Nothing but Blue Sky Science from now on (on Mondays, at least)


If you’re like us — and you’re soaking up every last ray of sun the summer has to offer — you may find yourself shaking your fist at a cloud. How did that thing get up there, anyway?

Well, you’re in luck. Because a five-year-old named Asha was gutsy enough to ask a scientist:

Thanks, Asha! And thanks, Mike Foster, for the explanation!

And thanks to the folks behind Blue Sky Science, who wondered how they could put Madison’s research community to work answering “blue sky” questions — as in, “Why is the sky blue?”

If you’ve got one, don’t hesitate to ask Courtni Kopietz and the Blue Sky Science gang at the Morgridge Institute for Research and the Wisconsin State Journal. They’ve spent their summer picking a question each week, and posting an answer as explained by the best experts they could find on and off the UW–Madison campus.

“We really like the ‘How does this work?’ or ‘Why would we study this?’ questions,” says Kopietz, a Morgridge science communicator. “The answers are often the sort of things that surprise people and start conversations.”

But there’s no limit to what Blue Sky Science is willing to address, and questions so far have addressed fields as wild as astronomy, genetics, engineering, stem cells, botany and a little physiology, like “How does your brain tell your heart to constantly beat?”

Kopietz splits video production 50-50 with Wisconsin State Journal web editor Jeff Bauer, and a new episode of the series appears each Monday on the Morgridge website and the newspaper’s YouTube channel. The Wisconsin State Journal’s print edition carries a written version of the week’s Q&A on on page A2 of its Monday print edition.

Kopietz often sets up to collect new queries at Morgridge’s Saturday Science events at the Discovery Building, which tilts the field toward a certain precocious demographic.

“A lot of kids have participated so far with questions,” she says. “But that makes it interesting. We get creative questions to work with, and our researchers love to see kids asking about their work. They get especially interested in the opportunity to teach and explain.”

Blue Sky Science is for everybody, though, and Kopietz would love to get more questions from adults. You needn’t be at the Discovery Building to suggest a topic. Anyone can pose a question for the video series at the Blue Sky Science website.