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Younger kids are more likely to ask science questions, while teens are more likely to ask about the meaning of life and other abstract ideas. The science questions center around origins and beginnings of the universe and life on earth. Topics are listed alphabetically: Animals, Environment, Human Body, Human Origins, Math, Physics, Planet Earth, Technology, and The Universe.


Useful science resources http://jsd.k12.ca.us/bf/bflibrary/TResources.htm


Some young people expressed concern about cruelty to animals and want to save disappearing species (see the documentary DVD “Earth,” co-directed by Mark Linfield and Alastair Fothergill, which shows migration of animals on many continents). “I would make strict rules to save the jungle and animals,” said Prashant, 17, m, India. Jan Goodall, who observed chimps in Africa for 30 years, started the Roots and Shoots organization for young people. It has groups in over 110 countries.[i]

How does a caterpillar turn into a butterfly? Graham, 7, m, North Carolina

As “advanced insects,” butterflies and moths have four separate stages, each of which looks completely different and has a different purpose. The female attaches the egg to leaves, stems, or other objects, near the caterpillar food. The caterpillar (or larva) is the long worm-like stage of the butterfly or moth. It is the feeding and growth stage. As it grows, it sheds its skin four or more times so as to enclose its rapidly growing body. The chrysalis (or pupa) is the transformation stage in which the caterpillar tissues are broken down and the adult insect’s structures are formed. The adult (or imago) is the colorful butterfly or moth, the reproductive stage. The adults engage in courtship, mating, and egg laying. [ii]

What do big animals eat? Maya, 7, f, North Carolina

The same kinds of food as small animals, only more. Some big animals are vegetarians, like elephants. Some are omnivores like whales.[iii]

When did dogs come into being? Achan, 9, f, Japan

Dogs were domesticated between 13,000 to 17,000 years ago in Siberia, or in the Middle East[iv]. It may have been that wolves hung around campsites for food scraps and became semi-tame. Dogs spread rapidly through human settlements because they were used in hunting, they were good bed warmers, and primarily because they are watchdogs. Their wolf ancestors almost never bark, but this trait was selected for in the evolution of dogs to warn humans of danger. They may have helped make it possible to settle down safely as settlement and domestication of dogs occurred at the same time. Dogs may also have taught people the idea of private property. Dogs also have a unique ability to read human body language. In an experiment where a human pointed to the container with hidden food with body language, chimps and wolves didn’t pay attention, but even puppies picked up the hint immediately. (Cats were domesticated at least 9,500 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, probably to protect grain from rodents. Cat lovers see sciencemag.org)

How many creatures exist on the earth? ?, 10, m, Japan

“The estimated number of animals on our planet falls somewhere in the vast range of 3-30 million species. If we were to divide all animals into two groups, invertebrates and vertebrates, an estimated 97% of all species would be invertebrates. Invertebrates include animals that lack backbones such as sponges and insects. Of all invertebrates, the insects are by far the most numerous. The vertebrates represent the remaining 3% of all species and include species that are the most familiar to us: amphibians, reptiles, birds, fishes, mammals.” [v] “If present trend continue, one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years, as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.” [vi]

I want to know dogs’ language because I have six dogs in my house. I love dogs. Why sometimes they speak to me but I’ve no idea about what they said? If I know how to say dog’s language, I can chat with my dogs. It’s too exciting and then dogs can also understand what I thought. Zhu Win, 16, f, China

Dogs communicate with each other with sounds and smells and by observing changes in ear or tail positions, as explained by Patricia McConnell in The Other End of the Leash. Stacy Braslau-Schneck explains how they communicate with body language.

*Signs of confidence: standing tall, tail up, tail wagging slowly, ears up or relaxed, direct look, and relaxed smaller eye pupils.

*Wanting to play: bow, with tail and rear in the air and front legs lowered, ears up and forward, mouth open in a grin, and eyes relaxed.

*Signs of fear: tail down or tucked under, quick tail wagging, looking away so the whites of the eyes show, dilated pupils, barking, and hair standing on end,

*Signs of stress: shaking, whining, submissive urination, ears back, pupils dilated, rapid panting, tail down, body lowered, sweating paw pads, yawning, blinking eyes, looking away, and shaking body.

*Signs of aggression: stiff legs and body, growling, lowered head, ears back close to the head, eyes narrow, lips drawn back in a snarl, hair up along the back, tail straight out, and intense staring.

*To calm down: look away, yawn, turn sideways, lip-licking, circling, sniffing the ground, sitting or lying down.[vii]

How does the evolution of the animals work and do they have language and intelligence?

Joey, 16, m, Netherlands.

All the creatures on the earth are evolving and adapting to changes, although some are going extinct because of problems created by humans. Scientists at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa are working with two bonobo chimpanzees. Kanzi, age 26, and his younger sister Panbanisa. They understand thousands of words by pointing to symbols on a keyboard and use sentences, talk on the phone using sounds that mean yes or no, and like to gossip. The symbols refer to objects like bow, activities like chase, and abstract ideas like “now” or “bad.” The head scientist, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, was teaching symbols to Kanzi’s mother, Matata, while Kanzi played in the room. Matata was taken away to get pregnant when Kanzi was 2-years-old; very upset he used the keyboard more than 300 times the first day without his mom. He asked for help finding his mom, asked for food and affection. His little sister Pabnanisha does even better. When a visitor to the center misbehaved, she used the symbol for “monster.”

They use symbols to express concern for others, as when Kanzi was grooming a researcher’s hand. Bill Fields is missing a finger. Kanzi asked on the keyboard, “Hurt?” Savage-Rumbaugh says Kanzi knows the meaning of 3,000 spoken English words.  A word is spoken in his headphones and he points to the symbol on his keyboard. They like to watch movies, especially ones with apes like “Planet of the Apes” and “Tarzan.”  They can select the DVDs they want by pressing buttons on a computer screen. Savage-Rumbaugh said, “The mythology of human uniqueness is coming under challenge. If apes can learn language, which we once thought unique to humans, then it suggests that ability is not innate in just us.”

Alex was an African Gray parrot who understood the concepts of color, shapes and quantities. Scientist Irene Pepperberg published The Alex Studies in 2000. Wikepedia reports that when he was tired of being tested, he said, “Wanna go back—“ to his cage. If the researcher was annoyed, Alex said, “I’m sorry.” If he said, “Wanna banana,” but was offered a nut instead, he stared in silence, asked for the banana again, or took the nut and threw it at the researcher. We tend to think of intelligence as associated with big brains, but Alex with a walnut-size brain, was capable of abstract thought, such as whether two yellow pencils are the same or different. He performed on thinking tests as well as dolphins and chimps.

In Intelligence in Nature, Swiss anthropologist Jeremy Narby gives many examples of plants and animals that are able to adapt to meet their needs. Narby describes how single-cell slime mold can solve a maze, moving through it the shortest way to reach its favorite food, oatmeal. Bees have brains the size of pinheads, with less than a million neurons, (compared to our 100-billion nerve cells, more connections than stars in our galaxy) but they can think abstractly. They figured out that a food source would be at a branched pathway labeled with the same symbol as the entrance, whether the symbol was a color or vertical or horizontal lines. Octopuses have the largest brains among invertebrates. They can run mazes as well as rats, escape from locked tanks, use tools like coconut shells and get angry and turn red.

All creatures with brains learn and remember by changing the connections between neurons—brain cells which communicate with chemicals (neurotransmitters) through a small gap between them called synapses. Each neuron in the jelly-like human brain can have up to 10,000 synapses. Human memory seems to be stored in the entire cerebral cortex, the front part of the brain that makes us human. When we learn something, the neurons activate their DNA to make fresh proteins, so that information is stored onto neuronal circuits.  All human cells communicate with each other using about 11,000 protein signals. Nematodes (roundworms) only have 959 cells, but their neurons send each other chemical signals, including serotonin, just as our brains do.

Plants communicate with large proteins and RNA that swim around the plant. Do plants talk? Not with sound, but with chemical messages. When they’re under attack by insects or viruses, they release a gas or send chemical information through their roots that tells other plants to increase their defenses.[viii] In The Secret Life of Plants, Clive Baxter describes using lie detector equipment on plants; the devices show that plants react when their owner is going to return home from a trip, recoil when something around them is going to be harmed, and so on, a very interesting book.

Why dinosaurs died? Zuleyha, 12, f, Turmenistan

Dinosaurs ruled the Earth for at least 120 million years in the Cretaceous geologic period, then disappeared in just a few thousand years along with half of the other species. Dinosaurs thrived 250 million years ago to 65 million years ago when the planet was green and full of life. The dramatic cause of their extinction was a huge meteor (over six miles wide) whose impact created a crater 100 miles wide in what today is Yucatan, Mexico. Around the same time, huge volcanic eruptions in India also added to the dust that filled the air around the planet, blocking the sunlight. The dust storm created a long-term winter. The Age of Dinosaurs was replaced by the Age of Mammals 4.4 million years ago. Although dinosaurs went extinct 65 million years before the first people,.[ix] you could say they still exist because birds evolved from dinosaurs about 150 million years ago. They both have hollow bones, while most animals have solid bones. They also have similar skulls and teeth sockets.


You are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation–but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, but all that is changing. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side.

Paul Hawken, environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist—graduation speech.

Will the rivers be dry? Harun, 12, m, Turkey

It makes a tremendous difference where you are born. If all the money spent on war was spent on the environment and poverty, what a wonderful world it would be. Why do you do the things you taught us not to do in kindergarten? Are we [children] on your list of priorities? What you do makes me cry at night. Severn Suzuki, f, 12, Canada, spoke to a UN conference on the environment.[x]

I’m only 13, and I really want to help save the environment. Alex, 13, m, Colorado

Sierra Club magazine, July, 2006.

Adam Werbach became president of the Sierra Club at age 23, after beginning environmental activism at age eight. He founded the Sierra Student Coalition where students like you are taught how to start campus groups.[xi]

The thing that bugs me the most here in Santiago, Chile, is that the environment is very dirty/smogy. Forrest, 13, m, American in Chile

Air pollution bothers me. Yasemin, 13, f, Turkey

We have many ecological problems in our city and region. For example, the geographical location of our valley (like an upside-down bowl) and pollution of the air, water and our lands brings many problems with health – diseases, cancer, problems with lungs. We don’t have garbage refinery plants; we move city garbage to the suburbs. Because of that there are a lot of diseases and harmful insects. Chemical industry has very bad influence on people too. The main problem of our region is a problem of Aral Sea and lack of water resources. [Since the 1960s this large Central Asian salt lake has shrunk rapidly, drained to grow crops in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian nations.] Yaroslav, 13, m, Uzbekistan

I would try to build some bridges across some lands so that the transport will be easier through the country and try to reduce the amount of carbon emissions. More recycling bins around the country would be good. Sally, 14, f, New Zealand

The Earth is beautiful and precious; Mother Nature has a perfect, delicate balance. Humans screw it up. We have to live on this earth; we can’t trash it up now. Everywhere nature is being destroyed because humans aren’t satisfied with what we already have. Granted I am no better than anybody else, I’m just as wasteful. The deteriorating environment affects all the creatures on this planet. Habitat loss has driven some animals to extinction and endangerment. [One in four mammals is in danger of extinction, along with one in three amphibians, and one in eight birds.[xii]] At some point the damage done will be irretrievable, maybe THEN something will be done. Why do we always wait? Why can’t we think about the future now? I guess it’s human nature. We, as people, NEED trees, animals, clean air and water. Brodie, 14, f, Alabama

If I was President of China, I would change our waste of resources, deforestation, environmental destruction because of our environmental awareness is very poor, full of garbage. The economy of China is relatively backward. I want the motherland to become a good environment and economic power. In the future, I hope for the whole world there is no war, no famine, that peace-loving people of all countries live in harmony and create a beautiful and peaceful planet. Yunsheng, 14, m, rural China

I blame the woodcutters and the animal hunters and advocate all the people to plant trees, so that the water on the earth will not be swallowed by the dessert. “Kevin,” 14, m, rural China

“When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover we can’t eat money.” Greenpeace quote. Aleksandra, 15, f, Quebec

The earth we are living today is not the one as before. Now she has too many scars. If we don’t remind the adults of the importance of environment protection, we will destroy the earth one day. Wangshupeng, 15, m, rural China

Plant more trees. “Carol,” 15, f, China

Thirty million trees have been planted in Kenya in a greenbelt movement led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai, described in her autobiography Unbowed. [xiii]

I think every day something bugs us–our marks, the weather, TV programs–but it’s nothing compared to attitudes of people to each other, to environment. I want to change these two factors in the life of the whole humanity.

Galya, 15, f, Ukraine

I am bothered about the air I breathe. It is awful. Everywhere I go I see rubbish, I am bothered about pollution that is always around me. Helen, 16, f, Ukraine

I wish the adults would not only care about themselves, money, sex and glory. Think about our country; it’s our home so let’s take care of it. And so with our earth, don’t hurt her with global warming. Avina, 16, f, Indonesia

Why does no one believe in Global Warming? Laura, 16, f, Northern Ireland

I am here on earth to enjoy my life, to be a part of this beautiful nature, and try to make it more beautiful. I would make strict rules to save the jungle and animals. My purpose is to make people happy. Prashant, 17, m, India

The bad air pollution bothers me and noise bothers me. The buses in Xiangtan are all very decrepit and the Xiangtan is a little dirty. ?, 19, m, China

Environment Protection is being discussed everywhere in China. I remember from primary school we have been learning texts and asked to write essays about environmental protection. I hate the air quality here. Even in the suburb area you cannot get rid of the annoying air problem. There is dust everywhere. What disappoints most is the trees are even covered with dust.

[China is a country with coal as its main energy source–over two-thirds of China’s energy supply. The country is developing solar, wind and biomass projects, but by 2020 they’ll still be a small percent of the energy. As a result, air pollution is serious in cities where industrial activities and population concentrate. Acid rain is another headache and the situation is worsening in some regions and cities. The Chinese have adopted measures to encourage the development of clean coal technology and clean-combustion technology to control it. China is the fastest growing market for renewable technology, building wind-power bases.]

Yuan, 19, m, China

I just hope people all around the world could cherish the simplest things in life. I wonder how people who are Ph.D, can talk about economic, politic, and all that jazz, but still throw garbage everywhere. If they are seriously that smart, can’t they count how long it will take until the earth vanished because we are all got sick because of the trash that we put everywhere? Let’s get back to the bottom. Cherish love, cherish differences, cherish appreciation, and cherish respect. Melinda, 20, f, Indonesia


The environmental movement is the fastest growing movement, as explained in 11thhouraction.org. The 11th Hour, a film produced by actor Leonardo Dicaprio, makes the point that our big mistake is thinking we have dominion over nature. Corporate greed is huge. We work to consume instead of enjoying life. There are more people on planet Earth than every before since the dawn of time. We live off of sun light, including ancient fossil fuels, coal and oil. Carbon dioxide and methane trap heat in the atmosphere. We’re at the tipping point where we’ll lose control. So much greenhouse gas was generated in 2008 that temperatures will raise more than 2% by the end of the century, enough to cause major changes. See the DVD called “Home” (2009) filmed in 54 countries to see earth changes.

Major causes of greenhouse gases that create global warming are deforestation and burning fossil fuels, mainly coal (which produces electricity for our appliances) and oil. Large animals release methane gas when they pass gas or eliminate. Production of cattle produces gases: One person eating meat contributes more to global warming than one person driving a car.

Environmental problems include deforestation–including the rainforests, soil erosion (30% of the soil is degraded), destruction of the corrals and fisheries, dead zones in polluted oceans, and global warming. Because of humans, almost half of the coral reef species, a third of amphibians and a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction, according to a 2009 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. We are loosing one-third to one-half of the earth’s species.

UNICEF reports that the risk of hunger increased for 50 million people by 2010 because of climate change, mostly hurting women and children. With the potential rise of up to 160,000 child deaths a year in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia directly resulting from climate change, the most vulnerable children will suffer.[xiv] “As climate keeps on changing to arid, I would encourage Kenyans not to rely on rainfall but practice irrigation farming to fight food shortage,” advises a girl in Kenya.

Harvard biologist Wilson wrote The Creation as an appeal to Christian pastors to help save the planet. He explained that Earth has experienced five great disturbances, the last being a giant meteorite that landed in Yucatan, Mexico, triggering volcanic eruptions, dust, and tsunamis. This caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The sixth spasm is occurring now caused, in order of destructiveness, by: climate change, invasive species, pollution, human overpopulation, and overharvesting.

Water shortages are caused by using up groundwater supplies and climate change, a problem in parts of India, China, the US, Mexico, Spain, and North Africa. Don Tapscott reports, “Lack of access to fresh water is a catastrophe for humanity. Some 2.8 billion (or 44%) of the world’s population already lives in high water-stress areas and the number will increase to 3.9 billion by 2030.[xv] More than a billion people use water from polluted sources. About 6,000 people die from water-related problems every day, most of them children, according to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. By 2025, 40% of the worlds’ population could be living in countries with chronic water shortages, as fresh water comprises only 2.5% of the water on earth. In Africa 390 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. Many are small farmers who depend on the rain and land. Global warming is increasing droughts and hunger there.

The polar ice sheets are melting faster than predicted; if we don’t save them, the sea level will rise 39 feet, creating over 600 million rising-sea refugees who will have to leave their homes. If the sea rises only a meter, more than 65 million people in Bangladesh will be flooded out, plus people in Micronesia and parts of Europe and the US. The Artic seas could be ice-free by 2040 or earlier. The ice in the Artic Ocean shrank 1 million more square miles in 2008 than the average melt over 25 years, according to NASA satellite data. The Artic is disappearing, warmer than its been in 2,000 years with shrinking snow cover and sea ice harming the animals who depend on it—like polar bears. The melting ice leads to a bloom of plankton sooner than usual, so when migratory animals like whales and seabirds arrive at their usual time, there is no plankton left to eat.

The maximum safe level of carbon dioxide is 350 (see www.350.org to figure out your carbon footprint) and we’re over 385.[xvi] The US and China are the worst contributors. The average person living in a developed country produces from six to 23 tons of carbon dioxide per year. The average American generates about 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year from transportation, home energy, and the energy used to produce the products and services we consume, according to http://www.ClimateCrisis.net. Americans are 5% of the global population but consume about one-quarter of the energy and one-third of global consumption–more than $9 trillion in 2004.[xvii] A typical American uses almost 24 acres worth of natural resources during a lifetime. In contrast, the average Italian uses seven acres. Much of the trash we create ends up in the ocean. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is the largest trash pile, about 3.5 million tons of trash harming sea life. It floats between Hawaii and California and scientists estimate it’s two times bigger than Texas.[xviii]

A toxic brew of synthetic chemical compounds is destroying the planet. Industry processes four million pounds of material to provide an average American family what it uses in a year. The Environmental Working Group, which does research and lobbying, found 287 industrial chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of babies born in US hospitals.[xix] An unhealthy brown cloud of soot, smog, and toxic chemicals is found over Asia, according to a 2008 United Nation report. Wood burning, coal power plants, and diesel trucks cause the smog. It ranges from Lagos to Seoul, with 13 cities as hot spots, including Bangkok, Cairo, New Delhi, Seoul and Tehran. As well as harming lungs, the brown clouds change climate and rainfall, and harm crops.

In China with its 1.3 billion people, one-third of the rivers are polluted, one-third of the land suffers from soil erosion and drought, more than three-fourths of its forests are gone, city air is polluted, ye a new coal-fired power plant is built every week. The sulfur dioxide in burning coal contributes to global warming and acid rain that leads to about 700,000 early deaths each year, according to the World Bank. Every 30 seconds a Chinese baby is born with pollution-related birth defects. These health problems inspired China to become a leader in clean energy technology, such as wind energy. The government fines industries that don’t reduce emissions. In 2009, Beijing announced it would spend nearly $31 billion on the environment. It also spent $3 billion to buy hybrid, electric and fuel-car vehicles to use in cities.[xx] In California, a new way to harness solar energy is being tested at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National [fusion] Ignition Facility.[xxi] The goal is to use hydrogen from ocean water to create an endless supply of clean fuel. Scientists fired laser beams at a small helium-filled target to trigger thermonuclear reactions and instantly heated it to 6 million degrees Fahrenheit. What will the fossil fuel business interests do?

“Across the world and across species, the male gender is in danger.[xxii]“ The report, based on 250 studies from around the world, states that male fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals–including human beings–are being feminized by environmental pollution with several common chemicals. These include phthalates, which are used in plastic food wraps, cosmetics; flame-retardants and many pesticides. Women in communities heavily polluted with such chemicals in Canada, Russia and Italy have given birth to twice as many girls than boys. Men’s sperm counts are dropping quickly.[xxiii]

Every year 70 million babies are added to the world’s population mostly in countries where water tables are falling and wells are going dry, forests are shrinking, soils are eroding, and the grasslands are turning into desert. Half the Earth’s forests have been destroyed. People wrongly think that if we stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that the climate would go back to normal in a few hundred years but the changes will last at least until the year 3000, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. As developing countries like China and India follow the US model of increasing consumption, we’ll run out of oil and metals. We need to simplify, save, and slow down to savor life (see In Praise of Slowness[xxiv]) in a new model of harmony with mother earth. Or think of a return to the balance practiced by indigenous peoples like the Australian aboriginals.

The head of the UN, Ban Ki Moon, reminds us, “We know that those most vulnerable to climate change are poorest of the world’s poor…. A solution to poverty is also a solution for climate change: green growth. For the world’s poor, it is a key to sustainable development. For the wealthy, it is the way of the future.[xxv]


The new science that began with Einstein and quantum physics teaches us that we live in a “cosmos full of living interconnections.” We need to move from the belief that we should dominant the earth to understanding that we must protect it. The old worldview or paradigm viewed life as a hierarchical pyramid, with humans at the top and the brain at the top of the human. Even in a human cell, the nucleus was viewed as the brain, while cell biologist Bruce Lipton points out the cell receptors on the membrane are the most critical for cell life. Scientists even used to believe that animals were like machines that didn’t feel pain in lab experiments and thought that only humans used tools. Jane Goodall was one of the first to recognize that chimps used tools to get into ant holes. The new paradigm or model is a spider web, like the Internet, permeated by conscious intelligence without a head. Scientists used to think there were specific centers for language, for example, in the brain, but now they know language is handled in different regions working as a system. The new model is cooperation rather than domination in a hierarchical pyramid of authority like an army with generals at the top and privates at the bottom.

Social: Chicago is working to become “the greenest city in America.” The city has planted over 500,000 trees and added more than two million square feet of rooftop gardens. It collects food wastes to turn into compost for city gardens. Plastic bags were banned by the city of San Francisco, requiring that people shop with paper bags of biodegradable materials. It takes 1,000 years for plastic to biodegrade. It also banned the use of city funds to buy bottled water because of the huge waste in plastic bottles—around the world 2.5 million water bottles are tossed each hour. See the DVD Tapped.[xxvi] When I was in Tanzania, they burned the plastic and other trash, polluting the air.

The Cool Cities program encourages the hottest cities to paint roofs and paved surfaces white. Hashem Akbari, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explains that white reflects the sun’s rays rather than attracting and absorbing heat.

The city of Berkeley, across the Bay from San Francisco, passed a law in 2007 committing the city to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. In 2000 the city generated 696,498 tons of greenhouse gases. Some of the solutions will be to have shared vehicles and free bus passes; to require high-efficiency home appliances, solar-powered water heaters, and insulation in the walls; and to require new building to be green, as by using recycled and green materials.

Models of green buildings include the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability in Vancouver, British Columbia, and the California Environmental Protection Agency’s 25-story Joe Serna Jr. Building. It used recycled ceiling tiles and has worm-composting bins, leading to savings of around $1 million a year. Ford Motor Company’s old River Rouge Complex was restored with a roof garden that collects rainwater on over 10 acres. The 30 St. Mary Axe building in London has gardens on every sixth floor for air purification.[xxvii] The UK plans to build “eco-towns powered by wind or solar energy, not dependent on cars, and minimizing water use. As of 2016, all new homes must be carbon neutral.

Germany leads Europe in developing green technology: Its parliament building runs on green energy. The country developed 250,000 new jobs in renewable energy by mid-2009, including windpower jobs. The green-jobs creation program costs the average family $38 a year on its utility bill. The government gives people incentives to retrofit their homes, police ticket polluting cars that drive in emission-reduction zones, and competitions were held to see who could save the most power..[xxviii]

Spain is second in the world in wind-energy production and is a leader in solar and biofuel technologies. Sweden’s Natural Step established environmentally responsible industrial practices. As well as cities, states, and countries, progressive businesses are going green. As an example, Sun Microsystems plans to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by using energy-saving technology and allowing thousand of employees to telecommute—to work at home.

In 2006 Toyota was the world’s first automaker to offer a mass-produced hybrid car, the Prius. India’s Tata Company featured the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car, in 2008, with a total cost of only $3,250. Indians worry about what it will do to already crowded roads and to auto emission, although it gets 47 miles to the gallon. Dried miscanthus, a plant related to sugar cane, could be the fuel of the future. Researchers say it’s possible to convert the cellulose in this and other plants into a fuel that could replace diesel and gasoline. Researchers at the new Energy Biosciences Institute at the University of California-Berkeley are working on a recipe for this biofuel. Syed from Pakistan adds, “Brazil is considered to have the world’s first sustainable biofuels economy and be the biofuel industry leader, a policy model for other countries. Its sugarcane ethanol is “the most successful alternative fuel to date.” (Wikipedia) When I was in Brazil, gas stations had both gas and sugar cane ethanol, and they can be mixed.

Local schools can become green schools by growing a vegetable garden, using ecological cleaning products, serving local organic food, and educating children about the ecosystem. They can compost food wastes, use recycled paper, and LED lights. [xxix] In China, Yunan Jin dreaded the sandstorms when they blew in during the spring in Beijing, “a veritable hell on earth,” so when he was age 14, he got together people to plant 365 trees in Mongolia where the storms start. Schools can encourage tree planting in their neighborhoods.

High schools students in Malawi had these suggestions:[xxx]

Recycle paper, plant trees, and use alternative sources of energy apart from charcoal. They promise not to be littering and reuse plastics, treating sewage and making organic manure as Malawi is agriculture based.” Individuals added:

Joseph: “Mobilizing the community to take action.” Edward: “To tell people to plant more trees.” Nellie: “Sensitization of the community through groups and clubs.” and “recycling of paper.”

The Kyoto Accord of 1997 was the first attempt by the nations of the world to slow down global warming. Only the US and Australia didn’t sign it, but among European countries, only the United Kingdom and Sweden have achieved real reductions in greenhouse gases. Another conference was held in Copenhagen in 2009, although without producing binding commitments to action. Americans began to understand the need for action to stop global warming after the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans in 2005 and Vice-president’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth” came out in 2006[xxxi] Gore’s book Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis explained solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear energy and other renewable energies in 2009. He pointed out we send 90 million tons of pollution into the atmosphere every day and the world’s forests are disappearing by an acre every second. He says Sweden is the best model of how to preserve the environment. College students organized stepitup07.org to participate in demonstrations in all the states and created http://www.rsky.org to lobby on the national level.

Plan B 3.O by Lester Brown, in his book by that title, explains how to save our planet. His goal is to stop global warming, slow population growth, erase poverty, and restore ecosystems. His plan includes how to create better energy efficiency as with incandescent light bulbs and a plant-based diet, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar, expanding forests, and doing away with coal power plants, and overpopulation. He proposes a carbon tax of $240 per ton to discourage fossil fuel use. Examples of renewable energy in action are 60 million Europeans get their home electricity from wind farms, nearly 40 million Chinese homes get their hot water from rooftop solar-water heaters and in Iceland they use geothermal energy.[xxxii] These alternatives need to become the norm.

Individual Solutions:

To read about individuals who’ve protected the environment in their countries, read about Goldman Environmental Prize for grassroots activism winners.[xxxiii]

*Recycle cans, glass, plastic, cardboard, etc. Buy recycled clothes in second hand stores. Swap books, DVDs and CDs, as on www.swaptree.com and Freecycle.org.

*Install energy efficient windows, one of the most important solustions.

*Don’t buy plastic water bottles. Use your own stainless steel container and fill up at home, and bring your own thermos hot drinks.

*To save tees, instead of paper towels and tissue, use cloth kitchen towels and handkerchiefs. Buy toilet paper made from cotton instead of trees. Use recycled paper and the back of printed paper. Use your own cloth bags when you shop.

*Get off bulk mailing lists that consume about 100 million trees every year.[xxxiv]

*Plant trees, as the Mexican government is doing in its Pro A’rbol (pro tree) campaign.

*Use full spectrum fluorescent light bulbs, but make sure you safely dispose of the mercury in the bulbs.

*Use organic household cleaners like vinegar and baking soda.

*Don’t use lead paint and soft plastics that contain phthalates. Use glass or metal containers instead of plastic.

*Buy green products–especially mattresses and carpets. [xxxv]

*Eat organic locally grown foods to cut down on transportation. Buy local organic unprocessed foods, as transporting food, fertilizers and pesticides use a lot of energy. Plant vegetables and herbs and native plants instead of large lawns. Grow urban gardens.[xxxvi]You can find recipes for what to do with food you grow in Animal, Vegetable, and Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (2007) and Local Flavors by Deborah Madison (2002). Cut down on eating meat. Producing one hamburger uses enough fuel to drive a small car 20 miles. Cattle produce a lot of methane and trees are cut down to create grazing land.

*Lose weight so as to use less auto fuel; American use about 1 billion more gallons of gas per year to power cars than they did in 1960 because of national weight gain.

*Use less air conditioning by wearing casual T-shirts to work instead of suits, as the Chinese government is urging office workers to do. Wear more layers in the winter and turn down the thermostat on your heater.

*Unplug appliances when not in use, because between 10 and 40% of energy is used when plugged in. Recycle old electronics and buy new ones with the Energy Star label.

*Travel responsibly (responsibletravel.com) and minimize flying as planes contribute to global warming in a big way. Carpool, use public transportation, and ride your bike, which also helps with the obesity epidemic.

*At home: turn down the thermostat, use fans instead of air-conditioning, insulate your water heater, seal air leaks, and dry clothes on a clothesline. Take shorter showers. See endnote for more resources.[xxxvii]

Human Body

My body is changing and I am changing in physical as well as mental and emotional ways. Why is this happening to me? Did I eat something wrong? Did I do something wrong? I feel attracted to opposite gender now while before I thought they were disgusting and weird. Seineen, 13, m, Pakistan

Shehroz (17) answers him: Puberty is a stage every human being must go through. This is the stage that truly divides the male and female genders. And this is the stage that makes a kid into a grown up. During puberty, a lot of hormones kick into action to bring about some physical changes like growing of pubic hair and changing of voice in boys and smoother skin and menstruation in girls. Wierd voice and pimples is a part of this stage and it will soon pass away. Attraction to the opposite gender is also a part of these hormonal effects.

How many cells has the average adult in the person’s body?

Felix, 14, m, Sweden

Another 100 trillion cells in our bodies; most are not unique to humans. We’re a composite of evolution, as with single cell animals incorporated into cell mitochondria. Every 15 minutes over a septillion (24 zeros) cellular processes are taking place in our bodies. Our skin is home to around 1,000 species of bacteria and we have three pounds of 500 species in our intestines.

Were we all able to change genders like flowers, back before man evolved? James, 14, m, Belize

No, primates can’t change genders, but some plants and animals can.

My friend is 5 feet and 2 inches tall and 18-years-old. He takes adequate diet and both parents are not as short as him. All his cousins are really tall and some are above 6 inches. So he was worried and I told him I would ask you if anything could be done. He feels really weak and small in his social life and has fallen into inferiority complex. Because of his short height, he has lost his confidence and his morale is always down. I told him some of your other techniques and he has just started them to get more confident in life.

Shehroz, 17, m, Pakistan

Diet is the only thing we can control in terms of our height. Malnourished children have stunted growth. Boys can keep growing after 18. I would suggest he work out with weights so he’s strong and gets bigger with bigger muscles. Also, he can hold himself straight, thinking it’s not quantity but quality that matters. Keep the focus on learning about other people rather than on himself, and he’ll be popular. Napoleon was only 5′ 2″ and he was a very powerful man. Tom Cruise is 5’ 7” and he radiates vitality and masculine charisma because of his personality and confidence.

How sperms are formed because I am very behind about this?

Bwalya, 18, m, Zambia

“The testicle lies inside the scrotum and produces as many as 12 trillion sperm in a male’s lifetime, about 400 million of which are ejaculated in one average intercourse. Each sperm takes about 72 days to mature overseen by a complex interaction of hormones. The scrotum has a built-in thermostat, which keeps the sperm at the correct temperature. It may be surprising that the testicles should lie in such a vulnerable place, outside the body, but it is too hot inside. The sperm production needs a temperature that is three to five degrees below body temperature. If it becomes too cool on the outside, the scrotum will contract to bring the testes closer the body for warmth.”[xxxviii] Sperm production can be reduced by heat, marijuana and estrogenic pollutants.

How smart are babies? It’s hard to tell because they don’t talk.

Leslie, 8, f, South Carolina

They can be taught sign language adapted from signs for deaf people, as explained in Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk by Dr. Linda Acredolo. She got the idea from her baby and tells us about babies who sign. They’re really smart, like a 10-month-old girl who went to the aquarium and asked with her fingers if penguins are birds (yes) even though they swim like fish. Two babies who told each other where to find crackers in a mom’s bag—using signs rather than words.

Why is chocolate so good? I like to eat all the chocolate I can see.

Maximilian, 8, m, Singapore

Tastes reflect hundreds of different small molecules that create flavor. It’s complicated as there are more than 300 compounds in chocolate and the changes from beans to a candy bar is also complicated. The cocoa beans go through fermentation, drying, roasting, grinding, and separating the beans into cocoa butter and cocoa powder. Proteins are broken down into their building blocks, the amino acids. Various chemical reactions form the chocolate flavor: oils, sugars, polysaccharides, and minerals, as well as stimulants caffeine and theobromine. The processing must maintain flavanols that give chocolate its flavor. It stimulates production of pleasure chemicals in the brain: chocolate contains caffeine and tyramine and tryptophan, that the brain converts into dopamine and serotonin.

Human Origins

Are we really descended from monkeys? Jared, 9, m, British Columbia

No, but we had a common ancestor who lived between four and seven million years ago. Think of a tree with branches. Our ancestor was at the base of the human branch and the ape branch. Before that was a common ancestor to primates, including monkeys, lemurs, and gorillas. Chimps are our closest relatives—our DNA is 98.5% the same. (To store the entire DNA information in a human being would take 100 quintillion of the best computer hard drives and about 13 billion years to access this amount of data, according to physicist Eric Davis, Institute for Advanced Studies.) Primates, including humans and apes, share hands that can grasp with a thumb opposite fingers, can move mainly on the rear limbs, have more dependence on vision and less on smell, have larger brains, and longer lives.

Humans have about 25,000 genes. Human genes are around 99% the same as other humans.

Each gene has about 500,000 molecules that form DNA that regulates how proteins, cells and organs will function. (Scientists have only known about DNA for 60 years.) DNA is found in every cell of the body, made up of three billion units, formed from units called A, C, G, and T. We have two versions of each of the 23 chromosomes, one from each parent. Three billion DNA letters can fit on one chromosome. Traits like introversion or extroversion are inherited. The study of identical twins separated at birth illustrates this point. Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein were twins separated at birth.[xxxix] They didn’t know they had a twin until their 30s. In their book they write about their discoveries of both absentmindedly typing their thoughts on an invisible keyboard. They both collected Alice in Wonderland dolls and kept them in the original boxes. Both edited their high school newspapers and studied film in college. Paula wrote film criticism; Elyse became a filmmaker. Genes provide predispositions but the environment limits or provides us with opportunities.

After humans settled down to be farmers around 8,000 BC in the Fertile Crescent of Mesopotamia (part of present day Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Jordan which was then greener), their genetic mutations rapidly increased—by more than 100 times. By examining current DNA, researchers have found about 1,800 genes widely adopted in recent times. Some created genetic resistance to diseases like malaria in Africa, or a mutation that allowed adults to digest milk after cattle and goats were domesticated in Europe and yaks and mares herded in Asia. Domesticating animals and plants began in the Fertile Crescent of the Near East about 11,000 years ago.

Around 5 million years ago ape-like creatures split from the chimpanzee line of descent. Our common primate ancestor probably lived in small bands of family members who defended their home territory. The oldest hominid lived 4.4 million years ago in what’s now Ethiopia. “Ardi’s” bones were found by scientists in 2009. Specialized hominid characteristics include small front teeth, walking on two legs, lengthening of the thumb, increase in brain size, and smaller skull bones.[xl] Ardi had teeth more like ours than the long sharp canines of chimps, and probably pair-bonded with her mate. Like chimps today, hominoids had separate male and female hierarchies and the dominant male or his allies fathered most infants.

The human line was also territorial but developed a new social structure based on pair bonding between a male and one or more females. They evolved into walking upright, dark skin instead of body hair (perhaps so they could sweat to cool the body and its larger brain), an external nose to adapt to hot, dry climates and an increase in brain size. Many animals need body hair to keep warm, although whales and walruses shed their hair to swim faster, and humans lost most of their body hair. Some say it’s because it kept us cooler in the African savannah where we began and skin darkened to protect against sunlight. Or maybe we lost it to prevent parasites like lice, fleas and ticks. Then hair became sexually attractive, like a peacock’s tail, showing that the person is healthy. Pubic hair stayed with us in areas with a lot of sweat glands to send out hormone smells to attract the other sex. Starting around 200,000 years ago, hair on the head grew without stopping, unlike chimps, perhaps because it provides social information and status and is considered sexually attractive.

The difference in the size of males and females decreased as they cooperated more in their roles. Stanford University’s Human Genome Diversity Project analyzes the genes/blood and languages in isolated regions in Africa, Europe, and the US. They concluded that the first true human emerged nearly 200,000 years ago in southern Africa, near present day Namibia.

How did the first person come alive? Dexter, 9, m, British Columbia

How human beings are made? Jestine, 14, m, Liberia

How did the very first person get to earth? Nikita, 14, f, Netherlands

Life formed after four billion years of earth’s existence, combining four of the most common elements in the universe. Hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, bond with carbon to create carbon chains of amino acids that build protein. Everything evolved from a single ancestral single cell that lived about 1.8 billion years ago. The common ancestor of mice and humans lived only 75 million years ago. We have three billion chemical letters of DNA, as do mice in each of their cells. Water is the home for the bio-chemical reactions and life also requires an energy source like we have from the sun. The bacteria helped create more life by releasing oxygen to create the ozone layer that screens out harmful radiation. The building blocks of life may exist on some of the moons in our solar system. For example, one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, has water and the four important elements.[xli] One of Jupiter’s moons has an ocean of water below the ice.

About 3.7 million years ago our ancestors started walking upright.[xlii] The first humans appeared 1.9 million years ago. The first Homo Erectus was about our size, compared to their ancestors the Australopithecus who looked like chimps walking on their hind feet. Homo Erectus didn’t have as big a brain as we do and their bones were thicker, but they probably cooked their meat. This allowed them to eat less and absorb more nutrients.

Two million years ago ancestors of modern humans migrated from Africa, at the same time as the beginning of a new Ice Age, lasting for thousands for years. The last glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, leaving behind huge boulders and lakes.

The last common ancestor of humans and Neanderthals (they are either classified as a subspecies of humans or as a separate species) lived about 700,000 years ago, according to DNA analysis. The ancestors of humans and Neanderthals split into different species about 370,000 years ago. Homo sapiens appeared 130,000 years ago in East Africa, where the Neanderthals lived as well. Humans have more delicate skeletons and rounded skulls and are taller than Neanderthals. Modern humans were in Asia and Europe by at least 40,000 years ago.

100,000: Ancestors had skeletons like ours, but not advanced behavior. They may not have used language.

72,000: People started wearing clothes (as determined by the time body louse evolved from the head louse) and around this time, or a few thousand years later, they perfected language and migrated from Africa. They probably crossed over the Red Sea into Arabia. As population grew too large, groups split off, reaching India, and then Australia by around 46,000 years ago. They struggled with earlier migrants from Africa who left about 1.8 million years ago, developing into Homo erectus in Asia and Homo Neanderthalenis in Europe and parts of the Near East. The two groups of migrants didn’t mate, as evidenced by comparison of genes. Other groups went northwest from India, reaching Europe and moving out the Neanderthals. Moving into the cold north in Eurasia required technical inventions, including more complex Upper Paleolithic stone tools, with materials traded from a distance, ornaments, and flutes. They buried their dead with rituals.

The return of the glaciers with the last ice age moved the people south out of Europe and Siberia. Descendents moved back north several thousand years later as the Pleistocene ice age ended. Migration to new environments put our ancestors under great evolutionary pressure to adapt with increasing intelligence. People in northern latitudes developed lighter skin because they didn’t need as much protection from ultraviolet radiation that destroys folic acid needed for fertility, and they needed more exposure to sunlight to get vitamin D. They reverted back to the original pale skin, which the chimps have, except for their sun-tanned faces, until they lost body hair in every population. Women’s skin color is 3 to 4% lighter than men’s, maybe because mothers need more vitamin D.

50,000: Our human ancestors (probably only 50 to 5,000 people) lived in northeast Africa (perhaps Ethiopia) and showed the first signs of modern behavior, including language, religion, warfare, fishing, trade, and wearing clothes. Like chimps, they probably fought frequently, defending their own territory or raiding that of neighbors. They didn’t live in groups bigger than 150 or so, partly because they were so aggressive and lacked government to resolve disputes.

All humans are descended from them and all languages probably developed from a single original language that included click sounds, as spoken by current Africans such as the San Bushmen. You can hear it on youtube.[xliii] Southern India seems to be the first major stopping point for the African migrants, because here we find the first changes of the male Y chromosome and female mitochondrial DNA “chromosome trees.” These are mutations passed on to descendents. Groups branched out to Australia and New Guinea where the aboriginals may be closer to the first emigrants than most other living people.

There are no physical remains of our early ancestors, but scientists know about them by studying our genetics, especially the Y chromosome that men carry and the mitochondrial DNA passed on by women. These two are not shuffled during conception, when segments of 2.85 billion units of DNA are exchanged except for on these two chromosomes. We inherit one set of 23 chromosomes from each parent, so each cell in the body holds 46 chromosomes. About half of a parent’s genes get passed on to the baby and half are discarded.

All men carry the same Y chromosome inherited from a single man who lived around 59,000 years ago who could be called “Scientific Adam,” and both men and women carry the mitochondria DNA inherited from “Eve” along the female line dating back to up to 200,000 years ago. Mutations on these two genes over time tell a lot. She wasn’t the first human, but the first to have her genes passed on to us. The first Y “Adam” lived around 70,000 years ago. You can continue the tale in your lineage by giving a swab of your DNA from your cheek to the National Geographic Society or other lab.[xliv] You’ll learn your mother’s haplogroup if you’re female, your father’s if you’re male.

A group is created when a mutation occurs and forms a new group on the genetic tree. There are 7 major groups for those with European ancestors. I’m J*– not the most common group, the youngest in Europe—only 10,000 years old, whose ancestors began around 50,000 years ago in the Middle East where traders spread their genes traveling from Europe to India. This group is associated with longevity: My maternal grandfather lived to be 102 and was active till the end.

All men outside Africa carry a Y chromosome mutation known as M168, as well as few men in Africa, meaning that modern humans left Africa a little after the M168 mutation began. The Y chromosome branched into markers called letters like M170, M242, and M173 found in specific areas as humans traveled all the way to India and Australia or up into Central Asia and into Europe or the Americas. But three-fourths of human history was spent in Africa before migrations began, motivated by weather changes like droughts and cold brought by ice ages. Around 130,000 years ago the lack of rain turned lush savannahs into deserts, reducing human population to a few as 2,000 people—on the verge of extinction. These challenges encouraged the development of new skills like tools and language to survive climate changes.

The original ancestors maintained nomadic tribes, moving from place to place in search of food. They raided into neighboring bands, an aggressive behavior unique to chimps and humans. Most primates are matrilocal where females don’t leave their mothers, but humans tend to be patrilocal where the new couple goes to live with the husband’s family. As well as frequent aggression, humans and chimps also developed genes favoring helpful behavior towards relatives who share genes.

The tribal people today who are probably most like the first people are the Australian and New Guinea aborigines, the Brazilian Yanomamo, Eskimos, and !Kung San, an egalitarian hunting and gathering tribe in southern Africa. They use the click language probably used by our first ancestors and are the oldest population. The Yanomamo live in forests on the border of Brazil and Venezuela. They live in settled villages and grow plantains and hunt for animals and grubs, not needing to work more than three hours a day. They engage in frequent fighting with their neighbors; about 30% of deaths among adult men are due to violence. But different from chimps, the tribal people build male and female family bonds in the nuclear family, rather than separate male and female hierarchies. Then, 1.7 million years ago long lasting bonds between women and men emerged. They also have property rights, ceremony and religion, and trade systems based on fairness.[xlv]

Around 70,000 years ago, the rains came and the population started growing again. Some probably waded across the southern tip of the Arabian Sea 60,000 years ago. By about 50,000 years ago, modern humans had spread from Africa, across Asia and Europe. They moved slowly looking for fish and other food. Their descendants migrated across the Bering Sea land bridge to North America about 13,500 years ago. As they moved, the homo sapiens fought the Neanderthals around 45,000 years ago. Modern humans probably arrived in Neanderthal lands from northern India through Iran and Turkey, reaching the Near East about 45,000 years ago and moving across Europe (my ancestors), according to archaeological evidence. Some may have traveled by boat.

The Upper Paleolithic age was 45,000 to 10,000 years ago, and included stone tools and cave art in southern France (radiocarbon dates show that it was occupied first from 32,000 to 30,000 years ago and then again from 27,000 to 25,000). Artists pained animals that were rarely hunted, including lions and mammoths, as well as horses, reindeer, and owls. One of the oldest known sculptures is a tiny ivory figurine of a naked woman with large breasts and vulva, perhaps used in fertility rituals. It’s at least 35,000 years old and was found in Germany.[xlvi]

Most Europeans are descended from the first settlers who arrived during the Upper Paleolithic. Perhaps moving from India, other groups went north to Siberia, where Upper Paleolithic sites similar to those in Europe were found, dating from 40,000 to 25,000 years ago. These people also settled North and South America, perhaps in three waves of migration with three different language groups, beginning 14,000 to 11,000 years ago.

15,000: The first human settlements in the Near East led to a new social structure with elites, specialization of roles, and ownership of property that led to trade. Note that it took 35,000 years to evolve into settled life. Previously they were nomads who hunted and gathered and fought each other, too aggressive to live in settled communities. Also, settlement made people more vulnerable to raiders and disease. Agriculture followed settlement as people cultivated wild cereals and herded sheep and goats (probably between 10,000 and 9,500 years ago). As warfare decreased, human bones became more delicate. We are still evolving and changing, with variations on the different continents. An example of a recent change (5,000 years ago) is lactose tolerance in adults who relied on animal milk, defenses against diseases, changes in brainpower, and losing olfactory genes so that our sense of smell decreased. We are still trying to balance basic instincts for aggression and helpfulness and altruism.

The first evidence of settlement is in what is now Israel, Jordan and Syria where a people called the Natufians gathered wild wheat and barley with stone sickles. About 10% of their early burials include jewelry made of animal teeth, suggesting the existence of a richer elite. The skulls of the dead were covered with plaster and kept in houses to keep a bond with the ancestors.

It took 45,000-years to develop the first great urban civilizations in Babylon, Egypt, India, and China. It took time to evolve into being less aggressive, developing language, religion, and the nuclear family to control aggression and deceit, so people could settle down. Two hormones, oxytocin and vasopressin, help us make social bonds. They are generated in the pituitary gland and increase level of trust in others. Religion served to keep people in line and to do their fair share rather than freeloading for fear of punishment in the afterlife. It also was a deterrent to using language to deceive others; religion and language evolved at the same time, probably shortly before the exodus–migration from Africa 50,000 years ago.

The nuclear family with the mother, father and children also encouraged communal activities because most males have a chance to reproduce and thus a reason to support the community in hunting and defense. The pair bond also reduces male fighting over females and sex became private rather than done in public where it could stir up problems. It should be noted many societies are polygamous with many wives and one husband, and a few practice polyandry where brothers marry one wife so they can afford to support her and the children.

The first cities developed in southern Mesopotamia around 6,000 years ago, and then in Egypt, India and China.

5,000 years ago our ancestors developed written records and writing was invented around 3,400 BC.

How did they invent words? E.F., 9, f, British Columbia

Many animals communicate with sounds that represent a threat or a food source, etc. Domesticated bonobos, chimps, and gorillas have been trained to communicate with symbols on a computer or with sign language with their hands. They don’t have the physical ability to speak words. Walking upright on two limbs enabled human vocal system to develop speech in the throat area. We don’t know if Neanderthal could speak or if Cro-Magnons were the first, about 125,000 years ago. Many theories guess as to how language started, but researchers agree that only humans have a language with syntax and grammar. It may have started with mothers communicating with babies..[xlvii]

Wikipedia reports, “The Sumerian archaic cuneiform script and the Egyptian hieroglyphs are generally considered the earliest writing systems, both emerging out of their ancestral proto-literate symbol systems (symbols that could be impressed or inscribed in clay to represent a record of land, grain or cattle) from 3400–3200 BC, with earliest coherent texts from about 2600 BC. The Chinese and Mesopotamian phonetic systems have especially been influential in the development of the systems of writing in use in the world today.”[xlviii]


What’s the biggest number in the whole world? How many zeroes do you need for a googol? Kana, 7, f, North Carolina

The biggest number has an infinite number of numbers, so there is no answer. 1,000,000,000 (1 billion) can’t be the largest number because 1 billion + 1 is bigger. But that is true for any number you pick. Infinity isn’t a number, it is

just a name for the thing bigger than all numbers.

“Googol” is a unit of quantity equal to 10^100 (1 followed by 100 zeroes). The googol was invented by the American mathematician Edward Kasner in 1938. According to the story, Kasner asked his nephew, who was then 8-years- old, what name he would give to a really large number, and “googol” was his response.

Who made up math? Guenivese, 14, f, California

The most ancient mathematical texts we know about are from Babylonia and Egypt, around 1900 BC. They explored the Pythagorean theorem (the square of the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides), the most ancient math after basic arithmetic and geometry.


Is breaking the line between the time and space continuum is possible?

Vilma, 9, f, Belize

In the old classical physics developed by Isaac Newton (died 1727), time and space were thought to be separate. But Albert Einstein and H. Minkowski showed that they are connected. Penn State Professor Abhay Ashtekar’s theory is space-time is not a continuum but “it is made up of individual building blocks. It’s like a piece of fabric which though it appears to be continuous, is made up of individual threads.”[xlix] So maybe it’s not a line after all.

Quantum Mechanics began in 1900, the physics of the microscopic world. German physicist Max Planck told his son he had made a discovery as important as Isaac Newton’s. Planck discovered light behaves as if it had separate packets, called quanta. Even in seemingly empty space vast amounts of energy bubble in and out of existence. John Bell suggested that all the particles in the universe are connected by instantaneous communication. The findings are counterintuitive, seeming to violate what our senses tell us. The quanta travel through space in the form of waves that are in many places at the same time.  Photons–particles of light, potentially spin many ways, such as up or down, at the same time. It fixes into a particular spin only when observed and measured.

Two quantum particles can influence each from a distance—Albert Einstein called this phenomenon “spooky” and didn’t believe it was possible. Once two particles are “entangled,” as by moving around the same nucleus in an atom, they act as if they were connected, even if separated miles apart. When the spin of one particle is changed, the spin of the other instantly changes. This is called quantum nonlocality. Scientists are using it to improve data encryption by sending information using the properties of photons like spin and will build faster computers in the future.[l] It also explains how prayer or intention have an effect from a distance.

How everything stays in one big circle without falling out the other end of the world or how if sailed a ship around the world, you don’t notice your boat downward in a circle? Maxwell, 12, m, Belize

Gravity keeps us grounded to the earth. You don’t notice the curve of the earth because it’s so huge. “Gravity or gravitational forces are forces of attraction. It’s like the Earth pulling on you and keeping you on the ground. That pull is gravity at work. Every object in the universe that has mass exerts a gravitational pull, or force, on every other mass. The size of the pull depends on the masses of the objects. You exert a gravitational force on the people around you, but that force isn’t very strong, since people aren’t very massive. When you look at really large masses, like the Earth and Moon, the gravitational pull becomes very impressive. The gravitational force between the Earth and the molecules of gas in the atmosphere is strong enough to hold the atmosphere close to our surface. Smaller planets, that have less mass, may not be able to hold an atmosphere.”[li]

What is time and why does time pass? David, 13, m, Switzerland

Time is a way of measuring and counting the spacing between events and thinking about how long they last. It’s also used in measuring motion of objects. The universal unit of time is the second. Some believe time is a real part of the universe, a dimension, and others think that it is a made-up way to count.

Planet Earth

How is rain made? Raichan, 8, f, Japan

Rain is the condensation of water vapor in clouds that falls to the earth.

How wide is the sea? Hayden, 9, m, California

Oceans cover approximately 70.8% or 361 million square kilometers (139 million square miles) of Earth’s surface. The average depth is about 3.8 kilometers (2.4 miles). The oceans contain 97% of our planet’s available water.[lii]

How long ago was the world created? Alejandro, 10, m, Columbia

How was our planet created? How did our and other planets appear?

Yulia, 16, f, Ukraine

The Earth and the Solar System are about 4.5 billion years old. The age of the Universe, 14 to 17 billion years, is estimated from the distance and speed of the galaxies moving as the universe expands. Our galaxy probably formed within a billion years of the beginning of the Universe. Most of the galaxies have supermassive black holes at their core with such a strong gravitational pull that not even light can escape them. The black hole at the center of our Milky Way is small and dormant, although it has the mass of almost 4 million suns.[liii] The oldest rocks on Earth, found in Greenland, are about 3.8 billion years old. The oldest moon rocks and most of the 70 useable meteorites we have are about 4.5 billion years old. Rocks are dated by measuring the decay of atomic nuclei—“radioactive decay.”[liv] Fossils of simple life forms date back to about 3.5 billion years.

After the Big Bang which started the expansion of our universe from tiny, hot and dense matter, the universe began to grow at an unimaginable speed. Although it has slowed down, it’s still expanding. Hydrogen fires created the stars that became factories for new elements heavier than hydrogen, the lightest, simplest and most common building block. The first stars formed 400 million years ago. Our star—the sun–started life much bigger than it is now (almost 900,000 miles wide), a spinning cloud of star-stuff that eventually collapsed into its current size and shape, leaving behind leftovers.

Most of the comets, loose rocks and asteroids crashed into each other or the sun. The nine biggest scraps orbit the sun in a single plane, like planetary marbles circling on a plate. We’re made of stuff born inside the star furnace. The planets formed almost 5 billion years ago from a large cloud: A planet is defined as a large round world that’s the dominant object in its orbit around a star (not a moon). Pluto doesn’t qualify as a planet now because there are many other objects near it. The International Astronomical Union decides if a world is a planet.

The planets are all named after Greek gods. Earth, Venus, Mars and Mercury are rocky worlds (earth is semi-liquid flowing rock, the continents floating like rafts or like bumper cars at an amusement park). We travel 583 million miles each year on our planetary spaceship. Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are made mostly of gas. The planets of the Kuiper Belt, such as Pluto, are mostly ice; there may be more planets there than Pluto, such as one not yet named a planet, called 2003 UB313. Its year is more than 500 earth years, twice as long as Pluto’s. The solar system extends as much as a light-year, or 9 quintillion miles. Our Milky Way galaxy contains hundreds of billions of stars, including our sun.

Our planet had violent origins with hot lava from volcanoes. The Earth is always changing, parts of the crust being created and others destroyed. It’s 25,000 miles around and its highest mountain is the Big Island of Hawaii. If the 4.5 billion years of earth history were squeezed into 24 hours, at midnight the earth was a fiery ball of rock covered with lava. The heaviest elements sank to the center of the earth. The volcanoes pumped steam into the air that condensed into rain as it cooled. At 4 AM, a single cell developed (over 33.2 billion years ago). At 9:05 AM multi-celled organisms developed; sponges were the first animal with specialized cells around 600 million years ago, the only animal for around 2 billion years until many varieties developed about 540 million years ago. Dinosaurs appeared at 11 PM and ruled for 150 million years until an asteroid hit the earth and wiped out over half of all species. Little mammals survived. Humans arrived just 30 seconds before the end of the 24 hours. The planet is so old and we are so new that all of recorded human history occupies only the last 13 seconds or so of a condensed 24 hours of all time.

A theory about how the moon was formed is that 4.5 billion years ago, an asteroid or huge meteorite as big as Mars crashed into Earth and blew out parts of the crust into space. Gravity caused the rubble to come together to form the moon. Moon rocks are over 4.4 billion years. It has gradually gotten farther away from the earth. The impact caused earth to tilt, which created the seasons. Comets and asteroids continued to hit the earth. Ancient rocks over 3.5 billion years have been found on all the continents, measured by the decay of elements.

When does the world collapse? Rio, 11, f, Japan

How much longer will people be alive on the earth? Raffaela, 12, f, Switzerland

How long will earth stand? Qin Yi, 12, m, Singapore

Will the world end? Jasmine, 14, f, Switzerland

The sun has been burning for about 4.5 billion years. It has about five billion years of fuel left. Then the sun will burn up its hydrogen and will expand into a red giant star engulfing the whole inner solar system. How long people are around depends on if we take action to stop global warming and pollution.

When will the next ice age happen?  Ben, 11, m, California

Scientists predict it will peak 80,000 years from now. Warm periods like the one we’re in now—it’s lasted for 10,000 years, are less common than ice ages in the history of the planet. Changes in the earth’s orbit cause the temperature changes.[lv] When glaciers increase in size, they will move back down and grind cities like New York into the ocean. A new super continent might appear as first the Mediterranean and then the Atlantic Ocean disappear. Oxygen levels and temperatures could fluctuate widely.

What’s the circumference of the earth? Rina, 11, f, Japan

How large is the world? “Dotty,” 16, f, China

The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901.55 miles (40,075.16 kilometers).[lvi] The Greeks figured out the Earth was round: Eratosthenes (3rd century BC) estimated the distance around the Earth, using logic and basic geometry.  Columbus believed it was half the accurate distance, so he thought he’s sailed to Asia rather than the Americas.

Will we ever run out of gas and oil before life on earth ends?

Tucker, 12, m, New Mexico

Yes. Experts agree that easy sources of oil are being used up but disagree about the exact date when oil will run out. “Post Carbon Institute’s analysis of projections made by oil industry experts sees permanent decline possibly under way by 2010. We know that the easy “conventional oil” (such as we’ve been pumping out of Texas and Saudi Arabia for decades) is about to decline because global discoveries peaked in the 1960s and, over the last 20 years, oil consumption has far outpaced its discovery. The global energy industry has invested heavily in the difficult “unconventional oil” (such as tar sands and deepwater oil) to help make up the difference. However, producing this oil is expensive and extremely complex, and there simply is not enough available to replace declining conventional oil supplies, plus meet increasing global demand as quickly and as cheaply as we need it. We can’t just turn to wind, solar, biofuels, or nuclear, either. With oil accounting for over 95 percent of our energy use in both agriculture and transportation, there are no substitute resources ready to replace oil.”[lvii]

What are the odds of this world getting drastically better, rather than worse? Mouse, 16, f, California

Global warming, pollution, and destruction of forests, oceans, soil and plant and animal species continue at a rapid pace. Violence of humans against humans continues in wars, rape, and allowing poverty. “From 1955 to 2002, data indicated an estimated 5.4 million violent war deaths in 13 countries with 36,000 war deaths annually.” We have the technology but not the wisdom to solve many of these problems.[lviii] Your generation has a big job on your hands to move towards peace and protection of the environment.

Why is the sky blue? Yachan, 9, m, Japan and Jean, 17, m, France

“As light moves through the atmosphere, most of the longer wavelengths pass straight through. Not much of the red, orange and yellow light is affected by the air. But, much of the shorter wavelength light is absorbed by the gas molecules. The absorbed blue light is then radiated in different directions and gets scattered around the sky. Since you see the blue light from everywhere overhead, the sky looks blue.”[lix]

How did the world come to be? Science or by God? Richard, 14, m, Lanai

Who created the world? Give a brief history. Belita, 17, f, Zambia

How did it all start? How will it end? Arno, 18, m, France

Life begins and ends with the sun. Life requires radiation from the sun for energy to start chemical reactions, elements, water as a solvent, and fairly stable temperatures—provided by the earth’s stable orbit around the sun.[lx] Life began on earth around 4 billion years ago when it was all oceans, no continents. Around 1.8 billion years ago bacteria learned to “eat sunlight” in photosynthesis and send oxygen into the atmosphere that we can breathe. Most of our oxygen (70%) is produced by ocean algae. Carbon atoms make life possible and most life feeds off the sun. Life began with organic biological molecules. They began in the water sparked by sun radiation, which provided the energy to begin chemical reactions. This process has been duplicated in laboratories. The molecules joined into chains that became the building blocks of life—proteins, sugars, lipids (fats), and nucleic acids. These chains are called polymers that developed into single-cell organisms like bacteria that still exist. Then cells joined together, like slime molds.[lxi] The chances of life emerging are small; some believe that God or intelligent design was necessary to create these rare preconditions. Others think it happened on its own and some Christians and Muslims believe the Biblical Old Testament account that the world was created in six days.

The Earth has had more than 4.5 billion years of physical abuse, having been scratched, buried, drained, stretched, flooded, filled and drained again. Huge mountain ranges have come and gone. Continents of ice have gouged and bulldozed the earth repeatedly. The earth’s layers begin at the center with a solid metal core 1,000 miles wide, about as hot as the surface of the sun, called “the inner core.” It spins at its own rate, faster than the Earth above it, and is surrounded by the “outer core,” a deep layer of liquid iron. The ocean of iron creates the Earth’s magnetic field. The north and south poles swap places at unpredictable intervals, averaging about 300,000 years. The last one was 780,000 years ago.

Next is liquid metal, then the mantle and crust. If you think of the earth as an egg, the egg white represents the mantle, and the yolk, the partly fluid, partly solid metal core. The shell represents the crust of moving plates. The continents move around. The North American plate of rock, tens of miles thick, floats on the molten center of the Earth. It is moving away from Europe at the rate of an inch or so a year, about the rate as your fingernails grow. As the plates grind into each other, they create jerks or earthquakes. The island of Surtsey, near Ireland, is one of the newest pieces of land and another is rising in the Hawaiian island chain.

In the US, the mountain ranges of the East and West are caused by continental plates riding into or over one another. Continental plates moving against each other created the Swiss Alps. The top of the Swiss Matterhorn Mountain is part of the African plate, like a car collision where one pushes over the other car. Other mountains are volcanic. Uplift of mountains is followed by erosion by water, as the Colorado River does in the Grand Canyon in Arizona. The plate tectonic cycle will wear out billions of years from now [lxii].


How is electricity made? Jahi, 6, m, North Carolina

From many ways, such as rubbing a cat’s fur with a piece of plastic (static electricity); a motor driven by wind, water, steam, etc (electricity); and lightning.

You know electricity flows through wires to light your lamps and power your appliance, but where does it come from? Electricity is created when mechanical energy or moving energy is turned into electrical energy, depending on what source is available, such as the moving water in hydroelectricity dams or windmills producing electricity in windy areas. In places where there is lots of coal, natural gas or oil in the ground, power companies burn the fuel to make steam, which rotates a turbine.

What is the fastest car in the world? Tomas, 8, m, Czech Republic

The SSC Ultimate Aero travels 257 miles per hour, it can accelerate from 0-60 in 2.7 seconds. It has a Twin-Turbo V8 Engine with 1183 horsepower, costing $654,400. It was tested in 2007 by Guinness world records, taking the lead as the fastest car in the world by beating Bugatti Veyron.[lxiii]

I want to have wings and fly to the sky to watch the planets.

Thomas, 11, m, Hong Kong

Can a person learn to fly without gadgets? Aivan, 15, m, Russia

Can someone is this class fly, and will he or she hide her or his secret and will people consider they are aliens? Ksenia, 16, f, Ukraine

Wings are needed to fly. An airplane flies because engines provide thrust and the wings provide lift. The upper part of the wing is fixed and curved. The air flowing over the top of the wing has to travel faster and a greater distance in the same amount of time as air flowing under the wing. Faster-flowing air has lower pressure. This causes the upper wings’ air pressure to drop, so the higher pressure beneath the wing forces the wing upwards and the plane with it.

In insects, the shape of wing isn’t important; it’s how the insect moves it. They’re more like propellers than fixed aircraft wings. The beating of the wing forms a swirling funnel of air, like a tiny tornado, above the upper part of the wing. Air pressure inside the tornado is lower than surrounding air so higher-pressure air behind the wing pushed it upward. But just flapping isn’t enough. Insect wings also flap backward and curl. The rotation creates more uplift. The insect, such as a fly, adjusts when it feels itself rising or falling, rolling, etc. all with a brain the size of a poppy seed. So if you want to fly, you need to use something like a glider, hot air balloon, or para sail to give you wings. You can create the feeling of flying by snowboarding, surfing, windsurfing, dancing, and other sports—or in your dreams for no cost.

When, why and how was Internet started? Shehroz, 17, m, Pakistan

“Digital Natives,” or Generation Y, use the Internet for social interaction, research, news, and sharing music and art. According to the authors of Born Digital, the main problem is sharing too much personal information that can be used against them in their future careers, etc.[lxiv] For some, it enables them not to have face-to-face interactions with friends or to exercise. It also increases the gap between the rich and the poor, as three-quarters of the world’s population do not have Internet access—only 6% in Africa, compared to 74% in North America.[lxv]

Some say the Internet was started by the US Air Force in 1962 to enable communication during a nuclear attack. Others say the Internet developed from computers, such as the Colossus used by the British during World War II to decode German messages. It was inspired by the British father of the computer, Charles Babbage in the 19th century. The first full-service electronic computer was developed at the University of Pennsylvania. It filled a room and weighed 60,000 pounds. The first commercial use was by the US Census Bureau in 1951.

When the Russians surprised the world with the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite, it generated more investment in technological research. In 1962, Paul Baran at the Rand Corporation developed a language to communicate between computers and a rerouting system if a computer on the network became unavailable. The semiconductor chip replaced the vacuum tube as information processor, making possible a smaller computer. IBM produced it for industrial and business use, and later kicked itself for not marketing it for personal use. Apple’s Bill Gates innovated the personal computer operating system.

Email was developed in the 1970s (Ray Tomlinson developed the first email program in 1972) and in the mid-1980s hypertext HTTP protocols made it possible to transport files linking web pages to each other, the basis of the Internet. In 1992 the Internet was released with over one million host computers, many at universities. Today there are over 40 million hosts and over 300 million users. Search engines started in the late 90s and social networks and blogs in 2000.

In 1995 Amazon.com was an innovator in online sales of books and by 2000 used  “cookies” to keep track of our Internet usage. Over 6,000 companies provide Internet access. There are more than 3 billion web pages, with over 7 million new ones being added each day. The most popular websites are MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, eBay, and Wikipedia (begun in 2001 in English, now around 250 languages). A 2007 Pew survey reported that 70% of US teen girls and 57% of boys ages 15 to 17 have profiles on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Xanga.  MMORPGs are popular—Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games, such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, and EverQuest. We have blogs, gripe sites, chat rooms, and college courses, but also problems with hate groups, bomb making information, porn, Internet addiction disorder, time spent at work surfing the Net, and privacy issues.[lxvi] Another problem is the technical gap; the richest nations of the world with 20% of the population, are 91% of Internet users and have 86% of the income. In the US, 60% of schools have Internet, but only 39% in poor school districts.

How does a TV work?

[My brother Greg is an electronics engineer, so I asked him to answer. Radio and TV rely on waves to receive your favorite station. Waves are invisible energy like sound waves but at higher vibration. TV receives the waves with an antenna or cable and converts them into pictures and sound using electronics and magnetism.

Behind the glass screen on your TV is a special material that glows when it is hit with a beam of energy, sort of like a search light beam, and the beam scans from top-left corner of your screen then across the screen then down a small bit, then across again and again until it finally reaches the bottom-right corner of the screen. This all happens so fast, you do not see the beam scanning back and forth and down. The thick glass screen also protects the things inside the screen. Inside is a beam gun and beam scanning controls, and all contents are in a glass-sealed vacuum chamber.

The Universe

Was there a big bang? Eli, 8, m, North Carolina

How was the galaxy before everything exists? How was everything created before, when there was nothing? Joaquin, 9, m, Brazil

The universe is 10 to 15 billion years old based on the expansion of distant galaxies, our Milky Way Galaxy is 11 to 13 billion years, and our solar system and Earth is 11 to 13 billion years old.[lxvii] The universe has expanded from the tiny speck to about 46 billion light years in size. According to the Big Bang theory, the universe began with a huge explosion about 13.7 billion years ago, which created low-level background radiation noise still present throughout the universe. This discovery in 1965 has been called the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century. Two scientists (Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias) were working on a communications antenna in the 1960s when they discovered faint cosmic light or radiation from the sky. They heard the noise on a radio telescope, the radiation left over from the Big Bang.

During the Big Bang, for every 10 billion antimatter particles created there  were also created 10 billion plus one matter particles. This slight imbalance (called broken symmetry) allows the universe to exist and may be due to a particle called the Higgs boson. It’s being tested in Geneva, Switzerland, at the $8 billion Large Hadron Collider. Most of us know matter is made of elements, which are made of atoms, which are made of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Twelve major subatomic particles are the six uncharged particles called leptons and six charged particles called quarks: two charmed quarks, top and bottom quarks, and two strange quarks.[lxviii] In addition, five particles carry force, called bosons. Physicists believe that the Higgs boson, that has never been observed because it decays so quickly, may contain the key to matter. Thus, it’s called the “God particle.” Scientists smash particles to try to find the Higgs boson at Fermilab in the US and the large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

The universe is made of 4% ordinary matter or atoms—like our bodies; 22% invisible dark matter (which is mainly responsible for gravity), and 74% mysterious dark energy that makes the universe expand faster and faster.[lxix] It’s amazing that all our knowledge is about 4% of what exists. The theory is that after the Big Bang very hot visible matter in the form of tiny quarks condensed on long, thin, filaments of unseen cold dark matter, like water droplets condensing on the threads of a spider’s web. The droplets grew into galaxies—almost 1 trillion in the universe that scientists can observe. What’s between galaxies? Superheated gas only visible in X-rays.[lxx] Two-thirds of ordinary matter is in between the galaxies in the form of dilute gas.

However, there’s no proof that cold dark matter exists. Scientists still do not know why the universe is expanding, picking up speed as it moves out, one of the biggest mysteries. In the 1990s the force that pushes the universe was called “dark energy.” It’s the biggest mystery in all of science, says Michael Turner from the University of Chicago.

Why does the sun move? Kushamiou, 9, m, Japan

Our galaxy, like all other spiral galaxies, rotates. The stars move on orbits around the center of the galaxy. The sun moves at an orbital speed of about 220 km/s (1 km/s is equivalent to 103 meters per second) and takes about 230 million years to make one revolution around the center of the galaxy.[lxxi]

How many stars are in the sky at night? Nida, 16, f, Pakistan

There are probably about 400 billion stars in the Milky Way, although a 50% error either way is possible.[lxxii]

I would like to know if there is life on other planets? Carlos, 11, m, Columbia

Are we, the human race, the only intelligent life form in this infinitely large and growing universe? Ryan, 12, m, Belize

Is there a life in space? Burak, 13, m, Turkey

Are there people in other places? If so, did they evolve to be like us? How big is space? Why is it so big? Where are we? Why are we here? Allie, 14, f, California

Are we really alone in this huge universe? I find it practically impossible, though. I mean it’s so big. That would be kind of dumb if we were. Namine, 14, f, Tennant Creek, Australia

Why are there human beings on the earth? Why the human beings didn’t appear and couldn’t live in the other planets? Dotty, 16, f, China

Is there the same person as you living on another star? Wen Zhen, m, 19, China

There are over 100 billion galaxies in the universe and about 100 billion stars in the Milky Wax galaxy. The number of stars in the universe is more than the number of grains of sand on all the beaches of the entire Earth! All the stars you see in the night sky are in the Milky Way Galaxy. The Hubble telescope discovered that there are probably as many planets in other parts of our Milky Way galaxy as in our solar system. Scientists have so far found 285 stars with planets, more than 400 planets around stars other than the Sun, and are continuing the search for exoplanets in zones where life could exist.[lxxiii] The Kepler spacecraft started the search in 2009, planning to observe at least 100,000 stars in its first three years (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars), hoping to find planets in habitable zones around the stars. The search will take 23 years to find earth-size planets. Liquid water is the key to finding life.[lxxiv]

Life on earth requires the element carbon as the building block, liquid water as the home for chemical reactions, and the sunlight as energy source. However, it’s possible that other building blocks, such as silicon, and another solvent such as ammonia, and geothermal energy from a planet’s interior, are sources for life on other planets. Red dwarf stars are the most probable home for life.[lxxv]

Astronomers don’t have the technology for radio detection or telescopes for planets beyond our solar system. A radio telescope can reach about 1,000 light years from Earth, only a small part of our galaxy. SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute was partly funded by a huge grant from Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft.[lxxvi] It hasn’t found intelligent radio signals after over four decades of scanning thousands of stars. SETI, in partnership with the University of California at Berkeley, built a network of radio telescopes in Northern California. When completed in 2010, 350 telescopes scaned the stars for radio signals

One of the SETI astronomers predicts they’ll find signs of life by 2025. Some believe the numerous accounts of UFOS, unidentified flying objects, and crop circle patterns are products of extraterrestrial beings. Many photos, videos, radar tracking, and pilot reports suggest UFOs exist.[lxxvii] Psychiatrist John Mack reports working with over 100 people–including children–who believe UFOs abducted them. They generally report being paralyzed, then carried up on a beam of light into a craft where they are medically probed.[lxxviii] In 2009, the Catholic Church held a five-day conference on astrobiology and the possibility of extraterrestrial life and the British government released their files on UFO reports..[lxxix]

Why doesn’t UFOs want us to see them? Andrey, 16, m, Ukraine

Many UFOs are actually Venus, the northern lights or an artificial satellite, but some may be the real thing. Many people believe they have seen UFOs or even been taken onboard the space ships. If you go online you can see photos people have taken: dome shaped, triangular, pyramids, or donut or cigar shaped. One of the best photos was over Mexico City in 2004 and another shows orbs over Phoenix, Arizona, in 1997. See photos on an interesting DVD featuring Dan Aykroyd Unplugged on UFOs (2005). He lists other sightings reported by governments of Belgium, France, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Canada, but scientists don’t believe he’s scientific.

I would ask him ‘How big is space?’ because I have thought that for a long time.  If space is infinite big, but it is unreasonable, how can space be infinite big?  If space is not infinite, it also is unreasonable, outside the space, what it is?

Alvin, Hong Kong, m, 11

I would like to know what the end of the universe looks like, what it feels like to be perfect, and why people act the way they do. Katie, 14, f, Pennsylvania

Is there an end of the universe? Annabel, 15, f, Chengdu, China

How is it with the universe, where does it end? Marketa, 16, f, Czech Republic

Where is the end of the universe? Andrey K., 16, m, Ukraine

The universe has no edge or end; as it expands it creates no space. There is no center either, so it stretches uniformly. The universe is mostly space, vacuum, with the stars like grains of sand several miles apart. Galaxies are moving away from each other, like dough expanding in raisin bread. The raisins/galaxies aren’t moving; the bread/space is expanding faster on a flat plane.

As far as astronomers can see to the edge of the visible universe, its about 13.7 light years away. (Light travels at 3000,000,000 meters per second.)  The center of our galaxy, The Milky Way, is about 25,000 light-years away. “The entire universe, or just the visible portion of the universe if it’s infinite, is roughly 27 billion light-years across. That’s 159,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. Our solar system, from the Sun to Pluto, is .00063 light-years across or 3,720,000,000 miles. If the entire Earth’s surface represents the whole universe, the solar system on that scale would be the size of a single, small bacteria.”[lxxx]

I want to be a genius. And I also want to go to other planets to travel around. It is very interesting to me. I can know more about knowledge. I would be friendly to the new human beings as a dog. Ding Hao, 16, m, China

Humans have walked on the moon and sent robots to explore the surface of Mars. Who knows what travel will be available when you’re older? For science videos and science sites for young people here’s a start:  www.kidsites.com/sites-edu/science.htm, www.sciencefriday.com/topics/ and http://www.kidsnet.org/.

We turn next from the universe to the big problems of the people on little planet earth.


[vii] wagntrain.com/BodyLanguage2.htm

[viii] Scientist Alex Guenther of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

[ix] sciencenewsforkids.org/articles/20031126?Feature1.asp

[xi] Ssc.org/sprog training programs for high school and college students.

Ssc.org/resources, earth911.org, epa.gov/kids, ddisface.org, nrdc.org/greensquad

http://pbskids.org/eekoworld/ information for young kids

[xiv] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8374965.stm

UICEF UK – Climate Change, Child’s Rights and Intergenerational Justice –

[xv] “Viewpoint February 2, 2010, Top 10 Themes from 2010 Davos World Economic Forum.” http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/feb2010/ca2010022_162429.htm

[xvi] MyFootprint.org, or SafeClimatenet/calculator, or www.terrapass.com or http://www.footprintnetwork.org

[xx] Michael Standaert, “China Turns to Clean Tech to Stimulate Its Economy, San Francisco Chronicle. May 10, 2009, Section A.

[xxii] A report released December 7, 2008, by CHEMTrust, a British organization.

[xxiv] Carl Honoré. In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed. HarperCollins, 2004.

[xxv] Ban Ki Moon, “What the World Needs is a Green Deal,” San Francisco Chronicle, November 26, 2008.

[xxvii] sierraclubgreenhome.com

[xxviii] . “Intelligence Report,” Parade Magazine, May 24, 2009.

[xxix] greenschools.net, http://www.childrenoftheearth.org/ environmental education for youth, http://www.teensturninggreen.org/

[xxx] INTERNET DISCUSSION BETWEEN VOICES OF YOUTH, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS AND UNICEF MALAWI” 22t May 2009 http://www.unicef.org/voy/speakout/speakout_567.html

[xxxi] Other green films are: FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992, animated) Wall-E (2008, animated), Silent Running (1971), Gorillas in the Mist (1988), Erin Brockovich (2000), Who Killed the Electric Car (2006, documentary), March of the Penguins (2005), and Avatar, 2009. Wall_E and Avatar are animated science fiction taking place in the future when there is no greenery left on earth due to human greed. Avatar is the best selling film of all time.

[xxxiv] See www.worldprivacyforum.org “Top 10 Opt Outs” and www.dmachoice.org, newdream.org/junkmail/index.php

[xxxvii] Elizabeth Rogers. The Green Book: The Everyday Guide to Saving the Planet One Simple Step at a Time. Three Rivers Press.

Josh Dorfman. The Lazy Environmentalist: Your Guide to Easy, Stylish, Green Living. Stewart, Tabori and Chang

Down-to-Earth Guide To Global Warming by Laurie David and Cambria Gordon.

I,001 Ways to Save the Earth by Joanna Yarrow .

Michael Stone and Zenobia Barlow, eds. Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World. Sierra Club Books, 2005. They have other books on the topic, as does New Society Press.

Jenn Savedge. The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen’s Guide to Saving the Planet. New Society Publishers, 2009.

Anne Jankelowitch. 50 Ways to Save the Earth.

Claire Nivola. Planting the Trees of Kenya.

Julie Hall. A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids.

www.thegreen guide.com from National Geographic.

http://www.Grist.org To find a green power program in your state, call your local utility or visit U.S. Department of Energy’s Green Power Markets ecomomalliance.org

end junk mail 41pounds.org

Information about pollution’s effect on children’s health: http://healthychild.org/about/who_we_are/sandra_steingraber/


www.6footsix.com Colleen Smith, pro beach volleyball player. Colleen’s Green Team—to join you have to make one change to green your life

www.climatecrisis.net An Inconvenient Truth book and movie by Al Gore.


dominantanimal.org/ biologist and author Paul Erhlich’s site


climatecrisis.net. http://lifestyle.msn.com/mindbodyandsoul/personalgrowth/articlegh.aspx?cp-documentid=656438&gt19310



school program: http://www.cooltheearth.org, www.farmtoschool.org, http://www.kidsgardening.com


“The Story of Stuff” about consumption


Stepgreen.org helps track and reduce your carbon footprint.

[xxxix] Identical Strangers: A Memoir of Twins Separated and Reunited. Random House, 2007.

[xlii] The rest of this information comes from Nicholas Wade. Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, 2006. Note the dates mentioned are approximate.

[xliv] nationalgeographiccom/genoraphic/faq/html. There is a fee.

[l] Gautam Naik, “Science, Spirituality and Some Mismatched Socks, Wall St. Journal, May 5, 2009. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124147752556985009.html

[lx] www.americanscientist.org/articles/

[lxi] hhmi.org/chi-bin/askascientist/highlight.pl?kw=&file=a

[lxii] The Plate Tectonics Cycle: The Earth is restless inside, as it tries to cool its interior. Material inside the Earth become viscous and flow in certain areas. Movement within the Earth’s interior is reflected on the outside crust. Convection currents inside the mantle (area between the crust and the outer core) create two types of crustal movements. When convections currents come together, convergent plate boundaries (earthquakes) are formed on the Earth’s crust. When the convection currents pull the crust apart in two different directions, divergent plate boundaries (volcanoes and earthquakes) are formed. A consequence of the Earth’s surface moving faster along the equator than at the poles creates tension, which in part transform boundaries. http://www.msnucleus.org/membership/html/k-6/pt/index.html

[lxiv] John Palfrey and Urs Gasser. Born Digital, Basic Books, 2008.

[lxv] www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm The percent of the population with Internet access is:  North America, 74%; Europe, 49%, Latin America/Carribean, 30%; Middle East, 23%, Asia, 17%, and Africa, 6%.

[lxvi] Teenangels.org Informs others about Internet dangers

[lxviii] A quark is one of the fundamental particles in physics. They join together to form hadrons, such as protons and neutrons. Quarks and antiquarks are the only two fundamental particles that interact through all four fundamental forces of physics. There are 6 flavors of quarks: up, down, strange, charm, bottom, and top. http://physics.about.com/od/glossary/g/quark.htm

[lxix] Science News This Week, March 18, 2006, Vol. 169, p. 163.

[lxxvii] Seti.org, www.pbs.org/liffebeyondearth/index.html and www.auforn.com/, the Australian UFO Research Network

Comments on: "What Kids Ask About Science" (2)

  1. Just Asking, a poem by Lucy Sandoe, 11

    Where does thunder go when it dies?
    Does each blast have its own graveyard,
    Where skeletons of rainclouds dance,
    And the resounding booms echo,
    Into a second life.

    Who turns on the stars,
    Nightlights to the world
    A silent lullaby.

    Why do fire and water fight?
    Has it always been this way?
    Is fire jealous,
    Or did water wall names;

    does the wind have a home?
    What do colors smell like?
    Can tress fall in love?
    Do seeds have imaginations?
    Is time like a river,
    Endless. . .
    Is the dark afraid?

    Tell me. . .
    Chico News and Review, October 21, 2010

  2. How many stars? Three times more than calculated previously—300 sextillion. The most common stars are red dwarfs.

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