Stories tagged inquiry


Popular Science magazine is running a series of items on scientific research projects that seem fairly pointless. They report on experiments that have proven that unathletic kids are unpopular; that rock musicians tend to die young; and that people catch the flu in winter.

Why bother? Two reasons. First, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “common sense is neither.” A lot of the things we think we know turn out not to be true. Only by checking them out do we really know what’s what.

Second, confirming a phenomenon exists is the first step toward understanding it. If we want to combat the flu, for instance, it helps to know that, yes, it really does strike more often during a particular time of the year. This may be a clue to how the disease spreads, and how we might be able to stop it.

Sometimes, having an amazing grasp of the obvious can be a good thing!


Geese flying in a "V": Image courtesy Greg7 via Flickr.
Geese flying in a "V": Image courtesy Greg7 via Flickr.
The University of Minnesota is conducting a new campaign called “Driven to Discover”. While new ad campaigns are not typical fodder for a current science web site, this particular campaign is interesting in that it is featuring some of the current research taking place at the University of Minnesota and answers questions like, “When will it be possible for human beings to fly?” and “My dog exhibits strange behavior shortly before a thunderstorm begin. Can dogs sense a change in weather?

One current question that I often wondered: Why do ducks and geese fly in a “V” formation is a recently answered question.

These birds are just doing the avian equivalent of a NASCAR driver’s slipstreaming (or drafting). Geese and ducks are relatively large birds, and they affect the air they fly through just as a race car does. Each bird creates a slight uplift at the tips of their wings during flight. By flying behind and slightly above another bird’s wing tip, birds experience an updraft. These trailing birds gain an advantage and expend less energy than they would if they were flying by themselves. Studies have shown that a bird in a flock flying the same speed as a bird flying alone flaps its wings half as often.

Scott Lanyon, Director, Bell Museum of Natural History and Professor, Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior.

Check out the current and older campaign to see some of the really interesting questions people asked. You can even sign up for a monthly newsletter featuring this information. It’s fun reading.


After all the rain we've had recently, parents of toddlers in the Twin Cities area surely have two questions on their minds:

  • Will this rain EVER stop? Or, more accurately, will this rain PLEASE let up before I'd rather lie down and get eaten by bears then spend one more second cooped up in the house with my two-year-old?
  • And why are there worms all over the sidewalk whenever it rains?

I can't help with the first question.
But the second, that's a topic for Science Buzz!

I always thought that the worms came out of the ground when it rained to avoid being drowned in their burrows. Turns out I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

A series of Straight Dope articles, by Cecil Adams, have enlightened me.

Worm: (Photo by Jiva)

Turns out that the worms are in no danger of drowning. They can actually survive underwater for quite a long time. They are out on the sidewalk after it rains to engage in, um, "amorous activity." For the slimy details, read the Adams' column!

Of course, that's not ALL the worms are doing. They're also trying to move safely to new areas; vulnerable to drying out as they are, they can only do this aboveground at night or after a rain.

My toddler will be blown away by all this. Her explanation is that worms come out because of some altruistic notion that robins are hungry...

For more information about earthworms, check out this JourneyNorth Q&A page.