically call all animals by their scientific names. We often refer to them by their common names, which are kind of like nicknames! Common names can be different in different languages. Like, the scientific name for a wolf is canus lupus. That would stay the same no matter what language you're using. But in English we tend to call it a wolf; in Spanish you'd call it un lobo, and in Welsh it would be blaidd (pronounced "blythe").
Even within the same language, an animal can have lots of common names. Here in Vermont, where I live, we have an animal called a groundhog. But most people around here call it a woodchuck. And others call it a land beaver, or a whistle pig! Common names were often in use long before animals go their specific scientific names.
As the new year dawns, what are you hopeful for in 2021?
Even though the change of the calendar year is mostly symbolic, New Year's Day is often a time for looking back on the year that just passed and setting goals for the year ahead. We asked you to share your hopes and dreams for 2021, from the end of the COVID-19 pandemic to your own personal goals. In this episode, more than 100 kids from around the world offer New Year's resolutions.
We'll also hear from Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Jennifer Nuzzo, climate activist Bill McKibben and Young Peoples Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye.
Here are just a few of the hopes and dreams you sent us:
"My environmental wish for 2021 is that we can stop so much pollution. My personal wish is to learn Urdu and to convince my brother to get a cat or dog!" - Maya, Toronto, Ontario
"My wish for 2021 is that the coronavirus will stop and the vaccine will come out and we can do things we haven't done this year and we can have our birthday together this year!" -Zain
"I want to learn how to ride my bike by myself. - Adelaide, 6, California
"What I want to happen for the new year is that I want people to start being responsible and no coronavirus. I want people to stop polluting. I want people to wear more masks. I want people to be kind to animals." - Jedi, 8, Ohio
"I hope in 2021 more people think about and believe in climate change." -Evelyn, Albany, New York
"Next year I would like more electric cars!" - Kyrav, 6, Geneva, Switzerland
"My hope for next year is that we don't use as much plastic as we do now and that coronavirus will stop so we're able to do the things we like to do." - Tejas, Canberra, Australia
"My hope for 2021 is that everyone gets health care." - Mikal, 7, Georgia
My new year?s resolution is for sloths to take over the world and for people to use less plastic. - Sloan, 7, Wisconsin
Lots of people are afraid of the dark, including many kids who have shared that fear with us. In today's episode we explore the fear of the dark with Daniel Handler, better known as Lemony Snicket, the author of the Series of Unfortunate Events books, and a picture book for young kids called The Dark.
Then we go on a night hike with Vermont Fish and Wildlife biologist Steve Parren, to talk about ways to embrace the darkness. We practice our night vision by not using flashlights and we think about how our other senses can help us navigate. Steve also answers questions about how animals see in the dark and why it sometimes look like animals' eyes are glowing back at us in the darkness.
Why are babies small and grownups big? Why are babies so helpless, instead of little versions of adults? Do babies know they're babies? How do babies grow? How do babies learn to talk?
Kids have been sending us lots of questions about babies! This week we?re learning more about the development of the human brain with Celeste Kidd, professor of psychology and primary investigator at the Kidd Lab at the University of California Berkeley.
It seems like a really bad idea, right? Human babies rely on adult humans for everything, while babies of some species never meet their parents and are able to take care of themselves as soon as their born! Why is that?
While researchers aren?t sure on this one, Celeste Kidd says there are a lot of theories.
?Because we are very intelligent, we need bigger brains to account for all the things we can do that other animals can?t do. If you have a big brain and you?re born via live birth ? meaning you aren?t born from an egg ? then there?s an upper limit on how big your head can be when you go through the birth canal,? she explains.
In other words, we need those big brains to do all the things humans do, but a human head with a fully developed brain can?t fit through the birth canal.
?The bigger your head needs to be ultimately, the more immature you need to be born,? Celeste says. So we have to develop and grow outside of the womb. We?re born with some of our brain power, but our brains keep growing long after we?re born, well into our 20s. And there are some advantages to that long period of childhood.
?If you require dependence on your parents for a really long time, which humans do, that creates a lot of opportunity for you to learn a lot of stuff about your culture and the other people that you?re being raised with. We have a lot of knowledge that is unique to us as a species, and that?s unique to us as social groups,? Celeste says.
The long childhood allows for a lot of cultural transmission ? learning about tools, language, manners and arts. Some of these exist in other species, but the human systems are a lot more elaborate and take more time to learn!
A few weeks ago we talked about why kids can't vote and we also answered some questions about the U.S. Presidential Election. It's been two weeks since the November 3rd election, but we're still getting questions about it! We get answers from NPR political reporter Ayesha Rascoe.
Here are some of the questions we're tackling in this episode: What would happen if someone counted the votes wrong? Why is President Donald Trump going to court and why are people saying Joe Biden might not be president? What is the Electoral College and why do we still have it; why haven?t we changed to a popular vote? How does the president talk to the people without being on the news?
Helping us answer these questions is political reporter Ayesha Rascoe, who covers the White House for NPR. Adults, you might want to check out the NPR Politics Podcast, a daily podcast that frequently features Rascoe's reporting and expertise.
In our most recent episode, we answered questions about really big animals: whales!
We covered a lot when it comes to these huge aquatic mammals but there was one big topic we didn't get to: and that's how whales communicate. We'll learn more about the sounds whales make: singing, whistles, and echolocation clicks with Amy Van Cise, a biologist at NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington.
How do whales spray water? Why are humpback whales so fat and blue whales so long, and why are blue whales blue? Do whales have belly buttons? How do you weigh a whale? And how do whales drink water in the salty ocean? We have a whale of a time answering questions about these ocean-dwelling mammals with paleontologist Nick Pyenson, author of Spying on Whales: The Past, Present and Future of Earth's Most Awesome Creatures.
In the United States, where But Why is based, we have a big election coming up. Election Day is officially on November 3rd. But more Americans than usual are voting in advance this year, sometimes in person at their town hall or city office. And sometimes by mailing in their ballot-that's the piece of paper where they mark down who they want to vote for. People in lots of states are voting for their governors, who help run their states, or their Congresspeople, who work in Washington to help run the country.
But the position that's getting the most attention is the election for who will be president for the next four years. We learn about voting and elections with Erin Geiger Smith, reporter and author of Thank You For Voting and Thank You For Voting Young Readers' Edition. Also: how does the government work? Why haven't we had girl presidents before? Why are Democrats called Democrats? Why are Republicans called Republicans?
This episode may not be suitable for our youngest listeners or for particularly sensitive kids.
We're discussing animal ethics with author Hal Herzog. In a follow up to our pets episodes, we look at how we treat animals very differently depending on whether we think of them as pets, food, or work animals. Why do some cultures eat cows and others don't? Why do some cultures not have pets at all? And is it okay to breed animals like dogs that have significant health problems even though we love them? Herzog is the author of Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.
Why do dogs have whiskers? Why are dogs' eyesight black and white? Why do dogs have so many babies? Why do dogs have tails and we don't? Why are dogs thumbs so high on their paw? Why don't dogs sweat? Why do dogs roll in the grass? Why aren't dogs and cats friends? Veterinarian and dog scientist Jessica Hekman has answers.
Why do cats purr? How do cats purr? Why can't we purr? Why do cats "talk" to people, but not other cats? Why do cats sharpen their claws? Are orange cats only male? Why do cats like milk and not water? Why are some cats crazy? Can cats see color? All of your cat questions answered with Abigail Tucker, author of The Lion in the Living Room.
In this installment, we follow up on our March episode about the novel coronavirus now that we know more about COVID-19 and how it spreads. Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, returns to answer questions about the things we can do to keep ourselves and those around us safe. And we'll learn about what vaccines are, how they're developed and the accelerated process for developing a coronavirus vaccine.
How is ice cream made? Why does ice cream melt? Why does some ice cream melt faster than others? We?ll answer your questions about this summery concoction with Rabia Kamara, of Ruby Scoops in Richmond, Virginia. It?s going to be sweet.
Why do forest fires happen? What happens to the forest after a fire? Sometimes you send us questions about things you've heard about, and sometimes you send us questions about your experiences. We'll hear from 5-year-old Abby in Australia who wanted to know more about the bush fires near her home earlier this year. Liam and Emma tell us about their wildfire experiences in California, and we get answers to your questions from Ernesto Alvarado, professor at the University of Washington.
This week, we're getting out our bug nets and talking about dragonflies and ladybugs! Why do ladybugs have spots? How many different types of ladybugs are there? How do they crawl on the ceiling without falling down? Where do dragonflies and ladybugs sleep? Why are dragonflies called dragonflies? Do they bite? We're joined by Kent McFarland, a research biologist at the Vermont Center for Ecostudies and the co-host of another great VPR podcast called Outdoor Radio.
In this special live episode But Why had a musical celebration with Mister Chris, the Junkman and May Erlewine, and we heard your songs. You can listen to But Why Live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 26, 2020. This program is in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
In this special live episode But Why held a discussion about race and racism with the authors of ABCs of Diversity, Y. Joy Harris-Smith and Carolyn Helsel. You can listen to But Why Live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 26, 2020. This program is in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
In this special live episode learned about trees and tree communication with scientists Alexia Constantinou and Katie McMahen of the Simard Lab at the University of British Columbia. You can listen to But Why Live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 26, 2020. This program is in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
In this special live episode we held a kid press conference with Vermont Governor Phil Scott. You can listen to But Why Live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 19, 2020. This program is in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
Why don't spiders stick to their own webs? How do spiders walk up walls and on ceilings without falling? Why do spiders have eight legs and eight eyes? How do they make webs? And silk? What's a cobweb? How do spiders eat? And why are daddy long legs called daddy long legs when they have to have a female to produce their babies?! We're talking spiders today with arachnologist Catherine Scott.
In this special live episode we learn about words and language with linguist John McWhorter, host of the podcast Lexicon Valley. You can listen to But Why live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 19, 2020. This program is in collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
In this special live episode we learn about space and space exploration with Jim Green, NASA's Chief Scientist. You can listen to But Why live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 19, 2020. This program is part of a collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
What is slime and how do you make it? What makes glue sticky? Why does mixing diet coke and Mentos make an explosion? How does glow in the dark stuff glow without batteries? We're talking about sticky things like slime and glue in this episode. Plus, bonus: explosions! The branch of science we're focusing on is called chemistry. Chemistry is basically the study of stuff and what it's made of, and how different substances interact with one another, sometimes even combining to make new stuff. Our guest is Kate Biberdorf, professor of instruction at the University of Texas, better known as "Kate the Chemist." Her new book is called The Big Book of Experiments.
In this special live episode we learn about poetry and writing with Poetry Guy Ted Scheu, Rajnii Eddins, and we hear your poems! Get your pencils ready; we?ll be doing some fun writing exercises as well. You can listen to But Why live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 19, 2020. This program is part of a collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
In this special live episode, we learn about bats and beavers! First up, all about bats with Barry Genzlinger of Vermont Bat Center. Then, we learn about the industrious beaver with wildlife biologist Kim Royar of the Vermont Department for Fish & Wildlife. Listen live at vpr.org and call-in every Friday at 1 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time through June 19, 2020. This program is part of a collaboration with the Vermont Agency of Education to bring interactive educational opportunities to students while schools are closed.
Where is the border between sky and space? That's what 5-year-old Matthias of Durham, New Hampshire wants to know. Allesandra, 3 of Bella Vista, Arkansas wants to know why we can't hold air. We're going to get scientific, but also philosophical and imaginative with anthropologist Hugh Raffles, astronomer John O'Meara, and, a special treat, cellist Zoë Keating, who scored the episode for us to help us really feel it!
We're sharing a new episode from one of our favorite podcasts, Circle Round. Jane Lindholm co-stars with Molly Bloom (Brains On!, Smash Boom Best) as twin sisters who reap what they sow in this story with origins in Korea, Tibet, Japan and China.
We head to the kitchen to answer cooking and food questions. Why does food taste better with salt? Why do we need salt to make sweet things like cookies? Why do seasonings taste good in food but not so much on their own? Why are marshmallows soft? Why do egg whites go from clear to white when they're cooked? How are expiration dates determined? Answers to your food questions with Molly Birnbaum, host the podcast Mystery Recipe and editor of America's Test Kitchen Kids.
We're talking about teeth with a friendly dentist! How do teeth become loose? Why do our baby teeth fall out? Why do people only have two sets of teeth? Why don't babies have teeth when they're born? Why are teeth white? Why do we have gums in our mouth? How does toothpaste clean your teeth? How does sugar make cavities? We get answers from Theron Main, a pediatric dentist at Timberlane Dental Group in South Burlington, Vermont.
We're answering 9 questions that put a smile on our faces, and we hope they make you chuckle, too. Plus, you might actually learn something from some of the answers!
Are llamas ticklish? Why do pickles and cacti look alike? What are boogers made out of? How do fish see underwater without goggles? Do skunks like their smell? Do pigs poop? Are elephants afraid of mice? Are jellyfish made of jelly? Why are yawns contagious?
Guests include Jo Blasi from the New England Aqarium, naturalist Marry Holland, therapy llama-handler Shannon Joy, and Elephant Listening Project researcher Peter Wrege.