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Top 10 Tricky Science Questions: Biology

Updated on June 10, 2016
The quintessential piece of biology equipment - the microscope. But biology is much wider than merely the study of small things.
The quintessential piece of biology equipment - the microscope. But biology is much wider than merely the study of small things. | Source

Top Ten Questions

Teaching Biology, you come across some great tricky science questions - Why is the Sky Blue? and Why does Helium Make your Voice go Funny? are two of the most common.

I try to teach my pupils that science is not so much about getting answers, but about asking questions. This hub comprises 10 of the best biology questions I have been asked by my students during their biology lessons in the past year. We shall investigate some of the pressing questions of our age:

  • What IS brain-freeze?
  • Why DO we get spots?
  • WHY do we get dizzy?

As time goes on, each topic will gain a link to a hub that expands on the topic in much greater depth. So sit back and enjoy this ride through my top 10 tricky biology science questions.


The trigeminal nerve (in yellow) is the source of 'brain-freeze.' this heavily branched nerve misreads signals around the palate when you eat icecream, interpreting them as pain.
The trigeminal nerve (in yellow) is the source of 'brain-freeze.' this heavily branched nerve misreads signals around the palate when you eat icecream, interpreting them as pain. | Source

What is 'Brainfreeze?'

Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (or 'brain-freeze') is a painful condition similar to a migraine, that arises due to your bodys natural reaction to cold temperatures.

When you get cold, your body undergoes a series of changes designed to prevent heat loss. One of these adaptations is the constriction of blood vessels (vasoconstriction) close to the surface of the skin. With less blood flowing near to your skin, less heat is lost to the surroundings and you stay warmer for longer.

When something really cold hits the back of your mouth, the blood vesselts in your palate rapidly constrict. When you swallow, the cold goes away and the same blood vessels rapidly dilate back to their original size. All of this is a perfectly normal physiological response to the cold.

The pain is caused by a misinterpretation of this constriction/dilation by the trigeminal nerve - a major facial nerve that is positioned very close to your palate. The pain seems to come from your forehead because of the location of the trigeminal nerve (shown in the diagram)

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How do Painkillers Work?

We sense pain due to the transmission of a specific signal to the brain via the spinal cord. Pain relief medications work by preventing this 'pain signal' from reaching the brain. There are two main types of painkillers that are commonly used: the 'aspirin medicines' and the 'narcotic medicines.'

The Aspirin-type painkillers block the body's prostaglandins - molecules responsible for pain and swelling. Blocking prostaglandins blocks the signal at the source of the pain, as well as reducing swelling.

The Narcotic-type medicines block the pain messages in the spinal cord and the brain, and are typically used for much more severe pain relief.

Each group of painkiller is comprised of numerous sub-types, each with slightly different modes of action. This can allow certain pain relief medicines to be combined safely.

Types of Painkiller

Name
Type
Uses
Aspirin
'Aspirin'
Mild anticoagulant - can reduce probability of stroke and heart attack
Ibuprofin
'Aspirin'
Anti-inflammatory
Paracetamol
'Aspirin'
Analgesic - reduces pain and lowers temperature
Morphine
'Narcotic'
Severe pain relief
Codeine
'Narcotic
Mild to moderate pain relief. Also an anti-diarrheal
As both types of painkillers use different methods to treat pain, they can be combined. Co-codamol is a mix of codeine and paracetamol

What are Spots, Pimples and Boils?

Whether you are male or female, spots, pimples, and acne are all down to a sensitivity to the hormone testosterone. This hormone can trigger the overproduction of sebum - an oily substance that waterproofs your hair and skin. When sebum gets trapped, this can lead to a spot forming.

Your skin is like a conveyor belt, constantly renewing itself. As new cells are produced in the lowest layers of your skin (the dermis), old cells are shed from the surface. If some of these dead skin cells happens to block a pore, sebum can build up inside the hair follicle.

  • Blackheads occur when the blockage is near the sufrace. The accumulated sebum can react with the oxygen in the air and turns black (a similar process to an apple going brown). The technical term is an 'open comedone.'
  • Whiteheads occur beneath a layer of skin. This prevents the sebum from reacting with the air and so it stays white. Whiteheads are 'closed comedones.'
  • Red acne spots are the result of an infection. Trapped sebum provides the ideal breeding ground for bacteria which can multiply and cause an inflammed pustule.

There is no evidence that diet affects acne, as it is caused by the presence of testosterone. This also explains why teens and pregnant women develop acne - both sets of people are subject to hormone imbalances.

When the air we swallow whilst eating ends up in the small intestine, it can result in a rumble. The intricate twists and turns of the small intestine are what amplify the sound.
When the air we swallow whilst eating ends up in the small intestine, it can result in a rumble. The intricate twists and turns of the small intestine are what amplify the sound. | Source

Why do our Stomachs Rumble?

The classic rumble associated with hunger is less to do with the stomach and more to do with our large intestine. A rumbling tummy is a combination of liquid and gas plus a small space.

Food does not move down our digestive system by gravity - if that were the case, astronauts would not survive in space. Instead, muscle contractions in the gut wall called peristalsis both churn up the food and move it through the system. These muscle contractions occur right the way through the digestive system, from the oesophagus to the stomach to the intestines and out the other end.

When air gets trapped in the folds and bends of the small intestine, the liquid sloshing around can create a rumble - amplified by the small space of the small intestine. The reason we associate a rumbling tummy with hunger is that the rumbling is louder the less food is present in the intestine.

What are Hiccups?

An enduring tricky biology question, the actual hiccup is a strong contraction of the diaphragm - the organ responsible for our breathing. Just after the contraction we start to inhale which causes the glottis (a partioning wall between the windpipe and oesophagus) closes the windpipe, causing the 'hic' sound.

But what sets them off? There are actually over 100 physiological causes for a hiccup! The most common reasons are:

  1. Acid reflux
  2. Irritation of the thorax
  3. Irritation of the phrenic nerve (the nerve that controls the diaphragm)

X-rays pass through our flesh and organs. The large calcium molecules that make up our skeleton block the path of x-rays. This results in the negative image seen here
X-rays pass through our flesh and organs. The large calcium molecules that make up our skeleton block the path of x-rays. This results in the negative image seen here | Source

Are X-Rays Safe?

Did you know that falling out of bed kills 450 people a year in the US?, Ants claim another 30 lives and vending machines kill around 13 people; Safety is a relative term.

An x-ray is a form of high energy radiation with a wavelength about 10,000 times shorter than that of visible light. The danger with x-rays is that they can knock electrons away from atoms, creating ions; this is why x-rays are called 'ionising radiation'. Ions are much more reactive than atoms and can shoot about your body damaging important molecules like DNA. This can cause mutation, or even cancer, if the dose is high enough.

But that is the key - 'if the dose is high enough.' The increase in radiation your body receives during an x-ray is equivalent to the extra radiation you are exposed to during a trans-atlantic flight. Medical x-rays are now very safe (the technician is in greater danger than you are due to the frequency of possible exposure), and much safer than being cut open every time a doctor needs to look inside you.

The blood vessel rich gills of a tuna. Gills operate a countercurrent blood flow system to maximise diffusion.
The blood vessel rich gills of a tuna. Gills operate a countercurrent blood flow system to maximise diffusion. | Source

How Does a Fish Breathe Underwater?

Fish don't 'breathe' underwater, but they still need to absorb oxygen and remove oxygen in a process known as gas exchange.

The gills of a fish are made up of an arch which splits into filaments lined with lamellae - small, blood-vessel lined discs. This makes the gills extremely blood-rich giving a bright red colour. The more active a fish is, the more oxygen it needs, so the more lamellae it has.

A fish extracts the oxygen it needs from the water by diffusion. Water moves into the mouth and flows over and through the gills. The water contains a high concentration of oxygen compared to the blood which causes oxygen to diffuse into the blood (carbon dioxide is the opposite - high concentration in blood, low in water, so it diffuses out). Fish must maintain a 'countercurrent system of flow' as diffusion only works if there is less oxygen in the blood than there is in the water.

The vestibular system provides animals information about movement and balance. The semicircular canals are filled with fluid. When this fluid moves a signal is sent to the brain giving information about direction of movement.
The vestibular system provides animals information about movement and balance. The semicircular canals are filled with fluid. When this fluid moves a signal is sent to the brain giving information about direction of movement. | Source

Why do we get Dizzy?

Dizziness is caused when the brain receives conflicting signals from different sensors.

The vestibular system is an intricate network of fluid-filled channels found in our inner ear and is responsible for our perception of gravity and motion. When we spin around, we set the fluid in the semicircular canal spinning. If we stop suddenly, our eyes and other sense organs immediately send a signal to the brain that the body has stopped moving. The fluid in our vestibular system, however, keeps spinning and so sends a signal to the brain that the head is moving.

The sensation of 'dizziness' occurs due to the conflict between these two signals. The brain accepts both signals as true and so decides that the head is spinning, whilst the body is stationary.

Source

What is a Neuron?

Neurons are a speciailised cell-type that transmits information around our body at high speed. They are the information highway of our bodies and work in a similar way to an electric circuit. These highly specialised cells exhibit a number of adaptations to help them do their job:

  • Dendrites: increase the surface area of the neuron to maximise the number of possible synaptic connections.
  • Myelin Sheath: a fatty tissue that insulates the nerve in a similar way to the insulation on an electrical wire.
  • Nodes of Ranvier: gaps in the myelin that allow the signal to 'jump' from node to node, increasing the speed of transmission.

It should be obvious that neurons do not work in isolation - many are needed to transmit a signal to its destination. The more often a series or collection of neurons are caused to fire, the easier and easier it becomes for that same pattern to be repeated: this is the basis of learning.

What are Goosebumps?

Another extremely popular biology question! Goosebumps are a relic from our ancestrally hairy days...and are now next to useless. The theory behind this physiological response is twofold:

Firstly, air is a poor conductor of heat. When cold our ancestors would fluff up their fur, trapping air and reducing heatloss. The video shows how our hairs are raised.

Secondly, many mammals fluff up their fur to appear larger and scarier when threatened or displaying during mating rituals. This is why we get goosebumps when scared.

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    • Nare Anthony profile image

      Nare Gevorgyan 4 years ago

      Excellent! Such a thorough research and clear explanations. Great job!

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 4 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Very well done, indeed! I've always been fascinated by the study of physiology. It was my favorite subject in high school, while geology was my favorite in college. I put geology in your poll, as physiology was not included, but really it's a tossup--they both continue to intigue me.

      Voted up, useful, interesting and shared.

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 4 years ago from Ohio

      Great questions and smartly answered! Even if now I have an itchy curiosity about how those 30 people die every year because of ants...

      Great job!

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 4 years ago from Planet Earth

      These are such interesting facts to know! You've explained everything concisely and understandably - I really enjoyed the whole hub, in every way. I think people will enjoy learning the answers to these questions. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • Nettlemere profile image

      Nettlemere 4 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      That's a great hub - really easy to understand, but packed with solid information.

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Daniel Robbins 4 years ago from Ohio

      Wow! This is awesome and very interesting. I love this kind of stuff. Thanks for the extra wrinkles in my brain! Voted UP! and interesting!

    • Amy Gillie profile image

      Amy Gillie 4 years ago from Indiana

      This is fabulous! Some questions that I believe most people have, even if they have never asked. I'm sharing this and voted up!

    • alliemacb profile image

      alliemacb 4 years ago from Scotland

      Brilliant. I had no idea there was a technical term for brain freeze. When I was young, I used to daydream my way through biology class. Now I wish I had paid attention because it's just fascinating. Voted up and awesome.

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      Thanks to all for the great comments - I'm glad you enjoyed it. If I have piqued your interest about even one facet of biology, I have done my job

      :)

    • unknown spy profile image

      IAmForbidden 4 years ago from Neverland - where children never grow up.

      Excellent hub packed with useful information. By the way, we have here an ice-crushed flavored drink called Slurpee. I love the ads which said, want to have a brainfreeze?

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      That is fantastic! Gotta love it when the ads sync up that well :)

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 4 years ago from UK

      A very interesting hub, that I can see I will be pointing my children towards in the near future as I am sure they will also enjoy it.

    • Horatio Plot profile image

      Horatio Plot 4 years ago from Bedfordshire, England.

      Gosh. Great Hub. Excellent info for kids of all ages.

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      @Melovy and Horatio: I'm very glad you enjoyed it :)

    • cocopreme profile image

      Candace Bacon 4 years ago from Far, far away

      Biology has never been my favorite science subject, but you present it in an interesting and engaging way. It is clear and easy to understand. You make me want to learn more about how our bodies work. Great hub!

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      @cocopreme: Wow! High praise indeed :) I'm glad you found my hub interesting and engaging

    • Mmargie1966 profile image

      Mmargie1966 4 years ago from Gainesville, GA

      Excellent! Shared this one :)

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      I'm glad you enjoyed it Mmargie! Thanks for the share - hopefully your followers will enjoy it just as much :)

    • TDAPharm profile image

      TDAPharm 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      I like the hub, these are always interesting subjects! Just one thing, I would not throw paracetamol/acetaminophen under aspirin. While both work on the arachadonic pathway to help pain, it does target specific sites. In addition, the pharmacology is different and as such only serves as an analgesic and antipyretic, while lacking the anti inflammatory properties of NSAIDs. Lastly, these agents you mentioned treat nociceptive pain, and are not mainstays of neuropathic pain. Sorry to be a stickler, just something that caught my attention. However,again, good hub and I like the brain freeze part!

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      @TDAPharm: I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Regarding the precise categorisation of the medications, this is only a broad hub and is not intended for experts. For me to justify another category I would have to go into the pharmacodynamics of different drugs. I did mention in the text that different drugs under these two broad categories work in different ways. :)

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I love all of your science Hubs; I'm a huge fan. I will be reading this one to our third grader as she is always asking these sorts of questions!

    • TFScientist profile image
      Author

      Rhys Baker 4 years ago from Peterborough, UK

      @Robin: That's great! The more we can nurture an inquisitive nature the better! I hope she finds it interesting :)

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      Science is a never ending source of discovery. I love to read and reread science entries like this. This would be a fun series of questions to give kids to do for 'challenge activities.' Thanks for sharing this. I will be back to read more of your writings.

      Just one additional question you might add..why do we get a back freeze?

      Pinned and voted up

    • stuff4kids profile image

      Amanda Littlejohn 4 years ago

      Oooo, what a lovely read that was! Some great questions really well answered in a way that makes even the complex science easy to understand. You clearly have a great gift for communicating biological concepts and processes.

      I also like the way you start out by saying that science is more about asking questions than it is about finding answers. I so agree with you - and not just science but all education, maybe even life itself!

      I get the idea that you are a teacher? I hope your pupils realize just what a good teacher they've got.

    • erorantes profile image

      Ana Maria Orantes 2 years ago from Miami Florida

      Hello miss TSSscienties. I like your questions. The explanation of each body problems is good. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Do you know why people see double. I like your hub. You are fantastic lady.

    • profile image

      deepaj 17 months ago

      not so good

    • profile image

      Maryam Amjid 7 months ago

      very good question and their answer very best and also improve more. BEST OF LUCK

    • profile image

      S.asif 2 months ago

      Awesome

      &helpful to learn

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