Ask a ScienceBlogger (anything!)

i-3a740b0857f66f7c7fc1b3bf2e02248f-450px-Blue_question_mark.svg.pngDo you have a burning question to put to the ScienceBlogs bloggers?

Perhaps it's ethical - should companies be able to patent specific genes? Should primates have the same rights in laboratory settings as humans?

Maybe it's silly - would you rather pet a dinosaur, or shake hands with a Neanderthal?

Or maybe you're just looking for simple facts - what is the Higgs Boson and why do physicists want to find it? How much salt is in your fast food order?

Whatever you've wondered, now is your chance to ask. ScienceBlogs is reinstating our former Ask a ScienceBlogger series, in which (you guessed it), you get to ask ScienceBloggers questions, and they answer them!

Once we have a database of questions, we'll choose one a time to pose to our ScienceBloggers, and round up the answers for you here. They can be about anything you want, but of course the more interesting we find them, the more likely we are to choose them. ;-)

Go ahead and post your question as a comment here, or email it to And look for the first question soon!


More like this

@Don, post #19

That's an excellent question. The key to understanding this in my opinion is to understand that we are talking about a system in equilibrium (the Earth's atmosphere) and what happens when you take it out of equilibrium. Although the amount of CO2 measured against the overall atmosphere is small, when you are talking about moving a complex system out of equilibrium the changes can be large. As an analogy, a diabetic can sustain serious nerve damage if their glucose levels rise to 140 mg/dl after a meal, with normal levels being around 100mg/dl.

If you do the math to see what percent increase that would be as a function of total body water weight for a 165lb man, it comes out to something like .00038%. Such a tiny increase in overall body glucose levels seems insignificant, but because it throws out of balance a complex system, the overall effects can be severe.

Throwing the overall atmospheric and carbon cycles out of balance can have a similarly devastating effect as the planet heats up to compensate for the overall resulting energy imbalance. The biggest issue is that not only does the overall amount of Carbon in the cycle increase, but that all indications are that the Carbon cycle will take many decades if not hundreds of years to adjust to the extra Carbon. Conversely, Methane, which has a much higher "greenhouse" effect, is relatively short lived in the atmosphere, so even though its short term effects are greater, they last a far shorter amount of time.

Hope this answers your question.

By skeptical (not verified) on 16 Jul 2010 #permalink

Reply to # 77, on question #75.

Perhaps the first question would be how many sets of chromosomes do dragons have, and how do they carry out meiosis and fertilization. It might be that particular chromosomes end up in polar bodies and never make it to the zygote. In some combinations, the egg might not be fertilized but rather just activated by sperm. One also wonders how sex determination is achieved. Perhaps some sort of epigenetic thing happens as well.

We don't know how many chromosomes they have, or how meiosis is carried out. Fertilization is internal, though we were discussing whether they followed Lygaeus sex determination, and if they did, was it mammalian or avian in nature. We dismissed Protenor sex determination, as an later book in the series revealed that greens were supposed to be fertile (though incapable of producing bronze or gold eggs, regardless of a bronze mate). Dragons were tinkered with by humans, so their greens are fully sterile, though they do have false heat cycles, they never produce any eggs. This implied to us that the males were playing some part in fertilization past simple activation-on-contact, or a green could still produce, even if the eggs would all emerge sterile or dead by some other cause.

But again, we know there are some giant holes of key info missing, so the question was if anyone could come up with any suggestions to make it work. Imagine if fertilization were caused by sperm contact, but no actual merging of nuclei, what would that look like? We have room for plenty of theories and examples, we just want something more organized than the morass of half-trails we've collected. Seriously, keep 'em coming, I'm enjoying this discussion.

Please explain how morphine is metabolized when the drug is induced into a human body via an implantable intrathecal pump directly into the spinal canal.

I understand morphine is primarily metabolized in the liver when the the drug is injected or taken orally. When morphine is pumped (injected) into cerebral spinal fluid as is done when a intrathecal device is used, does the blood/brain barrier cause the morphine to be metabolized by a means other than by the liver?

Post #74, is about Pern life-forms having triple helix DNA. A triple helix model was proposed by Linus Pauling. But this model was flawed for DNA as we know it. So the Pern DNA would have to have some characteristics different from local DNA. Perhaps a first step would be to figure out a DNA molecule which could have the triple helix conformation.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 17 Aug 2010 #permalink

why do electrons have to be in certain level in the electron cloud, why can't they just fly around freely?

By Katie Gosselin (not verified) on 27 Sep 2010 #permalink

I know that every level of the electron cloud has a certain number of electrons that go in it, but does the level need to be completely filled before you can go onto the next one? or can the first level have like 1 then the second has 4 and so on...?

Why is Plasma so abundant on earth?

By Willie Paine (not verified) on 27 Sep 2010 #permalink

Why do our hair and fingernails/toenails grow after we die?

By Caroline Hall (not verified) on 28 Sep 2010 #permalink

Why does salt dissolve in water

why is that the top of a flame of a litter hotter than the bottem of the flam fro the litter.

By Jon Bouchard (not verified) on 04 Oct 2010 #permalink

Whu do trees loose their leaves

Could there be some kind of correlation with the increased population of squirrels and dragonflies? Here in the panhandle of Florida we have seen the population of both species increase at least 10 fold possibly more, I am curious as to why those 2 particular species.

By Robert Fast (not verified) on 06 Oct 2010 #permalink

Did Medeleev just use Dobereiner's triads just for that one time thing or is it still in use today? If it is in use today, what exactly is the triads used for? Also, is the periodic table still up for any adjustments like in the way they classify them or is it going to be in the same set up like that forever?

By Molly Dalton (not verified) on 07 Oct 2010 #permalink

why do electrons have to be in certain levels, why can't they just float around freely in the electron cloud?

I have heard many things but I've always wondered, is it possible that there is life somewhere in the universe and if so, in the future could we live on another planet?

By Emily Vallance (not verified) on 14 Oct 2010 #permalink

why does the moon turn red

there are billions of stars in outer space. How are stars created?

By Jordan McCollum (not verified) on 20 Oct 2010 #permalink

Do you think we will ever be able to rearrange atoms and if so how close are we to doing this?

hi i just sent a question about plate tecs. just a second ago and i was also wondering what view your scientist are coming from? Evolution or Creation? or neither hahahah jk! ;)

the amount of energy hitting the earth everyday for at least many millions of years,is it sill hear in the form of matter,if so that would cause the earth to grow in size and weight?

By randall mercer (not verified) on 30 Jan 2011 #permalink


Is there any empirical research accompanied by a cost benefit analysis of fine arts programs compared to athletic programs in public schools?


Graphs of global human population regularly depicted in the main-stream media (and most scientific literature for that matter) typically show human population increasing over time with an unlimited upper trajectory. We all konw of course that this is an illusion in that the global population will eventualy peak and start on a downward tend, probably even a precipitous downward spiral. Another missing component of most population graphs is the concept of carrying capacity, also known as "K". K is not a static figure but can trend up or down depending on the health of the global ecosystem. Many would argue that K is on a decidedly downward trend. So we seem to have a situation where the main-stream media continues to portray global population as ever increasing with no consideration of global carrying capacity. How about a little reality check here?

By Attu de Bubbalot (not verified) on 14 May 2010 #permalink

What are the chances that the size, orbit and distances of the Earth, moon and sun would be exactly right for perfect lunar and solar eclipses, and Earth to have the specific tilt it has, which is responsible for the seasons, etc., would happen accidently?

Astronomers say that galaxy's rotate faster than mathematics predicts they should. They say that some other invisible matter makes galaxy's do this. They call it "Dark Matter". Then they spend billions of dollars looking for invisible weakly interacting particles in mine shafts that just don't exist! They build tunnels under the city of Geneva to smash particles to try find the missing gravity (Higgs boson). But really, the answer is literally staring them in the face!

Knowing full well that electromagnetic radiation (Light), at all wavelengths, has a gravitational effect(small, but it does), astronomers, cosmologists and physicists still ignore this gravitational effect. When calculating the speed of rotation of galaxy's, they completely ignore that simple fact that the stars and galaxy's have been "shining" emitting electromagnetic radiation for 13.7 billion years. The effect is negligible over a short period of time, a few hundred years, but not for 13.7 billion years!

Why???? Why do they completely neglect 13.7 billion years worth of matter that has been converted to energy? How can they neglect all the stars that have been born, shined and died in supernovas? How can they simply ignore the fact that the answer to the dark matter problem is staring them in the face?

In Ireland

Uday Panta,

The temperature of water (or anything else), is a measure of the average speed (kinetic energy) of the molecules in it. But it's only an average - the actual speeds of the molecules follow a statistical distribution, called the Boltzmann distribution. This means that even well below 100 degrees centigrade there are some proportion of molecules that gain sufficient kinetic energy and escape liquid water and go into the air.

People normally call this gradual process evaporation. The other process where all of the molecules change to the gas phase when you pass the critical temperature (100 degrees for water) is usually called vaporization.

One for the life scientists: The word "reptile" -- should I purge it from my vocabulary? When I was a kid, I knew what a reptile was, but now, birds are dinosaurs (and dinosaurs birds?), crocodilians are archosaurs that are closer to birds than to lizards. Testudines are no closer to lizards and snakes than they are to anything else. And Tuataras are not particularly related to any other scaly, crawly thing.

It seems that I could take a restrictive view and limit "reptile" to lizards and snakes, but then there's that perfectly good word "squamate" that does the job. Or I could take an expansive view, which would mean that modern birds are reptiles, but the whole homeothermic thing makes that questionable.

So, "reptile" -- what's it good for? Or just get rid of it?

Albatross, I had trouble figuring this out at first as well. But your question assumes that the Milky Way moved away from this other galaxy for 2.2 billion years and then stopped. In fact it kept going. The light caught up eventually, but it took many billions of years.

Is collecting fossils a worthwhile hobby?

By DevinPimpAssThomas (not verified) on 04 Jun 2010 #permalink

I'm just curious to see what the bloggers think the world will be like in the future. 5, 15, 50, 100 years(-ish)?

I'm going to try and answer some of the questions I've seen. However, I am by no means an expert in these areas, more an interested layman (with some help from Wikipedia, because, you know, it's never wrong). So, please correct me if I'm wrong.

@1: There are probably a lot of reasons your dishes dry at different rates. First, how well does the water stick to the dish (does a drop hang on or slide right off)? Second, the different materials probably have different heat capacities, meaning that it takes more or less energy to raise the temperature of one material compared to another (e.g. it takes ~4.2 joules to increase a gram of water by 1C, but only 2.4 J to heat a gram of ethanol). This means that something with a high heat capacity will have more thermal energy than something with low heat capacity but at the same temperature (and so could also heat up more drops of water). Also, glass and ceramic are probably both denser than plastic and those dishes are also probably thicker so they won't break. The increased mass could retain more thermal energy that would eventually go into the water drops.

@20: To get an eclipse you just need the Earth, Moon, and Sun to be in the same plane (since the Moon orbits the Earth). That's pretty straight forward if your model of solar system formation relies on a spinning disc. (Actually, the Moon's orbit is a little "out of whack" and inclined by about 5 degrees, so we don't get eclipses every month). The sizes aren't "exactly right" either: the Moon's shadow only covers a tiny portion of the Earth, and the Earth's shadow totally engulfs the Moon.
With respect to the seasons: we don't need the "specific" tilt of the Earth to make seasons, any tilt would do. The Earth's is just where it happens to be.
If one were to use these examples in reference to the anthropic principle, they would be doing a poor job, since neither is very precisely tuned.

@30: You are correct that traditional use of the word "reptile" represents a paraphyletic grouping (i.e. crocodiles are more closely related to birds than to lizards, snakes, or turtles). In my opinion it's not a big deal to casually use reptile in the traditional sense, as long as it's recognized that the most recent common ancestor of the ectothermic reptiles had descendants that we didn't in the past call reptiles (the birds). The textbook I have in front of me unabashedly calls birds reptiles, places Aves as a Subclass under Class Reptilia, and states the "major feature distinguishing the reptilian and mammalian lineages is the number and placement of openings in the skull [for muscle attachments]" (Biological Science, Freeman). Plus, there are big differences among the ectothermic reptiles; for example, crocodilians have a unique heart morphology.

@34 and the 12.8 billion light year galaxies: I really don't know much about theoretical astrophysics, but I don't think the Big Bang was just a giant explosion, where the particles just fly away from each other (i.e. like watching a firework explode). I think it also is thought to have involved the expansion of space itself so that even "stationary" objects would be moving farther apart. I've seen it described as being like a rubber string or yardstick being stretched. The Wikipedia article "Metric expansion of space" was helpful, but includes the understatement, "These details are a frequent source of confusion among amateurs and even professional physicists."

@44: It's true that the chiral bias in life is a puzzle that scientists are working on. Because this question is being studied, we now know of a few mechanisms where a racemic mixture can become non-racemic. In a summary of one of these examples the editor of Nature writes, "the process might explain how a prebiotic world, with left- and right-handed molecules present in equal numbers, could turn into a living world where biomolecules favour one chiral form." (Thermodynamic control of asymmetric amplification in amino acid catalysis, Klussman et al., 2006, Nature).

@54: There are start codons, too, so the correct reading frame can be found. This Scientist makes a good point that it is difficult for us to predict the shape of a protein when all we know is the sequence of amino acids. As far as I know, most protein folding in life occurs just through the chemical bonds and interactions of the amino acids in the protein. There might be a few proteins that assist with folding in some cases, but I don't think it's anything along the lines of a protein that makes all the bends and folds of another protein as it is being formed.

@57: I think it is possible for an organized system to develop spontaneously if it increases the entropy of the universe or allows the rate of increase to increase. Think of a hurricane or tornado: two different air masses (hot and cold) are separated and will mix. The mixing could occur just through diffusion, but can occur much more quickly if there is a system that develops to aid that mixing, so you can get temporary organization that allows the entropy to develop more quickly.

@58: I wouldn't really consider the gravity itself energy. The energy entered the system when the object was lifted in the first place. A ball in the air has potential energy which would "run out" (be transferred) when it hit the ground.

Sorry if some of these answers are wrong.

By Darlingtonia (not verified) on 17 Jun 2010 #permalink

Photons of light and shorter wavelength radiation are regarded as 'quantised' and this seems logical, as they are radiated by electrons jumping between energy levels. However, longer wavelength radiation is often generated by electronic oscillators, which operate without any obvious discrete jumps in the energy levels of electrons. Are such waves still 'quantised' in the same way as light?

By Terry Platt (not verified) on 19 Jun 2010 #permalink

A simplistic answer is that chromosomes in a cell are separate entities. One counter example is European hawkweed, which has a pair of ring chromosomes, i.e. all chromosomes in each set joined together. Mendel was going to work on hawkweed, but got diverted into administration. This is fortunate as hawkweed would not follow Mendel's law of segregation. Another counter example, blackstripe topminnow has 40 chromosomes; sister species blackspotted topminnow has 48. Hybrids are fertile (to some extent). Some of the big chromosomes in the blackstripe topminnow are homologous to two of the blackspotted topminnow's small chromosomes placed end to end; thus the hybrids are able to carry out meiosis and produce viable gametes.

By Jim Thomerson (not verified) on 24 Jun 2010 #permalink

Why does the inside of the human skull have really sharp blades of bone sticking out? Seems like there should be evolutionary pressures against it.

Off the top of my head (pardon the pun) most of the bits sticking into the inside of the skull (the crista galli comes to mind) are a benefit as they are there to support particularly fragile bits of the brain. They don't damage the brain when the head suffers a collision because of the cushioning effect of the meninges (which stretch down into cebrebral falx) and cerebrospinal fluid.

@The Internet
Brainwaves are the sum of the electrical activity of lots of neurons. The activity usually falls into rhythms of different frequencies, or 'bands' which can be used to indicate a particular state of wakefulness or attention. They are designated by Greek letters. For more information, see:

There seems to be an extreme amount of ants this year. Everyone I know has had intractable infestations. My house is overrun with ants as are all the homes of my neighbors and friends of mine in other communities. What is the cause of this?

What is the mechanism by which the japan 9.1 quake may have caused the earthquakes within the US continental shelf: CO and VA on 8/23/11?

i have asked a question but my comment is not appearing on it, ok let me ask again that why the is so popular? what is the reason behind this?

well global case is very simple that all you have to do is to get interesting posts on your blog and people will follow you and your site will also be getting popular day bay day, simple isin't it ?

A patient is given a test for antinuclear antibodies, and the test is positive in a high titer (1:2560). However, the patient tests negative for all of the connective tissue disease antibodies. Does this mean:

A. The ANA test is a "false positive", there are no antinuclear antibodies actually present

B. The patient has antinuclear antibodies (whether known or undiscovered), just not the antibodies that were tested for

Thank you.

ok, may I just ask this: why is it that when I like get excited about something, my mind causes me to either forget something that was in my mind before, or it causes me to remember something that was in it. I have looked on brain connection's website at all kinds of information about how and why the brain behaves the way it does, and this is just one thing I thought could be a good question to answer. Well, thanks for your help and time. Bye.

By Kyle Marshall (not verified) on 08 Mar 2012 #permalink

it make me too confused to think which groups of organisms are biochemically more complicated; plants or animals.

By Shahid Hussain (not verified) on 03 Apr 2012 #permalink

What is a good definition of science?

ok, may I just ask this: why is it that when I like get excited about something, my mind causes me to either forget something that was in my mind before, or it causes me to remember something that was in it. I have looked on brain connection’s website at all kinds of information about how and why the brain behaves the way it does, and this is just one thing I thought could be a good question to answer. Well, thanks for your help and time. Bye.

By ukash bozdurma (not verified) on 01 Dec 2014 #permalink