Brains On! Science podcast for kids

Brains On!® is a science podcast for curious kids and adults from American Public Media. Co-hosted each week by kid scientists and reporters from public radio, we ask questions ranging from the science behind sneezing to how to translate the purr of cats, and go wherever the answers take us. @Brains_On


  • The wonderful weirdness of water

    May 22 2018

    Pour yourself a nice glass of water, and take a close look at it. Seems pretty boring, right? It’s clear, doesn’t have a taste or smell, and just sits there. It you were trying to come up with the most ordinary thing imaginable, water might be right up there with shoelaces or potato chips. But behind it’s bland appearance, a wonderfully weird substance is hiding in plain sight. In this episode of Brains On, we explore some of the weird things water can do, like move against gravity! Or cut right...more

  • Smash Boom Best: Bats vs. Owls (new show alert!)

    May 15 2018

    For the past few months, we’ve been working on a top secret project and we’re so excited we finally get to share it with you! It’s a new show called Smash Boom Best and it’s nothing but debates. Sort of like the ones you’ve heard on Brains On, but with a few new twists. It’s a little faster paced, a little sillier and we hope you’ll think it’s a lot of fun. Today: Wings out, eyes wide -- we’re swooping in on a battle between a perfect pair of creatures of the night. Which is cooler: Bats? Or owl...more

  • What was the first robot? And more from Robotstravaganza

    May 08 2018

    What was the first robot? What is artificial intelligence? How do robots "learn?" In this special episode, we have pieces from our live Robotstravaganza show in Boston. We meet some awesome robots (including one that's very cuddly), debate whether robots are good for humanity or bad, and find out what robots can learn from nature. Plus a mystery sound and a Moment of Um that answers the question, "How do oysters make pearls?" Thanks to our friends at the Cambridge Science Festival for hosting us...more

  • What's in your water?

    May 01 2018

    Clean water - we need it, other animals need it, plants too! In fact, every living thing needs access to clean water. But water can pick up all kinds of potentially harmful stuff during its never-ending journey through the water cycle - nitrates, phosphates, dog poop, heavy metals - how does all this stuff get into our water in the first place? And how can we know when it does? And what does it mean for the health of our environment, and us!? For our water series this summer we’ll be tackling th...more

  • What makes paint stick?

    Apr 24 2018

    Paint goes on wet, then it dries — and it’s stuck there. But how does it stick? We’re going to zoom way in to find out. We’ll visit a forensic chemist, a painter who makes his own paint and a party happening at the molecular level. Plus! Our Moment of Um answers the question: How does sand get on the beach? Molly Bloom Co-host Aidan with artist James Griffith. Molly Bloom Aidan at work on his baseball mural. James Griffith ...more

  • Allergy Attack: How our bodies can overreact

    Apr 09 2018

    Pollen, peanuts, dust mites. These things aren’t poisonous – so why do some people’s bodies act like they are? In this episode, we’ll find out what happens during an allergic reaction and hear about new treatments. This episode first appeared on July 28, 2016. Listen to the original here! Allergy attack: How our bodies can overreact by MPR

  • Mystery Sound Extravaganza 2018

    Apr 03 2018

    Sounds abound all around. Do you think your ears are up to the task? We have an episode chock full of nothing but mystery sounds to challenge and stretch your listening powers. (Also, did you hear that the Brains On! store is open? We couldn’t be happier with the t-shirts and other goodies we have to offer. Have a look!) Spoiler alert below this photo! Proceed with caution! Monty Fresco/Getty Images January 1926: A cat wearing headphones to listen to a radio. A...more

  • How do animals breathe underwater?

    Mar 26 2018

    Our lungs are great at getting oxygen out of the air, but if we needed to do that underwater, we’d be sunk. So how do fish, shrimp, jellyfish and other marine animals breathe underwater? And what happens when there is no oxygen in the water for them to breathe? • See photos from the episode taping at Instagram An aquaponic system at work: (Courtesy of Nick Phelps | University of Minnesota) An aquaponic system at the University of Minnesota. Water from the fish tank, which i...more

  • 'The Rice Cakes and the Oni': A story from Circle Round

    Mar 20 2018

    Sometimes we're in the mood for a good story, so we're turning our show over to Circle Round this week. It's a podcast produced by WBUR in Boston that tells folktales from around the world. These stories are funny, surprising, suspenseful and downright charming. Here's one we think you'll dig. It stars a kid who loves making jokes, so you know it's up our alley. In the meantime, we're hard at work on some exciting new episodes -- including a brand new show. We'll be able to tell you more about i...more

  • Circadian rhythm pt. 2: Beyond human

    Mar 13 2018

    Circadian rhythms keep our bodies on schedule. But what about the rest of the animal and plant world? Turns out, most living things run on similar cycles. In this episode we take a look at why some animals hibernate. There’s also an interview with a plant. Wait, what?!? You read that right: A PLANT!!! All that and a trip back to pre-history, to see how staying up late might have helped mammals survive all those dinosaurs. Three-word hint: nocturnal bottleneck hypothesis.

  • From 8-bit to orchestras: How does video game music affect you?

    Mar 05 2018

    Have you ever played a video game? Of course you have, what a silly question. You know how important music can be when it comes to gaming. But what if you choose to play without music? Or, what if you replace the music with your own soundtrack? How does that affect your playing? We’re going to dig into the psychology of video game music, explain how the interactivity of video game music works and figure out what “8-bit” means. • More from Dr. Siu-Lan Tan: What’s the secret to high scores on vide...more

  • The tick-tock of our circadian clock

    Feb 27 2018

    Our bodies are filled with tiny clocks. Down to the cellular level, they tick and tock and stay in sync with the light and dark cycles of the sun. These near 24-hour-cycles are known as our circadian rhythm. In this episode, we’ll take a look at the suprachiasmatic nucleus — the great conductor of our circadian rhythm. Do you want to know the best time of day to be productive or exercise or do your homework? Find out as we follow our pal Bob around for a day. Plus, the number of screens we look ...more

  • ‘Is it opposite day?’ and other mind-bending paradoxes

    Feb 20 2018

    Think about it: the answer to the question “Is it opposite day?” will always be no. It’s a head-scratcher. So how do you figure out if it is, in fact, opposite day? We talk to two philosophers who walk us through how questions like these can bend and twist the truth — and our minds. We learn about the sinister-sounding “Liar Paradox.” And we find out that it’s not only our brains that use logic, it’s used by the machines all around us too. Plus: A brand new mystery sound and an answer to the que...more

  • Our 100th episode! What's the big deal?

    Feb 13 2018

    In this milestone of an episode, we ask why people seem to love the number 100 so much. We also learn some amazing tricks involving the number 100 from a mathemagician. And fan favorite Gungador goes from Most Epic Fighting Battle Realm to a much more challenging setting: high school. Gungador fan art We had to bring Gungador back for this tale of math and dancing after the amazing response we got to our Gungador vs. the Sound Wave story. Here are some of our listeners’ illustrations of that epi...more

  • Meet Sandy, the left-handed mutant snail

    Feb 06 2018

    Sandy is a mutant snail whose shell coils to the left instead of the right. For humans, being left-handed or right-handed can definitely affect the way we experience life. Usually, that mismatch is just a minor nuisance — but sometimes, sidedness can change the future of an entire species, as is the case for Sandy. High school senior Alex Bairstow from Carlsbad, California found a very odd European garden snail. This kind of snail is usually dextral, meaning its shell is coiled up on the right s...more

  • Dolphins vs. Octopuses: Showdown in the sea!

    Jan 30 2018

    Two of our planet’s most amazing animals go head to head in our latest debate. We’re asking you to decide which animal reigns supreme. Is it the eight-armed, three hearted, shape-shifting octopus? Or the speed-swimming, echolocating, super-jumping dolphin? Listen along as Marc argues for #TeamOctopus and Sanden fights for #TeamDolphin. We’ll learn amazing facts about both sides along the way. Plus an aquatic Mystery Sound, some deep-sea stand up comedy and a Moment of Um answering why flamingos ...more

  • Dogs: What's the secret of their sense of smell?

    Jan 23 2018

    If you’ve ever seen a dog, you know they like to sniff — the ground, people, each other’s butts. They like to smell just about everything. But why? We’re digging into the science of smell and how dogs are able to decode things we can’t even begin to imagine. Right-click to download episode transcript. We spoke with Dr. Anneke Lisberg, an ethologist at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Read more about some of her research here. Molly Bloom Dr. Anneke Lisberg and her dog Ca...more

  • Mary Shelley and the science of Frankenstein

    Jan 16 2018

    Frankenstein has become a pop culture mainstay and it all started off as a novel written by an 18-year-old woman written in the early 1800s. As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication, we look at how Mary Shelley was inspired by science and how the lessons of the book still resonate with the scientific world today. For more on electricity, check out our four-part series from December. And if curious to learn more about de-extinction, you can check out our episode where we t...more

  • Super-size-asaurus: How did dinosaurs get so big?

    Jan 09 2018

    Ancient dinosaurs were some of the biggest creatures to ever stomp the Earth. But how and why did they get so giant? Was there more food to help them grow? Was the planet itself somehow different, allowing them to reach epic proportions? In this episode we talk to dino-experts Femke Holwerda and Brian Switek for answers. We also tackle some other questions, like what color were dinosaurs and how were the first ones discovered? Speaking of which, listen for an introduction to one of the most impo...more

  • Mysteries of the universe: Expansion and gravity

    Jan 02 2018

    Chandra X-ray Observatory Center Spiral galaxies NGC 2207 and IC 2163 Have you ever wondered what’s beyond the edge of the universe? Or better yet: IS there an edge of the universe? And what does it mean that the universe is expanding? In this episode we ponder some big questions from Brains On listeners about the vastness of space. We also cover what we know and don’t know about gravity. All that plus a brand new mystery sound, Moment of Um (do we get taller when we jump?) ...more

  • The nerve! Electricity in our bodies

    Dec 26 2017

    Your body is making and using electricity all the time — but how do we do it? We’ll take a look at how bioelectricity helps our brain sends signals and our hearts pump blood. And we’ll learn about some amazing animals that use electricity in weird and wild ways. (This is the fourth of a four-part series) This is the fourth in a four-part series: • Part One: Shocking! The science of static • Part Two: High voltage! How electric power reaches your outlet • Part Three: Charged up! The science of ba...more

  • Charged up! The science of batteries

    Dec 19 2017

    Batteries are everywhere — they’re in our phones, our computers, our cars, our toys. But how do they work? To find out, we talk to a scientist who’s making really big batteries to store renewable energy, another who’s working on really small ones to power our phones, and we play in a park with a dog. All that, plus the mystery sound! This is the third episode in a four part series: • Part One: Shocking! The science of static • Part Two: High voltage! How electric power reaches your outlet

  • High voltage! How electric power reaches your outlet

    Dec 12 2017

    We use electricity all the time, but where exactly does it come from? How does it get to our homes? It’s a fascinating journey that can start hundreds of miles from your outlet. In the second episode of our electricity series, we trace the path electricity takes from the power plant to your light bulb. We also learn what it’s like without electricity and we hear about the rivalry between two great inventors, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.

  • Shocking! The science of static (Electricity series pt. 1)

    Dec 05 2017

    What makes your hair stand on end? Why does your skirt stick your tights? Why do you get zapped by electric shocks when you go to touch a doorknob? We answer those questions as we explore the science of static electricity. We’ll also learn about the 18th-century parties where the goal was to shock, very literally, yourself and your loved ones. Plus: The first event in the first-ever Brains On Electric Games! It’s a dramatic tennis match between Benjamin Franklin and Jean-Antoine Nollet. Spoiler ...more

  • Where did language come from?

    Nov 27 2017

    Where did language come from? Is it possible to know without traveling back in time? And how do babies learn to speak? Plus: We’ll hear how the word “silly” has evolved over the last several hundred years. This episode was originally released on June 30, 2015. Listen to that version here: Words don't fossilize: The origins of language by Brains On!

  • Smash: When continents collide!

    Nov 21 2017

    How are mountains made? What causes an earthquake? How does hot lava come bubbling up? The answer in each case is…tectonic plates! These are giant, moving slabs of rock covering the Earth’s surface. When they slide past or smash into each other it shakes the planet. But, they also helped shape the land we live on. Find out how they work with an extreme cooking demonstration (you’ll never see peanut M&Ms the same way). Meet the scientist who thought long ago all the continents were smushed to...more

  • Curio: Flies on the bus

    Nov 14 2017

    A few weeks ago, we got two emails that were so similar and so intriguing we had no choice but to investigate. The first from Uma read: This morning I was riding the bus to school and there was a fly flying around bus. I was wondering if that fly was just hovering there, in the middle of the bus, shouldn’t it crash? The bus is moving fast, and the fly is not connected to it or sitting down, like everyone else. If it did, would it crash into the back or front? And the second from Hazel and Eleano...more

  • What's smaller than an electron?

    Nov 07 2017

    Molecules make up everything around us and they are very, very small. But those molecules are made of atoms, which are even smaller. And then those atoms are made up of protons, neutrons and electrons, which are even smaller. And protons are made up of even smaller particles called quarks. Quarks, like electrons, are fundamental particles, which means they can’t be broken down into smaller parts. Or can they? In this episode we parse out the subatomic by talking with a physicist from Fermilab. W...more

  • Healing skin and regrowing limbs: The science of regeneration

    Oct 30 2017

    We all know what happens when you get a cut or scrape. You get a scab, you try not to pick at it, and then after a little while it heals. But what’s really going on under that scab? What superpowers does our skin have to repair itself? And what about other animals like salamanders that can do some pretty extreme healing? We’re going under the skin for this one. Right-click to download episode transcript. This episode was originally released on October 29, 2015. Listen to that version here: ...more

  • What is Down-syndrome?

    Oct 24 2017

    Molly Bloom Episode co-hosts Ezra and Fiona! You may have heard of Down syndrome, but what is it exactly? It’s named after John Langdon Down, a British doctor who first described the condition way back in 1866. Still, despite all his research, he couldn’t figure out what caused it. In fact, it took almost 100 years for scientists to figure out what led to the condition. Turns out, it has to do with chromosomes. Chromosomes contain the instructions — the DNA — your body uses ...more

  • Bonus: Kidcast sampler

    Oct 22 2017

    Looking for more awesome podcasts to listen to? We're bringing you a special bonus episode today to let you know about some of the other podcasts that you might want to check out. And if you want to find lots of other podcasts for kids you can always head to applepodcasts.com/kids

  • Curio: Vampire of the Great Lakes

    Oct 17 2017

    Creepy crawly insects and creatures with big teeth and bigger roars can be scary. In preparation for Halloween, here’s a tale of one of the scariest creatures around: the sea lamprey. At about 3-4 feet long, the lamprey slithers through the water like an eel and uses concentric circles of sharp teeth to suction onto its prey. As if that weren’t enough, it then pokes its tongue into its victim and sucks the life out of it. Part vampire, part alien invader, the sea lamprey originally thrived in th...more

  • Narwhals: Unicorns of the sea?

    Oct 10 2017

    Narwhals are whales, and super cool ones at that. But that cool thing coming out of their heads is a tusk, not a horn. Which means it’s a tooth! And it’s the only known spiral tooth to boot! In this episode, we learn all about narwhals (what that tusk is for and how they’re connected to the myth of the unicorn) and the evolution of teeth (from scale-like nubbins to the versatile chompers we have today). Plus our Moment of Um explores whether or not water has a taste. Watch: Drone footage of narw...more

  • How do volcanoes erupt?

    Oct 02 2017

    There are all kinds of volcanoes all over the world, but how are they formed? And how do they erupt? To find out, we’ll travel to the center of the Earth, and we’ll meet a NASA robot that’s going on a very special volcano mission. • Read more about Volcanobot• See photos from the studio and NASA at Instagram• Did you love “Magma is Hot!” by Holly and Johnny? Hear more music from Holly Muñoz• SPOILER ALERT: If you want to learn more about the mystery sound, head this way Right-click to download e...more

  • For crying out loud: All about tears

    Sep 26 2017

    It’s something so natural that we take it for granted — but when you think about it, it’s a little strange. Why does water come out of our eyes? And why does it happen when we’re happy? Or sad? Or scared? Or exhausted? In this episode we dive into our mysterious emotional tears, find out why onions make us cry (and how to stop it), and hear about the eye-protecting trio of tears that makes Eyetropolis a safer place. Plus: Our Moment of Um explores why we sweat when we’re nervous.https://www.yout...more

  • Curio: Quindar tones and talking in space

    Sep 19 2017

    If you’ve ever heard an old recording of a NASA space mission, then you’ve heard a Quindar tone. Those are the beeps that we hear behind the voices of mission control and astronauts orbiting space. Today we find out why these tones exist and how they’ve inspired a couple modern-day musicians. could not load content This episode is the inaugural Brains On Curio – a shorter episode that we’re adding to our weekly feed. Today’s Curio features Mikael Jorgensen and James Merle Thomas, of the ban...more

  • Mars: Our next home planet?

    Sep 12 2017

    In this episode we learn about Mars’ ancient past, meet an architect hoping to build cities there and we hear from Mars itself, thanks to the planet’s video blog, of course. Plus: Our Moment of Um answers a question about money with the help of Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood, from the Marketplace podcast, Make Me Smart. Do you ever dream of visiting Mars? How about living there? It could happen. Scientists are currently studying the planet for clues about its past and this information might help us ...more

  • Thunder, lightning and tornadoes: Where do they come from?

    Sep 04 2017

    There are some basic ingredients needed to make thunderstorms and tornadoes. We’ll find out what they are – and how to observe these powerful and amazing storms safely. Plus: A weather-related mystery sound! More on thunder, lightning and tornadoes from NOAA. Sound effects in this episode from freeSFX. This episode was originally released on August 13, 2015. Listen to that version here: Thunder, lightning and tornadoes: Where do they come from? by Brains On!...more

  • Animal farts: A mighty wind

    Aug 29 2017

    When a video of farting zebras is emailed to you, the correct thing to do is open it. Open it right away. That’s what we did when two sisters from Swaziland sent in their farting zebra video, and it did not disappoint. The girls took the video on their one-hour commute to school, which looks lovely. But looks aren’t everything… the SOUNDS are pretty incredible too. I mean, how often do you come upon a herd of zebras on your way to school? Check out the video for yourself, and make sure you have ...more

  • Sunburns: The why behind the ouch (and how to avoid them)

    Aug 15 2017

    To help us understand sunburns, we’re going deep into the skin to look at cells, molecules and electrons. We also explore the different ways to prevent burning in the first place. Plus, in our “moment of um” we tackle this question: What is the farthest that a human can see?

  • Everything you need to know before the solar eclipse

    Aug 01 2017

    • • • Having your own eclipse party? Download our activity sheet here! • • • Here in the United States we have total solar eclipse fever — that’s because on Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will be visible on a path from Oregon on the west coast to South Carolina on the east coast. And the rest of the country will get a glimpse at a partial eclipse. This is the first solar eclipse to go across the US since 1979. (Wondering how much of the eclipse you’ll be able to see? Find out here.) ...more

  • Deep Sea vs. Outer Space

    Jul 18 2017

    It’s time for the next Brains On debate! Our listeners sent in over 100 possible matchups and we whittled the list down to ten. You voted and chose this intense matchup from the depths of darkness, under the water and beyond our earth’s atmosphere. Who will prevail? This epic episode includes three rounds of heated debate, two mystery sounds, and one winner. More on deep sea exploration could not load content could not load content More on space exploration could not load content ...more

  • Fart Smarts: Understanding the gas we pass

    Jul 04 2017

    Is farting good for us? Where do farts come from? Why do only some make sounds? And what’s up with the smell? We tackle your questions about the gas we all pass in this episode. Bonus: Dan Knights, the scientist we spoke to on this episode, is really good at solving Rubik’s Cubes: could not load content And to see Le Petomane in action, check out this (sadly) silent film made by Edison in 1900: could not load content Music in this episode by Adam Selzer. This episode was originally r...more

  • Riding in the car: Motion sickness and optical illusions (Road trip pt. 5)

    Jun 30 2017

    In the final leg of our road trip, we explore what happens to our bodies when we travel in cars. Why do some people feel queasy during the ride? Why do cars far away look like they’re moving slower than they actually are? Why do roller coasters feel faster than cars? And how do seat belts keep us safe? Bob and Sanden take an epic drive in search for answers and popsicle sticks. could not load content

  • Traffic: Phantom jams and chicken soup (Road trip pt. 4)

    Jun 23 2017

    On the fourth leg of our road trip, we figure out where traffic comes from and what it would take to make it finally go away. We learn how far back in history traffic jams were happening (spoiler: very far) and how “phantom jams” occur. We visit a room deep underground Los Angeles, the traffic capital of the US, where engineers are trying to ease the city’s traffic woes by synchronizing traffic lights. Finally, we explore how, if ever, we can make traffic jams disappear. Are self-driving cars th...more

  • Monster trucks and car design (Road trip pt. 3)

    Jun 20 2017

    At the third stop on our road trip series, we coast in for a pit stop and check out car design. Three big-time experts in their field stop by to help break down different aspects of design. Rosalee Ramer started her career as a professional monster truck driver at the ripe old age of 14. She’s 20 now and applying what she learned on the monster truck circuit to her mechanical engineering degree. Oh, and she’s also trying to perfect her “corkscrew.” That’s a new trick where her truck does a twist...more

  • The future of fuel, and the problem with exhaust (Road trip pt. 2)

    Jun 16 2017

    ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images A photo taken on December 3, 2015 shows an ix35 Fuel Cell vehicle by Korean car manufacturer Hyundai at a short time Air Liquide hydrogen temporary station during an demonstration by Hyundai France on the Place de l'Alma in Paris. Silent, it works with a fuel available in unlimited quantities, can travel more than 500 km between fill-ups and emits only water vapor: the hydrogen car can seduce but remains at its beginning. In this episode, we’r...more

  • How do engines work? (Road trip pt. 1)

    Jun 09 2017

    On the first leg of our road trip, we’re exploring the history of engines and how they work, with a little help from Car Talk’s Ray Magliozzi. The fundamentals of the internal combustion engine, haven’t really changed since it was first invented in the 1800s. How do tiny explosions power our cars? And how did gas-powered cars come to dominate over electric and steam-powered engines? (Subscribe to our newsletter to get downloadable road trip activity sheets!) The engines used in most cars today a...more

  • Mystery sound extravaganza!

    Jun 06 2017

    It’s time for our second annual mystery sound extravaganza! Regular listeners of Brains On know all about our mystery sounds. Every episode we test your ears with some puzzling noise and give you a chance to guess what it is. There are so many great mystery sounds in the world — and many, many of them have been sent to us by our listeners. So many, in fact, that we decided to devote an entire episode to these magical, magnificent, mellifluous mystery sounds. There are a whopping 10 sounds for yo...more

  • Books: How they're made and how your brain reads them

    May 23 2017

    There is so much happening in your brain when you read. From recognizing shapes as letters to discovering empathy, our brains really get a workout when we read books. In this episode, Ben Bergen from the Language and Cognition Lab at UC San Diego drops by to shed some light on how our brains process the meaning of words. We also learn how printing books has evolved and how the invention of the printing press brought worldwide change. And recent Newberry Award-winning author Kelly Barnhill shares...more

  • The science of slime: What is it and why are we so obsessed

    May 09 2017

    Homemade slime is sticky, gooey and all the rage, but what is it? Slime magic starts when you add something called sodium borate to water. In laundry detergent these are already mixed, but some slime makers do it themselves. “When you add that compound – sodium borate – in to water, it makes an anion which is a negatively charged compound,” explained Raychelle Burks, an assistant professor of chemistry at Saint Edward’s University in Austin Texas. Burks says that negative compound takes on a spe...more

  • What was the first life on earth?

    Apr 25 2017

    What was the first lifeform like? What was the first fish or mammal? Is it even possible to know? In this episode, we look to the fossil record to help us trace our roots back to the Last Universal Common Ancestor. Paleontologist Neil Shubin joins us to talk about discovering a remarkably cool fossil that helped us understand how life evolved over billions of years. We also take a field trip to the Hall of Ancestors and examine a few branches on the tree of life. And we learn why figuring out ho...more

  • How do pianos work?

    Apr 11 2017

    Behind every piano’s polished exterior are thousands of parts. From keys to strings, they work together to produce a sound. In this episode, we take a field trip to a piano shop, peek behind the walls at a world-famous piano factory and have an EPIC FIGHTING BATTLE to discover how sound travels. Christopher Payne Hammers and keys on display as a piano is assembled at the Steinway & Sons piano factory in New York. A piano may seem simple — 88 black and white key...more

  • How do elevators work?

    Mar 28 2017

    Sanden Totten The ups and downs of elevators Elevators are like magic. You walk in, the door shuts and when it opens again, you are suddenly someplace new! Ta da! But it’s not magic that does this trick, it’s science and engineering. In this episode we explain how elevators work and we talk about how they’ve changed over time. For instance, did you know the first elevators had no walls? We also speak with historian Lee Gray about two elevator innovators who both happen to be...more

  • Why is the ocean salty?

    Mar 14 2017

    NPS Photo North Yellow Banks Beach at Olympic National Park. If you’ve ever been in the ocean, you’ve tasted that salt. But where does it come from? And why aren’t lakes and rivers salty too? A sea shanty is probably the best way to explain, right? Plus: we learn about the weird and wonderful world of deep ocean hot springs. could not load content A look at hydrothermal vents Photo courtesy of NOAA A black smoker on the ocean floor. ...more

  • Ants: Who's in charge here?

    Feb 28 2017

    We have a lot to learn from ants. This episode digs into the hierarchy of ant colonies (spoiler alert: there is none) and why they walk in a straight line (spoiler alert: they don’t). Scientists are also studying how ants spread out and search. This work is teaching us about how cancer spreads, how the internet can be improved, and could even give us new ways to explore Mars. Our guests for this episode are biologist Deborah Gordon, who has been studying ants for the last 30 years and runs an an...more

  • Do we all see the same colors?

    Feb 14 2017

    What if the color that you call blue and the color I call blue don’t look the same at all? When our brains see color, we’re really just seeing waves of light. Sure, we may be seeing the same waves when we look at the color blue, but do we know if our brains are interpreting those waves in the same way? Maybe my blue is your orange! We talk to Dr. Robert Marc from the University of Utah about this mystery and go ringside to find out how rods and cones help us see. • Want to learn more about how a...more

  • Cats: Glowing eyes, puffy tails and secret purrs

    Jan 31 2017

    Why do cat eyes look the way they do? Can cats really see in the dark? And what are they trying to tell us with that purr (you know the one)? We’ve got the answers — cat behavior expert Mikel Delgado help us decode cat quirks and producer Sanden Totten teaches us what’s behind cats’ glowing eyes. Plus: We learn about other cool powers that animal eyes have, that ours don’t. Sound effects in this episode from FreeSFX and Freesound. Update (Nov. 18, 2015): Bonus cat debate! In this clip, we transp...more

  • Dinosaur bones: How do we know their age?

    Jan 17 2017

    Fossil dating is a lot like eating a delicious ice cream cake. Well, sort of. We find out how scientists look at the rock and elements AROUND a fossil to figure out its age. Plus: We talk to a scientist who studied one of the coolest fossils discovered recently: a dinosaur tail trapped in amber, complete with feathers! Photos of the dinosaur tail in amber! Royal Saskatchewan Museum | R.C. McKellar The section of a dinosaur tail with feathers running through the amber piece. ...more

  • Lighting the way for sea turtles at Gulf Islands National Seashore

    Dec 30 2016

    We don’t know much about the long life of a sea turtle, since it’s mostly spent in the ocean. When they do come ashore to lay their eggs, we know the babies use the moon and stars to guide them back to sea. But what happens when hotels and houses and streetlights compete for their attention? A citizen science group at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola, Florida helps map the night sky in order to keep these mysterious creatures on the right path. Molly Bloom Turtle ...more

  • Surviving the desert at Joshua Tree National Park

    Dec 29 2016

    The desert is hot, dry and deadly. But plenty of plants and animals thrive there. How do they do it? We’ll learn the tricks trees, bats and roadrunners use to make it in Joshua Tree National Park in California. NPS Photo 49 Palms Oasis at Joshua Tree National Park. NPS Photo Roadrunner at Joshua Tree National Park NPS Photo California leaf-nosed bat at Joshua Tree National Park. NPS Photo ...more

  • Making the sands sing at Great Sand Dunes National Park

    Dec 28 2016

    When an avalanche happens at the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, it sounds like the sand is singing. Huh? How? Why? We learn about the special sand and the specific conditions that make this acoustic phenomenon possible. This is the third of five episodes looking at some of the coolest science happening at our National Parks. Special thanks to Friends of the Island Fox.

  • Tracking wild horses at Assategue Island National Seashore

    Dec 27 2016

    The wild horses at Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland are very popular, but they’re also an invasive species. We find out how park rangers are giving people a chance to see the horses while also protecting the native plants and animals FROM the horses.

  • Going underground and Wind Cave National Park

    Dec 26 2016

    Producer Marc Sanchez finds out what it’s like to explore one of the biggest networks of caves in the world — and new branches are still being discovered. Marc will show us the wonders hidden underground at this national park in South Dakota and how tricky it can be to go to uncharted territory with only a headlamp to light the way. Marc Sanchez The natural opening at Wind Cave. Marc Sanchez A chamber of Wind Cave called The Fairgrounds ...more

  • How does the internet get to us?

    Dec 20 2016

    The internet can seem vast and intangible but there’s a very physical system of cables, servers and exchange points across the globe (and yes, even under the oceans). In this episode, we find out how a video shows up nearly instantly on our screens and about insanely thin, clear glass tubes are the key to our digital communication. • Explore a cool interactive map of the cables that crisscross the globe under the ocean made by Nicole Starosielski. • See a map of all the submarine cables here. ...more

  • What makes cute things cute?

    Dec 06 2016

    Christopher Furlong/Getty Images MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Milly, a 13-week-old kitten looks through the glass of her pen as she waits to be re-homed at The Society for Abandoned Animals Sanctuary in Sale, Manchester, which is facing an urgent cash crisis and possible closure on July 27, 2010 in Manchester, England. The Society for Abandoned Animals exists entirely on public support and unless it can raise GBP 50,000 in the next couple of months it will have to close down. The r...more

  • Fire vs. Lasers!

    Nov 22 2016

    Time for our next debate: fire vs lasers! Listeners sent us over 100 topics to choose from, they voted and this was the winning showdown. Fire and lasers are both super cool — but which is COOLER? Producer Marc Sanchez has tricks up his sleeve for team fire and Sanden Totten gives his all for team laser. Plus: Two mystery sounds that play a pivotal role in the debate.

  • How do whales communicate?

    Nov 08 2016

    The sounds whales make underwater are super cool, and also very important for them to locate prey, navigate and communicate with each other. We find out how they make those sounds and what scientists think they mean. We also learn how a blowhole is like a human nose. A human nose that talks.

  • Body Bonanza: Yawns, hiccups, goosebumps and more!

    Oct 25 2016

    Brains On listeners have LOTS of questions about the human body so we’ve decided to answer nine – count em NINE – of these questions in one go. The terrific topics tackled: Hiccups, yawns, getting dizzy, goosebumps, fingerprints, limbs falling asleep, brain freeze, chattering teeth and why your voice sounds different when it’s recorded.

  • Could it rain lemonade?

    Oct 11 2016

    KARL-JOSEF HILDENBRAND/AFP/Getty Images Raindrops fall on the Elbsee lake near Aitrang, southern Germany, on October 13, 2014. If you filled a lake with lemonade, would it rain lemonade? This delicious head-scratcher does not have a straightforward answer, so we asked atmospheric scientist Deanna Hence to help out with this thought experiment. It’s one-part water cycle, one-part delicious drink and if we’re lucky, one-part lemonade rain. Want to learn more about the wat...more

  • How do invisible x-rays help us see?

    Sep 27 2016

    OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images A member of clinical staff views an x-ray of a patient's hand on a computer screen in the Accident and Emergency department of the 'Royal Albert Edward Infirmary' in Wigan, north west England on April 2, 2015. X-rays, part of the electromagnetic spectrum, help doctors see our bones — but they also help scientists understand the very smallest particles and the most massive black holes. We’ll follow the electrons, wind up at a synchrotron, get froze...more

  • Carnivorous plants: How they lure, trap and digest

    Sep 16 2016

    Most plants get the energy and nutrients they need from water, sunlight, air and soil. But carnivorous plants get key nutrients from a different source: bugs. We’ll find out how they do it and talk about the mystery of how venus fly traps snap shut. Plus: Two gardeners – one very experienced and one just starting out – offer their tips for growing venus fly traps. Molly Bloom Butterwort at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum Molly Bloom Sundews ...more

  • What's behind the waves and tides?

    Aug 30 2016

    Sir Isaac Newton drops by and drops some knowledge. He helps explain why the tides ebb and flow. Then, an oceanographer/surfer tells us where waves come from and how they get their shape – cowabunga! Plus we hear about what it’s like for marine life that move to a new neighborhood once or twice a day. Sometimes it’s underwater, sometimes it’s not. And check out this video to find out more about Lake Superior surfing: could not load content

  • How is glass made?

    Aug 11 2016

    The process that turns sand into glass is very cool – or rather, we should say very hot. Very, very, very hot as it turns out. Humans have been turning minerals from the earth’s crust into glass for 3,500 years. Find out how it’s done and how it’s evolved – from blowing glass by hand to a factory that makes hundreds of glass bottles every minute. See the glass armonica in action: could not load content The Corning Museum of Glass has a great collection of glass-making demos (see them all he...more

  • Mosquitoes: What are they good for?

    Jul 15 2016

    Courtesy of the CDC Mosquito feeding It’s summer and our ankles are covered in mosquito bites. So we want to know: How and why do mosquitoes suck our blood? Why do their bites itch ALL the time? Why do some people get bitten more than others? And do these pesky and possibly dangerous insects serve any kind of useful purpose? Listen to this episode to learn more about “the most dangerous animal on the planet.” And check out this video for an up-close look at the blood-sucking...more

  • How do airplanes fly?

    Jun 28 2016

    Photo courtesy of National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution After the Wright brothers perfected their original 1903 design in 1905, and publicly demonstrated it in 1908 and 1909, they began manufacturing airplanes for sale in 1910. Their first offering was the Wright Model B. How do planes stay in the air? And how did humans figure out that it wasn’t enough to just strap wings to our arms and flap them like birds? We’ll find out about the invention of airplanes...more

  • Big universe, big questions

    Jun 14 2016

    Have you ever wondered about what’s beyond the edge of the universe? Or maybe a better question: is there even an edge of the universe? And what does it mean that the universe is expanding? Nine-year-old Thea talks with astrophysicist Katie Mack to find answers to her many questions about the universe. Plus a bite-sized mystery: The mystery sound!

  • The how's and why's of hair

    May 31 2016

    Why do humans have hair and not fur? Why is there hair on the top of our heads? How does hair grow? How does hair become curly or straight? The hair on our heads is on our minds. We have fun with follicles and learn about how they make hair. Our experts help us decipher what makes hair black or brown, blonde or red, and even why it turns gray. From eye lashes to ear and nose hair, this episode has it all. All that and an eye brow-raising mystery sound.

  • Why don't carnivores need to eat their vegetables?

    May 17 2016

    Carnivores are animals that only eat other animals – so how do they get the vitamins, minerals and fiber that we humans get from eating plants? We take a trip to a salad bar with some animal pals to find out.

  • How do you catch a cold?

    Apr 22 2016

    We’ve been catching colds for millennia – but it wasn’t until fairly recently that we actually understood how and why we get sneezy, coughy, and achy. In this episode, we find out more about the common cold: Does standing outside in the cold actually make it easier to get sick? Is there a cure that really works? Could there be a benefit to catching the rhinovirus? Listen for all the answers + the mystery sound! And we want you to send us a recording of your sneeze! We’re going to take the sneeze...more

  • Is there life on other planets?

    Apr 07 2016

    Is there anybody out there? Like, WAAAAY out there? In this episode we hear from astronomer Laura Danly about the search for life on other planets. We’ll also learn what that search has in common with a fairy tale (HINT: it involves three bears). And prepare to be wowed by an original story about aliens from an 11-year-old sci-fi writer. All that plus the Mystery Sound and a song about one of Jupiter’s moons. READ “I am the Universe” by Jasper Nordin. SEE the aliens he invented for his story. TU...more

  • Extinction!

    Mar 22 2016

    In this episode, co-host Kate Wexler joins us to ask and answers some questions related to extinction: -Did dinosaurs have feathers?-What is extinction anyway?-Could you bring back species that have gone extinct? And you can find out more about paleontologist Kristi Curry Rogers here. Plus, Sam Keenan sings a song about our long-lost pal Australopithecus. And of course, there’s the mystery sound. This episode was originally released on September 9, 2013. Listen to that version here: ...more

  • Brains On! Besties

    Mar 08 2016

    We hear from a lot of kids and parents saying they love Brains On! and they want more. We hear you, and we are hard at work trying to ramp up production. In the meantime, we thought we’d introduce you to some of our BFFs – our audio buddies. In this episode we’ll get to know a few other kid-friendly audio makers and bring you snippets from their shows. Check out cool science, amazing kids and made up shenanigans from shows like Tumble, The Show About Science and Story Pirates. They’re all right ...more

  • Living Large with the International Space Station

    Feb 21 2016

    The International Space Station sits 250 miles above Earth, but how did it get there? Astronaut Don Pettit tells us about what it’s like to live on the ISS, and he should know. He’s spent over a year of his life on various space missions. We’ll also visit a high school science class preparing to send an experiment to the space station. We’ll hear a doozy of a Mystery Sound. And we’ll get up close and personal with Canadarm. What’s a Canadarm?!!? Find out on this episode of Brains On!

  • Mystery sound extravaganza!

    Feb 10 2016

    OMG, this is the episode you’ve been waiting for… an all-out, wall-to-wall, super-duper Mystery Sound show. Guess the sounds sent in from listeners and scientists alike. Plus, if you like having fun (and dancing), stick around to the end of the episode. An extra-special audio treat awaits. Shhhhhhhhhh!

  • Spider sense

    Jan 26 2016

    Do spiders give you the heebie-jeebies? If so, we want to change your mind about our eight-legged buddies! In this episode we’ll explain how spiders weave those amazing webs and stick to walls. We’ll also hear how spider venom is being used to find new medicines for humans. Plus, did you know some spiders can fly and others can live underwater? All this and a Mystery Sound! Oh snap – this diving bell spider is swimming! could not load content

  • Why are no two snowflakes the same?

    Jan 13 2016

    From a distance, snowflakes may all look the same, but they are not. In fact, there are lots of different shapes of snowflakes — not just those classic shapes you might try to replicate with paper cut-outs. In this episode, Dr. Ken Libbrecht answers all of our snowflake questions: How are snowflakes made? Why are they different shapes? How is it that they’re all unique? And how does a scientist who lives in southern California study snow? And, he also lets us in on his brush with a couple Arende...more

  • The science of baking

    Dec 22 2015

    Baking can seem kind of magical. You take a bunch of ingredients, mix them all together, put them in the oven, and then a little time passes — and you have cake! Or cookies! Or bread! But there’s no magic wand involved in the process — it’s chemistry! In this episode: *General Mills food scientist Dave Domingues tells us about the important role every ingredient plays and how heat helps turn them into tasty treats.*We figure out the difference between yeast, baking soda and baking powder with a ...more

  • Barks, growls, meows and purrs: Translating cats and dogs

    Dec 08 2015

    This episode brings you a slew of dog and cat mystery sounds to puzzle over. Can you tell the difference playful barks and warning barks? How about decoding the meaning behind a cat’s meow? Test your dog and cat language skills with us. • Find out more about the Family Dog Project• Learn more about cat behavior from Sarah Ellis And listen to another excerpt of our Cats vs. Dogs show here:

  • How do meteorologists predict the weather?

    Nov 25 2015

    There’s all sorts of weather happening right now around the world. Rain, sun, wind, snow… you name it, somewhere it’s happening. It may seem hard to keep track of it all, but scientists have it figured out. We’ll find out how they collect data on weather around the globe and turn it into a forecast. We’ll also find out where wind comes from and test our ears with the mystery sound!

  • The great cat debate: Evil or misunderstood?

    Nov 18 2015

    We're transporting you to the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul for a segment from a recent live show: Cats vs. Dogs. In this very important debate, producers Marc Sanchez and Sanden Totten try to get the bottom of our feline friends' mysterious behavior. Plus: The mystery sound!

  • Your booger questions, answered

    Oct 21 2015

    Nasal mucus is very important to our health – and actually kind of magical. There’s a lot going on in our noses all the time that we don’t appreciate. Where do boogers come from? Why does your nose run when you’re out in the cold? Why does your nose get stuffy when you’re sick? could not load content

  • Why does tickling make you laugh?

    Sep 15 2015

    Can you tickle yourself? Probably not. Almost everybody is ticklish, but what’s happening to us is a bit of a mystery. We talk to a neuroscientist about how our skin and brain are connected, and a paleoanthropologist about why it make us a laugh.

  • Bridges vs. Tunnels

    Aug 26 2015

    We’ve gotten a lot of questions about bridges and tunnels: How do bridges stay up? How are tunnels built? How do they build bridges over water? How do they put tunnels underwater? To answer these questions we’re staging a little friendly competition: bridges vs. tunnels! We’ll find out how they’re built, where they’re found in nature, and what they may look like in the future. Plus: A visit from our friendly neighborhood robot. SPOILER ALERT: Click here to learn more about this episode’s myster...more

  • Mission to Pluto!

    Jul 10 2015

    We talk to Dr. Alan Stern, the leader of NASA’s mission to Pluto – New Horizons. He’s been working on the mission for over 20 years and he’s excited to see the surprises that New Horizons will be sending back. Plus: We take the Brains On time machine for a test drive. New Horizons launched on January 19, 2006 and is expected to fly by Pluto on July 14, 2015. Just 10 days before the fly-by date NASA lost communications with New Horizons — but they plan for things like this to happen. After about ...more

  • Cuttlefish: Ultimate Shapeshifters!

    Jun 09 2015

    Masters of camouflage, cuttlefish are part of the cephalopod family – you know, like octopuses and squids. Find out how these amazing sea creatures use three colors, two layers of skin and papillae to make them the ultimate shapeshifters.

  • Trees: From seed to shining seed

    May 27 2015

    Kids love trees. How do we know? They send us a LOT of questions about our bark-wrapped friends. How do trees make oxygen? How do they grow? How do evergreens stay green all year? Why do tree leaves change color? How long can trees live? We’re branching out to tackle all these questions + we drop in on the world’s oldest tree. Chao Yen Methuselah Tree, Bristlecone pine, White Mountain, California, June 29, 2013. Music in this episode by Adam Selzer.

  • Why does the sun make some people sneeze?

    May 12 2015

    This question has been a mystery for millennia. Turns out there’s a name for the phenomenon: photic sneeze reflex. Plus: The mystery sound and more fun facts about the sun, or as we like to call them: sunsplanations. Our friends at the public radio show Science Friday are looking for more cool facts about the sun. They want you to help them #ExplainTheSun. Check it out here.

  • How does GPS know where you are?

    Apr 28 2015

    Without GPS, we’d be lost. Literally. Thanks to these radio transmissions from space though, we’re able to pinpoint our location and find our way home. Join us as we learn all about satellites, how the robot voice of GPS is created and how atomic clocks hold it all together. Right-click to download episode transcript. And check out this video of a GPS satellite being launched into space: could not load content And this excellent video will tell you more about atomic clocks and timekeeper Dr...more

  • How and why do jellyfish sting?

    Apr 09 2015

    All jellyfish sting – but not all jellyfish sting people. In this episode, we learn about how jellyfish sting and how they eat. Plus: stro-bi-la-tion (how jellyfish grow up). Extra! Extra! Hear Rebecca Helm tell the tale of jellyfish in space! could not load content Music in this episode by Christian Bjoerklund.