Ask Dr. Universe

Episode 14: Meet a Veterinarian | How do lungs work?

January 31, 2022 Washington State University
Ask Dr. Universe
Episode 14: Meet a Veterinarian | How do lungs work?
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome back, young scientists. On this episode, we meet Dr. Kim Chiok, a veterinarian at Washington State University who enjoys writing, doing experiments, and who is curious about viruses, especially those that affect the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. Plus, we explore a question about how our lungs work.

The adventures continue at

Dr. Universe  0:02  
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 podcast, we'll talk to some curious people hear their stories, and investigate some fun science questions along the way. Let's welcome today's special guest, Dr. Kim Chiok, a veterinarian who enjoys writing, doing experiments and who is very curious about viruses, especially those that affect the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system. Here's our first question for you. When you were in fifth grade, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Kim Chiok  0:38  
When I was very young, I used to read a lot. And I wanted to be a writer and write science fiction novels that I thought were like, pretty cool back then. It's still something I do, I still write. But when I was little, that's exactly what I wanted to be. I just wanted to write stories. And I would read them to my stuffed animals, and they were, well, receptive to my tales. 

Dr. Universe  1:06  
Writing is a great skill to have, especially when you're a scientist and you want to share your discoveries with the world. So how did you decide to become a scientist? 

Kim Chiok  1:15  
Oh, that's a very good question. I guess, like everybody else. I really liked watching TV. And one of my favorite shows was The X Files. And on the X Files, there is this one character, Dana Scully, she was the scientist, the brain, the one that would, you know, go about things and try to answer questions with the science. And although the story was mainly about the guy that came up with the crazy ideas, I was always captivated by the scientist. And I think that Scully from The X Files would be my my inspiration for studying something science related.

Dr. Universe  1:59  
While some veterinarians work in clinics, they're also people like you who work in the lab. You worked in a clinic for a while and followed your curiosity to study viruses in animals and now in the human respiratory system. While you're on the show, can you help us answer a science question from Ellie, age 11. In North Carolina, she asked: How do lungs help keep you alive?

Kim Chiok  2:22  
The lungs are...very's a very complex organ. It has a texture of a sponge, it is pink-ish, and can collapse and it can inflate as we breathe in and breathe out.

Dr. Universe  2:34  
Our lungs are lined with hundreds of millions of tiny air pockets.

Kim Chiok  2:39  
Because it's like, have you seen those bubble wraps that'll pop? But imagine that it doesn't pop. But whenever you squeeze them, and you release them, they go back to their own shape.

Dr. Universe  2:52  
That's similar to what's going on in the lining of our lungs. These little air sacs, or our imaginary bubble wrap bubbles, fill up with air, the oxygen that we breathe in, and they release air, the carbon dioxide or CO2 waste that we breathe out.

Kim Chiok  3:08  
And then the little sacs, they expand as we breathe in, exchange, the O2 the oxygen with our blood vessels, and then the CO2 comes out, they collapse, and the air containing CO2 comes out-- in every breath, every time we breathe out.

Dr. Universe  3:25  
According to our friends at the American Lung Association, a person who breathes 12 to 15 times a minute, takes about 17,000 breaths a day, or more than 6 million breaths a year. When you study lung cells in the lab, are there any special tools you use?

Kim Chiok  3:43  
Yes, I use a very nice, very fancy, very big microscope. It has a chamber that can keep the cells alive and warm, so I can see them alive. And it has this camera that lets me see really close into each one of the cells. And if I use lasers, I can see each part of the cells in different colors. So it's a it's a pretty neat, pretty nice microscope.

Dr. Universe  4:13  
Do you have any advice for a listener out there who might be interested in becoming a scientist one day? Or who might even want to work in a lab like you do?

Kim Chiok  4:22  
Watch The X Files?  I think there's many things that encourage people to do research and science. But I would say, reading. My feeling is that the more we read, the more questions we have, it may sound silly, but books give us these alternative, these different worlds. As we are reading and as we're growing up, we're reading these books and then we compare them with reality, with our real world, then a lot of questions start coming up. And I think that's one of the greatest things about reading is, you know, the difference , or contrast, between the world in the books and the world in reality and they make up most of the questions that we that we have. I would say reading and I would say also, just asking questions. Just random questions whenever we talk to people. Just ask the questions. Sometimes we feel a little awkward when we ask questions. But the thing is, the one that gets the question really likes it when you ask them the question because they want to tell you, they want to explain their world to you. So whatever question it is, large or small, it may seem silly, it may seem great, it may seem obvious, it may seem too mysterious, whatever the question is, I think asking questions to anyone about everything is a good exercise for research.

Dr. Universe  5:51  
That's all for this episode, friends. As always, kids can submit science questions at Who knows where your questions will take us next.