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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask Dr. Universe: Why do mushrooms grow in rings?

Dr. Universe: Why do mushrooms grow in rings? We have a lot of giant ones in our yard right now! – Layne, 8, Spokane Dear Layne, When you see a ring of mushrooms, it’s likely they are exploring for food under the ground. Giant mushrooms in your backyard are not animals or plants. They are part of another class of living organisms called fungi.

Ask Dr. Universe: How do you make cider?

We can make cider with juice from apples. There are many kinds of apples and a few ways to squeeze out the juice. My friend Bri Ewing Valliere told me all about it. She’s a food scientist at Washington State University who knows a lot about cider. The first step is to pick out the apples.

Ask Dr. Universe: How did COVID-19 start?

Dear Dr. Universe: I heard a little bit about how COVID-19 started, but I don’t know much about it. What happened? – Colleen, 10, Louisa, Virginia Dear Colleen, It turns out scientists around the world are investigating this very question. It’s likely the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, started in an animal.

Ask Dr. Universe: Why do we get tears when we yawn?

Dear Dr. Universe: Why do we get tears when we yawn? – Ella, 8, Australia. Dear Ella, You’re right, a lot of people get tears when they yawn. When you yawn, you actually use lots of muscles in your face. Maybe you can feel the stretch in your jaw, cheeks and eyes.

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

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.

Ask Dr. Universe: Why do garden spiders hang upside down in the middle of their webs?

Why do garden spiders hang upside down in the middle of their webs? That’s a great observation. Garden spiders and other orb-weaver spiders crawl all around their webs, but we often see their heads pointing down toward the ground. My friend Todd Murray, an entomologist at Washington State University, told me about a group of scientists.

Ask Dr. Universe: Masks are like an obstacle course for germs

Whenever I go out and about, I make sure to wear my face mask. Like you, I wanted to find out exactly how they work. First, I talked to Marian Wilson, an assistant professor and nurse at Washington State University who is curious about how face masks protect people.

Ask Dr. Universe: Why do ants build mounds?

Ants build mounds in all shapes and sizes. Beneath those piles of dirt, ants are building their underground homes. That’s what I my friend Rob Clark, an entomologist who studies bugs on plants. His job is to figure out if bugs make a plant sick or help the plant grow.

Ask Dr. Universe: Dogs can’t tell time, but they know when things should happen

Dogs might not use clocks to tell time like humans do, but they are pretty good at following a schedule. They often know when it is time for a walk, dinner or sleep. A lot of animals rely on something called a circadian rhythm, a 24-hour cycle, to help them figure out when it is time to do different things. 

Ask Dr. Universe: It takes science and art to create coins

In the United States, pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters and other coins are made through the U.S. Mint. It turns out they’ve been making a lot more coins than usual during the global pandemic. But more on that in a moment.

Ask Dr. Universe: What gives leaves their shapes?

We can find all kinds of leaves on our planet. Just think of tiny pine needles, fern fronds, ivy vines or a big banana leaf. My friend Eric Roalson is a professor at Washington State University who is very curious about plants.

Ask Dr. Universe: How is paper made?

We can make paper in lots of different ways. It often starts with trees. In fact, one of the first kinds of paper we know about was made in China using rags, plants and bark from mulberry trees.

Ask Dr. Universe: Why does soap become bubbly?

When you wash your hands with soap and water, a few different things happen to make bubbles. Just like you, water and soap are made up of parts called molecules. Water molecules really like to stick together.