Archives of Ask A Scientist!
About "Ask A Scientist!"
On September 17th, 1998 the Ithaca Journal ran its first "Ask A Scientist!" article in which Professor Neil Ashcroft , who was then the director of CCMR, answered the question "What is Jupiter made of?" Since then, we have received over 1,000 questions from students and adults from all over the world. Select questions are answered weekly and published in the Ithaca Journal and on our web site. "Ask A Scientist!" reaches more than 21,000 Central New York residents through the Ithaca Journal and countless others around the world throught the "Ask a Scientist!" web site.
Across disciplines and across the state, from Nobel Prize winning scientist David Lee to notable science education advocate Bill Nye, researchers and scientists have been called on to respond to these questions. For more than seven years, kids - and a few adults - have been submitting their queries to find out the answer to life's everyday questions.
A frightening dream originates in REM sleep: sleep with rapid eye movements and waking-like brain activity. The frightening dream is story-like, and is often remembered after waking. For example:
I just happen to live across the street from Freddy Krueger's old house (Nightmare on Elm Street) . . . My friends and I go into Freddy's house. There are many different little narrow hallways and rooms . . . We explore the basement. Every room we look into strikes terror in me . . .
Like many such dreams, this one builds to a scary climax, but ends inconclusively:
Suddenly Freddy tries to push his way in. I try to keep the door shut by pushing all of my weight against it.
The frightened dreamer may escape, willy-nilly, or even by force of will:
I fly up to the ceiling and squawk like a chicken and flap my arms at him. He cannot scare me!
Oddly the REM sleep dreamer--whether terrified or defiant--does not get very excited. Heart rate and breathing rate do not rise significantly. The dreamer may sweat, but not much.
In high contrast, the night terror is a physical and emotional cataclysm. It is often announced by a scream. The heart beats violently. Breathing is rapid. Sweating may be profuse. Yet night terror is rarely remembered. The occasional account is vague but formulaic: The victim is helpless, and is about to be lifeless. Somehow locked in mortal struggle, he or she will be crushed, or strangled, or dropped from a great height, or drowned, or incinerated, or the like. We are relieved to wake from a frightening dream, but in night terror we are already half-awake, and yet we cannot fully wake. We ignore consolation. We may lash out at intervention.
The night terror originates in slow wave sleep, in which huge populations of the brain's neurons fire in synchrony, then fall silent in synchrony, then fire together again, in a repeating pattern. Arguably this pattern of brain activity compresses and magnifies experience of all sorts, including the experience of fear. Fortunately slow wave sleep -- unlike REM sleep -- blocks awareness, and most of us experience nothing at all in this sleep state.
In some people, and particularly in some children, two factors predispose to night terror. First, rhythmic brain activity in slow wave sleep may exceed its usual intensity. Second, the natural barrier between slow wave sleep and wakefulness may be immature, or otherwise vulnerable. With these conditions in place even a neutral stimulus can partly waken, and completely terrorize, the sleeper. Typically the experience of night terror decreases in young adulthood, as the boundaries between sleep and waking mature fully.
- How do people think? What are memories stored as? Where is it stored? How is it recalled? How can I have independent thinking?
- I know that water can put out a fire. What does liquid nitrogen do to a fire?
- I heard that peppermint candy will help you do better on a test. Is this true? And, is there anything in peppermint candy that will boost my scores?
- What is spontaneous combustion? Is it a myth? What causes it?
- How are elements named?
- Is carbon dating an effective way of finding how old something is?
- If an archeologist found a human tibia is it true that they can calculate the height of that particular person?
- How do people think of the words we say?
- Why do stars form pictures?
- How many earths will fit in the sun?