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We asked kids to send us their burning questions – here are 5 of our favorites from 2019

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Out of the mouths of babes… comes a never-ending stream of questions.

So this year, The Conversation US jumped on a great idea dreamed up by our colleagues in Australia and launched a series of articles meant to answer questions kids ask, but that everyone probably wonders about. The Conversation’s editors collect children’s questions and then look for scholars who can provide clear answers based on their own research and expertise.

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Below are a few of our favorite “Curious Kids” articles from the past year. And whatever your age, if you have a question you’d like an expert to answer in 2020, send it to [email protected]. Curiosity has no age limit!

Why is money green?

This one could only have come from an American kid. Marek, age 12, asked the question; history Ph.D. student Jonah Estess gave an answer.

It turns out that green ink is hard for counterfeiters to get right on their phony bills. And in the quirks-of-history department:

“Also, there was lots of green ink for the government to use when it started printing the money we have now. The green color also does not fade or decompose easily.”

What is this noise?
Victoria Brassey/Shutterstock.com

Why do old people hate new music?

Maybe Holly, age 14, got sick of adults yelling “turn that racket down” and decided to ask this question. Psychology researcher Frank McAndrew had some ideas for her.

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As they age, brains get worse at telling apart chords, rhythms and melodies. Another factor: Grownups might gravitate to the music they listened to back when they were young and their emotions were more intense. Or it might come down to what’s called the “mere exposure effect” – just hearing something more tends to make you like it more.

“When you’re in your early teens, you probably spend a fair amount of time listening to music or watching music videos… For many people over 30, job and family obligations increase, so there’s less time to spend discovering new music.”

If you barely ever hear the latest bangers, you might not like them either.

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What can you learn from an animal’s scat?

Verity Mathis from the University of Florida’s Florida Museum of Natural History confirmed that Cora, age 9, was onto something with this question. Poop is a window into animals’ hidden lives.

“Scat can tell us a lot about an animal’s diet, habits and movement, so scientists like to study it both in nature and in the lab. Outdoors, scat can identify what animals are present in an area. Then researchers take it to a lab, dry it out and dissect it for clues about the animal’s diet.”

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Researchers can even extract DNA from scat, a hands-off way to learn more about what’s going on with a particular population.

When the stench is coming from inside your shoes….
aslysun/Shutterstock.com

Why do feet stink by the end of the day?

Our inbox suggests that kids are very interested in all things gross and smelly. Indiana University microbiologist Bill Sullivan took a stab at this question from Helen, age 6.

He points the finger (toe?) at a harmless type of bacteria that live all over people’s skin, happily eating up dead skin cells. The stinkiness problem arises inside your warm, moist shoes – conditions the bacteria love and take advantage of to chow down and multiply.

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“Like anything else that eats, these bacteria make smelly waste. It is their waste that gives sweaty feet their funky odor: It contains stinky chemicals like those made by skunks and rotten eggs.”

Where does the sand on the beach come from?

Kids write in with big questions about how the Earth works, too. Sly, age 6, posed this one that many an adult relaxing at the shore might have wondered about.

University of Washington geomorphologist David Montgomery explained that there’s “more to beach sand than meets the eye.”

“It has stories to tell about the land, and an epic journey to the sea. That’s because mountains end their lives as sand on beaches.”

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It’s a story of erosion. And the sizes, shapes and colors of the individual grains of sand you see can tell you about the kinds of rocks they originally came from.

What are you wondering?

Over the past year, we had a blast hunting down answers to about everything from stargazing with binoculars to why kids aren’t very patriotic these days to what makes pizza so infernally delicious. Thank you to all the kids who were curious enough to ask questions – and keep ‘em coming in the new year!

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.

[ Get the best of The Conversation, every weekend. Sign up for our weekly newsletter. ]The Conversation

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Maggie Villiger, Senior Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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2020 Election

Here are 3 winners and 3 losers from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate

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Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the other leading Democratic presidential primary candidates Wednesday night in the fieriest evening of the race so far.

His presence on the stage drew fire from the other candidates, but it also seemed to change the overall tone of the debate, with more attacks, counter-attacks, and passion than was generally seen earlier in the campaign.

Here’s a (necessarily subjective!) list of the winners and losers from the fray:

Winners

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — Warren hit her stride right as the debate started by attacking Bloomberg for his record on the mistreatment of women, racist policies, and his tax returns. She repeatedly came back to skewer the former mayor, making herself the biggest and most notable presence in the debate. But importantly, she also continuously brought the discussion back to the issues she cares about — like expanding health care, environmental justice,  and consumer protection — while getting in digs at the other candidates on the stage.

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Michael Bloomberg ‘lost everything’ in Las Vegas: MSNBC analyst

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Senior editor for "The Root," Jason Johnson, concluded that the biggest loser of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas Wednesday was Michael Bloomberg, but not merely because of his debate performance.

"The big new name was going to be Michael Bloomberg," he said. "This was probably the most expensive night in Vegas I've ever seen. He lost everything. This guy has spent $320 million. He had the opportunity to stand on stage, and appear to be an equal, and he looked bored. He looked disenchanted. He stumbled over obvious questions that anybody would have anticipated about sexual harassment and stop and frisk. I thought it was a bad night for him."

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Pro-immigration protesters interrupt Joe Biden’s closing statement at debate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden's closing statement was interrupted by protesters at Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.

As Biden began his remarks, demonstrators began shouting about the Obama administration's record on deportations.

WATCH: Protesters interrupt the #DemDebate as the debate nears end. pic.twitter.com/TKCn6eIEsN

— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 20, 2020

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