Probing medical mind bogglers to spark a kid's interest in science

(MEDSTAR) - What causes hiccups? Why do you get goose bumps when you're scared? We introduce you to an educator who hopes the answers to off-beat questions like these will encourage kids to study science.

Dr. Sherry Seethaler spends hours on the computer answering questions about her favorite topic - science.

"I think in the process of, you know, K-12 and even undergraduate, we're sort of bombarded with a whole bunch of facts," said Dr. Seethaler, a science writer at the University of California, San Diego. "We're told to memorize them and that's kind of what we think science is. But, really, science is this process of learning and understanding."

In her book, Dr. Seethaler explores life's puzzling conundrums, like why does the sun make me sneeze?  

"You have what's called photic sneeze reflex. It's also called achoo syndrome," said Dr. Seethaler.

One theory is that bright light wakes up the nerves that react to irritants in your nose. They send a signal to the sneeze center in your brain.

"One of the things we know is that the protective reflexes of the nose and the eyes are kind of linked together," Dr. Seethaler said.

Dr. Seethaler chose questions sent to her by readers of her weekly newspaper column. She said the amazing thing about answering those questions is that every week, she learn something new.

One reader asked what causes a lump in your throat when you tear up?

"It's an involuntary component of the nervous system," said Dr. Seethaler. "It consists of two parts."

One part sets off the "fight or flight" response and tries to open the throat for more air; the other wants to close it.

"You're having this tug of war in your neck. It's like 'close,' cause you want to swallow. 'No, open,' 'cause I need to run away," Dr. Seethaler said.

In the book, Dr. Seethaler also sheds light on out-of-body experiences.

"It turns out that scientists are not only studying this, but there's some really interesting science about it."

It is just the sort of out-of-this-world topic that could pique a student's interest.

Questions in the book cover other areas as well, including environmental, spiritual and general health and beauty topics. To read a sample of the book or to purchase one, just click on this highlighted link.

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