ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Every so often on this show we hear a story from Adam Cole, who hosts NPR's science YouTube channel called Skunk Bear. He has told us how to apply to be an astronaut, how to sail around the world in a canoe. He even brought us this moving musical report on the death of a giant Galapagos tortoise.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONESOME GEORGE")
ADAM COLE, BYLINE: (Singing) He was just a giant tortoise, the last one of his kind.
SHAPIRO: And a single tear rolls down my cheek, Adam Cole is back here in the studio. Hi, Adam.
COLE: Hello, Ari.
SHAPIRO: And sadly, you don't actually have a quirky, wonderfully weird science story for us today. Why are you here?
COLE: This time I'm actually asking the listeners for questions. We want to know what you want us to investigate next, things you've been wondering about that science can answer.
SHAPIRO: This is exactly what you've been doing on your YouTube channel. You answer what you call good questions. Give us some examples of what you've done recently.
COLE: Well, here's one question that I really like that came from a class of fifth graders in Oregon.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: How is pencil lead made?
COLE: How is pencil lead made? And here's another one from Lulu Miller, who you might know from NPR's Invisibilia podcast.
SHAPIRO: Sure do.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
LULU MILLER, BYLINE: How old are our bodies actually?
COLE: That one was about cell turnover rates. Like, how often does your body refresh itself? And the thing is we really try not to just answer these questions, but we want to answer them in a surprising way.
SHAPIRO: Like that sad Galapagos tortoise ballad.
COLE: Yeah. Or, for example, for the pencil question, we went back to a pencil factory, but we also went back billions of years to follow the carbon throughout history. And we found these connections like that numbering system we use for pencils - number one, number two pencils...
SHAPIRO: Number two pencils, yeah.
COLE: That came in part from Henry David Thoreau's dad.
SHAPIRO: Huh. One of my favorite recent videos you did talked about the age of the Earth, and you used the length of a football field to demonstrate it.
COLE: Right. We used it as sort of a timeline. I walked down the field, and as I passed through each yard I was passing through 45 million years. And it's funny. Morgan State University in Baltimore was nice enough to kick their marching band off the field so we could spend this evening setting up strings of lights where cells showed up or where dinosaurs showed up or where humans showed up at the very end of the field.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
COLE: I'm taking a knee now, looking down at a few blades of grass an eighth of an inch from the end zone. Here, finally, we have the first humans that look like us.
SHAPIRO: OK, so those are some of the questions you have answered on Skunk Bear recently. How do listeners send you their new questions?
COLE: Well, I hope they go to npr.org/skunkbear and tell us what they're wondering about or maybe they're worried about or blown away by. What mysteries do you want us to tackle using science?
SHAPIRO: And you will answer some of the best questions in videos on Skunk Bear, in audio on this show and hopefully maybe even a song.
COLE: I'll see what I can do.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Adam Cole, science reporter and host of the YouTube channel Skunk Bear. You can ask him your questions at npr.org/skunkbear. Thanks, Adam.
COLE: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TOMMY GUERRERO SONG, "QUE S'EST-IL PASSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.