Ask Dr. Universe

Episode 4: Mushroom Rings, Apple Cider, Tree Sap, Glass Colors, Lost Connections

December 23, 2020 Washington State University
Ask Dr. Universe
Episode 4: Mushroom Rings, Apple Cider, Tree Sap, Glass Colors, Lost Connections
Show Notes Transcript

Hello young scientists. I’m Dr. Universe and if you are anything like me, you’ve got lots of big questions about our world. On this episode, we will investigate questions about why mushrooms grow in rings, how to make apple cider, the art of stained glass, why trees have sap, and finally, investigate why the internet goes down. 

Thanks to our friends  Washington State University who helped with the answers: David Wheeler, Bri Valliere, Nadia Valverdi, Dustin Regul, and Dingwen Tao. And a big thanks again to guest narrator Vivian from Regional Theater of the Palouse and Parker for helping read the questions on this episode. As always, thanks to you for listening. You make this podcast possible.

Kids can submit a science question of their own for a chance to be featured at 

As always, submit burning questions at Who knows where your questions will take us next.

Dr. Universe  0:02  

Hello young scientists. I'm Dr. Universe and if you're anything like me, you've got lots of big questions about our world. On this episode, we'll investigate questions about why mushrooms grow in rings, how to make apple cider, the art of stained glass, why trees have sap and finally investigate why the internet goes down. A big thanks to our guest narrator from Regional Theater of the Palouse (RTOP). RTOP is a proud sponsor of STEAM learning discover the art of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. STEM makes life possible and ART makes it worth living. Support your local arts and humanities programs. Together, STEM is gaining STEAM. Let's get started.


Vivian  0:43  

Hi, I'm Vivian at RTOP theater kid. This question comes from Layne, age 8, in Spokane, Washington. Why do mushrooms grow and rings? We have a lot of giant ones in our yard right now.


Dr. Universe  0:55  

Great observation, Layne. The giant mushrooms in your backyard are not animals or plants. They are a group of organisms called fungi. My friend David Wheeler is a scientist at Washington State University who knows a lot about fungi. What are these mushrooms doing in Layne's yard? 


David Wheeler  1:12  

The ones that grow in fairy rings will start to radiate out in a circle in the same way that ripples on a pond radiate out from a raindrop. Essentially, they're just exploring two dimensional space. They're looking for nutrients to eat.


Dr. Universe   1:27  

We get nutrients from our food, but fungi get nutrients from things like dead logs or decaying leaves. The part of the fun guy that absorbs the nutrients is actually under the ground. mycelium


Wheeler  1:38  

It kind of looks like cotton candy you stretch really thin or like cobwebs? It's really just a collection of these tubular or cylindrical cells that are used to explore space. Now the most efficient way to do that is in a circle, right? Because they're just exploring two dimensional space. They're growing in every direction at the same rate.


Dr. Universe  2:01  

The mycelium starts to form when a spore which is kind of like a seed from a mushroom lands on the grass.


Wheeler  2:08  

So if you imagine kind of like a raindrop falling on a pond, when the raindrop hits the water, it radiates out in circles, right? And that that pattern is similar to what's happening here. 


Dr. Universe

It's at the outer edge of the mycelium where we see the ring of mushrooms sprout up from the soil. These rings can be pretty big, right? 



So there's at least one case in France where there's a 700 year old fairy ring.


Dr. Universe  2:34  

It's almost half a mile wide. If you think that's a big fungi,  what if we told you the largest living organism on earth is actually called honey fungus? These fun guy live in the Blue Mountains of Oregon and cover a space as big as 1000 soccer fields. Thanks for the question Layne, it's a good reminder that our everyday observations can lead to big discoveries. Here's our next question read by Parker, who also helped with our last episode,


Parker  3:00  

Juliana, age 7 asks, How do we make cider?


Dr. Universe  3:05  

We can make cider with juice from apples and we grow a lot of apples here in Washington State. I took your pressing questions my friend and food scientist Bri Valliere. How do we get the juice from the apple? 


Bri Valliere  3:18  

The first thing you need to do to get the juice is to grind them up into small pieces somehow, it's not like oranges or grapes where you could just squeeze it in the juice comes out. So we need to get it into smaller pieces. From there, once you have small pieces, you can put them into some kind of press. And that will squeeze the juice out from the fruit and so at that point you have cider.


Dr. Universe  3:40  

That sounds delicious. Are there any other important steps, maybe something to help us make sure the cider is safe to drink?


Valliere  3:47  

what people will do is a heat process called pasteurization, where they simply heat up the cider and that helps kill any microorganisms that might be unhealthy for humans.


Dr. Unvierse  3:59  

Thanks so much for help with the answer one more question for you what apples are best for cider.


Valliere  4:04  

I personally like things that are a little bit more sour. So I would gravitate towards maybe some honey crisp in there, maybe some Granny Smith, something with a little bit of acidity. But then I also like the idea of just mixing a bunch of apples together. And that's what most juice is made of. It's just a mix of different kinds of apples. So you could always make single batches, with certain kinds and compare them and then pick your favorite or you can mix everything together and see how it turns out and no matter what it's going to taste good.


Dr. Universe  4:37  

With help from a grown up you can find a recipe online or at the library that uses these basic steps to make cider. Use small pieces of fruit, press the fruit to make some juice and pasteurize it. A big part of the reason we have apple juice and cider is because of the hard working farmers and farmworkers who take care of our apple orchards. The next time you take a sip of cider, think of all the people who helped make it and all the science in your cup. Speaking of people who help us grow apples, our next guest is a researcher at Washington State University who studies how apple and cherry trees grow in different environments.


Vivian  5:11  

We got a question from Aliyah, age 8, in Kirkland, Washington. Why do trees have sap?


Valverdi  5:16  

My name is Nadia Valverdi and I am a tree physiology researcher.


Dr. Universe  5:24  

Thank you for helping us with this question. What can you tell us about sap? 


Valverdi  5:27  

Every plant has sap. The difference is that sometimes in the trees, we can see it because it's more gluey, and they will cry like we call it sometimes in the mornings, or if they have a branch cut, you will see it dripping. 


Dr. Universe  5:44  

I've noticed that before, sap can be really sticky. What does it do for the tree?


Valverdi  5:48  

So sap in the trees is like, I would always compare it to our blood in humans, as we do they have this vascular system, so kind of like veins and arteries.


Dr. Universe  6:03  

But instead of having blood flowing through veins and arteries, plants have sap flowing through 





Dr. Universe: and 


Valverdi: xylem. 


Dr. Universe: The sap carries important things like nutrients and sugars that are made in the leaves to the rest of the plant through these two systems. And it has one big task


Valverdi  6:19  

Make sure every organ is well-fed and growing.


Dr. Universe  6:25  

There's actually one kind of gooey sap that humans eat. Can you guess what it is? If you said maple syrup, you're right. We put sap from sugar maple trees on our waffles and pancakes. This sap not only helps the tree survive, but I think it's pretty delicious.


Vivian  6:42  

Now we're on to our next question. Emily, 10, in Edmonds, Washington State asks, How do people stained glass to make it different colors? 


Dr. Universe  6:52  

Ever since humans discovered they could use sand to make glass, they've been experimenting with it. Our next guest even uses glass to make art.


Dustin Regul  7:01  

My name is Dustin Regul. I am an artist and a teacher. I teach painting and 2D design at WSU Tri-Cities


Dr. Universe  7:11  

Thanks for being here. How does glass get its color? 


Regul  7:14  

It's mainly metals that change the color of it.


Dr. Universe  7:18  

We can add these metals to glass in the form of a compound. A compound is made of two or more elements. For example, table salt is a compound made up of the elements sodium and chloride.


Regul   7:30  

you would actually incorporate gold chloride to it that actually turns it red, blue, it's a cobalt oxide. Yellow is cadmium sulfide.


Dr. Universe  7:44  

Glassmakers added compounds when they melt the sand, the heat the sand to about 3000 degrees Fahrenheit. That's even hotter than lava. As the melted sand cools, it becomes glass. But glass made from melted sand often has some of its own natural color.


Regul  8:00  

I'm sure you can imagine like old glass bottles, they kind of do have that bluish or greenish or like aqua tinge.


Dr. Universe  8:09  

You make stained glass art. And with lots of different colors of glass. How do you get all those pieces of glass to stay together? 


Regul  8:16  

Just sit there one piece at a time wrapping copper tape around all the edges. And then at that point, now you have all your your colored glass puzzle pieces fitting together copper tape wrapped around all of them, and then you just solder the whole thing together. And then then that's the copper foil method invented by Lewis Tiffany,


Dr. Universe  8:40  

Artists, and engineers, can use a process called soldering to join two or more metal atoms together. He also helps the copper tape stay in place. Making stained glass takes patience, but it's a good reminder that we can all create amazing things when we set our minds to it.


Vivian  8:58  

Here's the last question from Mia age 11 in Sheridan, Wyoming, why does the internet go down?


Dr. Universe  9:06  

You know, I've been missing seeing a lot of friends in person during the pandemic. But if you're anything like me, maybe you've had a chance to talk with some of them online. The Internet can help us stay connected. But you're right. Sometimes that connection gets lost. information like the data that makes up your favorite cat video or science website travels through electronic signals we can't see with our eyes. These electrical signals can also move through a system of underground wires and cables. The cables and wires run from where you're using the internet to a local internet office to a regional internet office. This information travels across the internet in something called packets.


Dingwen Tao  9:45  

I'm Dingwen Tao. I'm a computer scientist and assistant professor at Washington State University. The packet is like the car on the highway. 


Dr. Universe  9:55  

One reason the internet might go down is that there's a broken link between these locations or these links might get overloaded with information.


Tao  10:02  

You and your neighbors can share the same link that is connected to a central office. It is like people are sharing the same road. But sometimes if too many people are using the same road, there will be a lot of traffic.


Dr. Universe  10:15  

Whenever the internet goes down, there are people who use their deep knowledge of the technology and great problem solving skills to help us get back on the information highway. That way we can all stay connected, even when we're stuck at home. 


That's all for this episode, thanks to our friends at Washington State University who helped with the answers, to kids who submitted a question and to our guest narrators, Vivian from Regional Theater of the Palouse and Parker, and thanks to you, you make this podcast possible. As always, you can submit a science question of your own at That's a-s-k-d-r-u-n-i-v-e-r-s-e-dot-w-s-u-dot-e-d-u. Who knows where your questions will take us.