Ask Dr. Universe

Episode 7: Bird Migration, Touch Screens, Goosebumps

March 25, 2021 Washington State University
Ask Dr. Universe
Episode 7: Bird Migration, Touch Screens, Goosebumps
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome back, 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 are talking birds, touch screen technology, and goosebumps.

A big thanks to our narrator Natalie from Regional Theatre of the Palouse and to WSU researchers Heather Watts, Praveen Sekhar and Ryan Driskell for helping with the science on this episode.

Kids can submit a 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  0:00  
Welcome back 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're talking birds, touchscreen technology and goosebumps. A big thanks to our kid narrator from Regional Theatre of the Palouse. 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. 

Natalie  0:35  
Hi, I'm Natalie, an RTOP theater kid, this question comes from Jasmine 10 in Gainesville, Florida. How do birds know where to migrate? 

Dr. Universe  0:44  
That's a great question. My friend Heather Watts is a researcher at Washington State University. She's investigating a very similar question as part of her research. 

Heather Watts  0:53  
I'm Dr. Heather Watts and I study animal behavior. We work with birds. And we're interested in understanding things like how birds decide when to migrate, or when to breed. 

Dr. Universe  1:06  
What can you tell us about birds and how they know where to go on their first migration? 

Heather Watts  1:11  
What we think a lot of birds do, the very first time they migrate is they have a program that tells them what direction to go, and how far or how long to go in that direction. This is something that they inherit that is kind of programmed in that they don't have to learn, they can just do it the very first time.

Dr. Universe  1:31  
That's pretty cool. A lot of animals inherit different traits through DNA. For birds who migrate, they inherit a set of directions they know how to use this genetic information is passed down from bird grandparents to bird parents, to the offspring. Are there any other tools that birds use on their first migration? 

Heather Watts  1:50  
The other tool that birds can use, the first time they migrate is using other birds that have done the migration before so they can follow other birds to learn where to go. 

Dr. Universe  2:01  
So once they've learned where to go, they can use what they've learned to return to the same spot. But not all birds returned to the same spot each year. Some of the birds you study are called pine siskins, which are birds that don't always migrate to the same place. Can you tell us about them? 

Heather Watts  2:17  
A question I'm really interested in, I don't we don't know the answer to, is do they tend to go a particular direction? Like do they have some program that tells them generally what direction to head or not? Or is it kind of un-programmed what direction they should be heading. It's fun to work on an animal or a system that we know less about. It's challenging, but it does mean there's lots of new things we can learn. 

Dr. Universe  2:37  
Thanks, Dr. Watts. We can't wait to hear what you and your team will discover next. 

Natalie  2:42  
Here's a science challenge for you. The next time you go for a walk or gaze out the window, see what birds you can spot. With help from a grown up see if you can find the name of the bird online or at the library. Finally, do a little research to find out how it migrates and discover the journey your bird takes.

This next question comes from Florida. Nicholas, age 11. asks, How do touchscreens work?

Dr. Universe  3:08  
When I got your question, I decided to do a little experiment. First I tapped my paw on a tablet and sent a message to a friend. Next I put on a pair of wool mittens and started typing, but the screen didn't respond. Finally, I used a banana to see if I could use it to swipe the screen. It actually worked. To find out more about touchscreens, I visited one of my friends at WSU.

Praveen Sekhar  3:35  
My name is Praveen Sekhar. And I would like to introduce myself as the father of a third grader and I love teaching kids about technology.

Dr. Universe  3:43  
That's awesome. You're an associate professor at Washington State University who's very curious about technology and engineering. What can you tell us about touchscreens?

Praveen Sekhar  3:54  
Nowadays, touch screens are everywhere from airports to doctor's office vending machines.

Dr. Universe  3:59  
All of these different touchscreens need electricity. Some materials called insulators keep electricity from flowing, like the wool mittens, then there are objects such as your finger or a banana, that allow electricity to flow from one place to another. We call these conductors

Praveen Sekhar  4:17  
You think about is like like a battery, right? Everybody knows a battery.

Dr. Universe  4:20  
If we look at a battery, we can see that it has positive charge that little plus sign on one end and negative charge that little minus sign on the other end.

Praveen Sekhar  4:30  
Only when the batteries has both positive and negative, then your device will work. So right now our touchscreen is like you have a negative and then you have some materials and then

Dr. Universe  4:40  
materials like plastic and metal that make up the screen.

Praveen Sekhar  4:43  
There is no positive. Once your finger touches the touchscreen, now there is a path to conduct electricity. It becomes positive. So you know you it's like a battery and it starts responding to you. There's software inside the device that takes over so the software needs to be activated and the activated command is your finger.

Dr. Universe  5:01  
Engineers call these kinds of touchscreens that need conductors to create a path of electricity, "capacitive screens." There are also other kinds of touchscreens, but maybe we'll investigate those another time. All right, young scientists with help from an adult, maybe you can do a little investigation into touch screens, too. Collect a few small items from around the house and find out if they're an insulator or a conductor, but will

Praveen Sekhar  5:24  
It would be a cool thing to look at to see which one works and which one does not work.

Dr. Universe  5:28  
Since the screens are quite fragile, you may want to use materials that will be gentle to your screen, like a cotton swab and eraser or banana touched the objects to this screen to see what happens. Here's the next question. 

Natalie  5:41  
Nolan, 7 1/2, in Richland, Washington asked Dr. Universe, Why do we get goosebumps? 

Dr. Universe  5:48  
Humans get goosebumps for a few different reasons. And one of those reasons has to do with temperature. My friend Ryan Driskell, an assistant professor at Washington State University, is really curious about the inner-workings of skin. He said he thinks about goosebumps at least once or twice a week. It's all part of the job.

Ryan Driskell  6:06  
If you have hair, what it'll do is it'll either stand up or sit down. And if it stands up and it's still at an angle, right, we know it's not just standing up straight a lot of time to set an angle. 

Dr. Universe  6:17  
The hairs that are tilted at an angle, help trap air close to the body which can help warm you up.

Ryan Driskell  6:24  
It's creating a kind of micro environment around your skin.

Dr. Universe  6:29  
All the hair on your body grows out of little hair follicles in your skin. At the bottom of the follicle is a little hair factory that makes your hair it's also attached to a tiny little smooth muscle called an erector pili. Sometimes when we get called that little muscle contracts are pulls on the hair follicle to make the hair on your arm stand up. If you're like me, maybe you've noticed your hair also stands on its end when you sent some kind of danger.

Ryan Driskell  6:55  
Certain dogs and cats and mice and hamsters they have a higher density of hair follicles than we do. It's almost all hair. So if you and they all have erector pilis, so if you can imagine that, you know, how does a rabbit stay warm during the winter, they have so much further that they can manage that it really does create a micro environment around that rabbit that keeps them safe. And that's the advantage of fur.

Natalie  7:21  
While, humans might not be as hairy as cats or dogs. They sometimes respond in a similar way when they sense danger. Animals have something called a fight or flight response, which means they can run away or face their fears. 

Dr. Universe  7:33  
That's right, Natalie, millions of years ago, your human ancestors were much hairier than humans are today. goosebumps may also be a kind of leftover reflex from the days when your more hairy ancestors were experiencing that kind of fight or flight response. The next time you get goosebumps take a close look at your skin. Did you know you were born with all the erector pilis and hair follicles you'll ever have? So when you get a scar the hair and erector pili don't go back. That's something that Driskell and the research team at WSU are exploring in the lab.

Ryan Driskell  8:06  
So what we're trying to do is trying to regenerate the erector pili. How do you regenerate the erector pili? How do you regenerate the hair follicle in a scar so that it's not a scar anymore? It's actually regeneration.

Dr. Universe  8:17  
It's all part of the science that will one day help our bodies to heal better, including getting back to making goosebumps. That's all for this episode friends. Thanks to all the kids who submitted a question and Natalie for that great narration. 

Natalie  8:32  
If you liked what you heard here on the Ask Dr. Universe podcast, leave a review on your favorite podcast app. 

Dr. Universe  8:39  
Thanks to Washington State University researchers for helping with the science. And thanks to you for listening. You make this podcast possible. As always, kids can submit a science question for a chance to be featured at ask Dr. that's Who knows where your questions take us next.