How to Train Your Brain with Dr Ranj!

It’s time for the Fun Kids Science Weekly, the weekly podcast that opens your minds to the most amazing things in the universe!

Doctor, presenter and award winning author Dr Ranj teaches us how to train our brains this week.

We hear about how a ROBOT BOAT is monitoring the biggest volcanic explosion in 100 years.

And answer the question: Why Are Cats Eyes Mostly Black?

We also catch up with Professor Hallux and Nurse Nanobot in their Map of Medicine, and hear about the fearsome T-Rex in Age of the Dinosaurs!

MOBILE: Fun Kids Science Weekly

The science podcast for kids with Dan exploring the weirdest and coolest stuff in science!

Here’s the episode below:

Dan: Hello, welcome along. It’s time to zoom around the universe in a brand new episode of The Fun Kids Science Weekly. My name is Dan. Thank you for being there. Thank you for joining me. As we take a trip around the Galaxy, we search out all the science secrets lurking in the solar system. And we’re staying a bit closer to home this week, looking inside you, inside your brain. We’ll chat to the superstar tele expert Dr. Ranj all about his brand new book, Brain Power.

Dr. Ranj: One of the organs that has fascinated humans for centuries, right from sort of ancient Egyptian times when they didn’t think that the brain was very important. So, they used to think that all your thoughts and your mind came from your heart. So they used to preserve the heart and suck the brain out through the back of your skull when you died and throw it away. So they didn’t really think it was that important right through to now when we know.

Dan: Also for one more time, we’ll dive into the age of the dinosaurs this week, learning about one of the most fearsome beasts of them all.

Child: He’s coming this way! Quick, run!

Narrator: You definitely want to run from a T-rex. His name means King of the tyrant reptiles. And he was a terrifying meat-eating dinosaur found in the continent that is now North America.

Dan: And I’ve got your questions, as always. This time out. They are on cats and colours. There’s loads on the way. Stick around. It’s a brand new episode of The Fun Kids Science Weekly.

Science in the News: A Robot Boat Studying Volcanoes, A New Star Spotted (Earendel), And theRRS Sir David Attenborough

Dan:Let’s get this week’s Science in the News.

The UK is sending a robot boat to study the underwater volcano in Tonga that erupted back in January. You might remember this, the volcano in the Pacific Ocean caused one of the fiercest volcanic explosions for more than 100 years down there, as hot magma met cold sea water. That made it send loads of ash into the air. Also, made a tsunami which swept through the ocean.

Now, this boat Maxlimer, will spend weeks looking at the volcano and making a map of what it looks like now and what has changed in the ocean around it.

volcano eruption during daytime

Dan: Also, scientists have spotted the furthest star that we’ve ever seen. The Hubble telescope spotted it’s light, which has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us. They’ve called it Earendel and we were able to see it because the light was magnified through galaxies in its path.

And also this week, the Sir David Attenborough Polar ship is smashing through ice. You might remember a few years ago, it’s the one that the UK public voted to be called Boaty McBoatface. We thought it was a laugh. They did not think it was that. Instead they called it the RRS Sir David Attenborough. It cost Β£200 million. It’s on his first outing to the South Pole and has been crushing thick ice to see what’s happening around Antarctica.

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Dan: Right, let’s check in with Professor Hallux then, he’s one of our favourite geniuses on the show. We try and catch up with him every week, and he’s here with Nurse Nanobot looking at the map of medicine, looking at what makes you ill, and then who makes you better? Now, in this episode, Hallux is suffering from a stomach ache, and we’re trying to figure out why we get an upset stomach sometimes.

Nurse: Are you okay in there Professor?

Professor Hallux: Just a spot of tummy trouble. I’ll be out in a minute. Better make that 10 minutes. Oh, dear.

Nurse: I told him not to eat those soggy old sausages left over from Saturday. They should have gone in the bin. I said they should have gone in the bin.

Professor Hallux: I think I need to put myself in the bin. Oh, I really don’t feel well. Can you give us some facts on tummy trouble, Nurse? While you’re waiting for me, might be in here a while.

Nurse: Poor professor. Of course I can. Tummy trouble is ever so common. You probably had a stomach upset before. It might have given you runny poo, made you feel weak and shaky, and perhaps even made you vomit. Stomach upsets are normally caused by bacteria or viruses. It could be that they were lurking in the food that was beginning to go off. Or it could be that you caught the germs from school or from the toilets.

That’s why grown ups go on about washing your hands. It’s a brilliant way to bust the bugs. Germs are all about us, and our bodies are great at beating the bad ones. But sometimes you can pick up some particularly pesky bug that multiplies more rapidly than your body can fight them off. A common one is called Rotavirus, although there are all sorts.

Professor Hallux: Well, I’ve washed my hands, but I’m still not feeling great. If it was that silly sausage, I’ll feel better in a day or two. But some people are unlucky enough to get problems with their stomach and gut that don’t clear up easily. That’s when they need expert help.

Nurse: They certainly do. Imagine having diarrhoea and vomiting all the time. That could be very uncomfortable. Got any experts hiding in that map of medicine, Prof?

Professor Hallux: Funnily enough, Nurse, I believe we do, it’s a mine of info about medical people and places. Let’s load it up before I need the toilet again. Let’s find out about the gastroenterologist! So, you’ve been pooing and vomiting for days or maybe even weeks, and your doctor’s not sure what’s causing the trouble. Time to see a gastroenterologist. A heck of a word, isn’t it? But it just means a doctor who is an expert at the digestive system. From the hole the food goes down in, to the hole the food comes out. Yes, that one. What have you been eating? Smelly old socks? And don’t forget about all the twiddly fiddly bits in the middle, like your stomach, your intestines and even your liver.

Now, normally it’s rude to talk about poo and farts and burps, but the cool thing about gastroenterologists is that they’re really, really interested in all those things. They want to get to the bottom of it. Did you see what I did there? They may take samples from your poo to check for bacteria and may even do an endoscopy or colonoscopy. Hey, calm down. It’s not that big a deal. All types of scientists love having a good look at things to see what’s what. Now, that’s easy if you’ve got a spot on your nose, but when it’s the squishy bits inside you, it’s a little bit harder. An endoscope is a camera on a wiggly cable that is carefully pushed down your food pipe into your tummy, whilst the colonoscope is pushed up your bum and endure intestines. They don’t do both at once because they might crash in the middle. And they definitely use different cameras for each test and wash them very thoroughly between patients.

Now, this probably sounds a bit yuck and tickly, but the doctor can give you some very special medicine that relaxes you or might even put you under an anaesthetic, which means you’ll sleep through the whole thing. And the best bit is that it gives them a brilliant look around so they can see what the problem might be. Yes, fairly unlikely to be an elephant up there. Wow, that would cause you some problems going for a poo, wouldn’t it? There are lots of reasons why people have chronic digestive problems, but there are loads of treatments to make things better, from medicine to surgery. And if it is an elephant, they just tempt him out with a bun, probably.

Nurse: Don’t be silly, professor. I’ve got a great faecal fact for you. Do you want to hear it?

Professor Hallux: Okay, I think I’ve just got time.

Nurse: Now, this might sound disgusting, but it’s actually some of the cleverest science going. It’s called faecal bacteriotherapy or poo transplants. In the same way that healthy organs like hearts and lungs can be transplanted from one person to another.

Would you believe that poo from healthy people can actually help to cure some digestive illness? The poo is checked to ensure the right mix of bacteria is present, and then this is implanted into the gut of someone who’s had serious gastric problems. The good bacteria rapidly multiply to give the poorly person a whole new army inside.

Professor Hallux: Oh, I think that sausage is doing a somersault. I better make a leap for the loo. Hope you can join us on the Map of Medicine next time.

Answering Your Questions: Why are Cat’s eyes most black instead of white? And Are Colours Real or are our Eyes Playing Tricks on us?

Dan: Let’s get to your questions then. If you’ve got something sciencey that you need answering, you need it sorted out because you can’t sleep at night. Leave it as a review for this podcast for the Fun Kids Science Weekly on Apple podcasts that will really help me see it.

First up this week, it’s Ella, who’s in Ireland. Ella, I know that you love the show. You get in touch quite a lot. Thank you so much for leaving your questions. Ella listens to the podcast with her cat, Tiddles. Brilliant cat name, by the way. Mine is called Tiggy, quite similar. And Ella wonders why Tiddle’s eyes are mostly black instead of white.

Now, the middle slits of a cat’s eyes, the pupils change enormously from long and thin to big and round. This is because they are hunters and because they need to take in more light to see what’s happening. So they get bigger to suck that light in. It almost turns into night vision goggles, because in the wild, cats can sometimes hunt at night, so they need all the light they can to see so they can get some food.

Now, get this human’s pupils, they expand when they let in light about 15 times their normal size. Cats expand 135 times their normal size. Also, some cats have a condition which makes the edge of their eyes darker than others, which are why it can change from cat to cat. But it’s nothing to worry about. So thank you for the question, Ella.

brown tabby cat

Also this week, it’s from Harry in Tenerife. Who wants to know, are colours real or are our eyes playing tricks on us? Well, it’s a bit of both, really, Harry. Everything we see is because of light in a beam of light from the sun, you have all the colours possible. All the colours of the spectrum are in that beam of light.

Now, what happens is an object will either absorb or reflect that light. So if you’re wearing a blue shirt, for instance, the chemicals in that shirt suck in all the other colours. They absorb those but reflect the blue wavelength in the light. It’s the same if you’re wearing red shoes, it will suck in all the other colours and then reflect that red back. So it is real, but it’s also a trick of science, it’s a trick of the light. Really fascinating stuff, colours. Thank you so much, Harry, for the question. If there’s something you’d like answered on the show next week, leave it as a review for us over on Apple podcasts.

yellow and white abstract painting

Interview with Dr. Ranj

Dan: Now, our special guest this week is the superstar TV genius, Dr Ranj. He’s got a brand new book out. It’s all about your brain. It’s called Brain Power because brains look a little bit boring, don’t they? They’re a bit slimy, a little bit grey, but your brain is more powerful than any superpower and there’s loads of secrets about it in this brand new book. Now, I caught up with Doctor Ranj the other day and he told me how much we know about what the brain is actually capable of.

Dr. Ranj: Well, different people say different things. And when I was writing Brain Power, I had to go back and research how we know what we know and whether there is still stuff that we don’t. And it’s true. We know a heck of a lot about the brain. We know quite a bit about how it works, how it’s put together, how it does what it does. But there’s still so much that we don’t know yet.

Can I quantify it? I’m not sure we can, because I think we’re going to be learning stuff all the time. But it is fascinating. It’s one of the organs that has fascinated humans for centuries, right from sort of ancient Egyptian times, when they didn’t think that the brain was very important. So they used to think that all your thoughts and your mind came from your heart. So they used to preserve the heart and suck the brain out through the back of your skull when you died and throw it away. So they didn’t really think it was that important right through to now when we know brains are immensely important.

And actually, even though a lot of our brains and nervous systems look similar and function in similar ways, what makes us unique is our experiences, what we’ve been through, our memories, and also the way our brains work to some extent, because there are people out there whose brains work quite differently. For instance, autistic people or people who have dyslexia or ADHD, their brains work in a slightly different way, but they’re still just as amazing as anybody else. And they have strengths and qualities that they can build on it and make them amazing.

Dan: Now, I’m quite a creative thinker, and some of my best mates are more logical thinkers. I’m good with words, they’re good with numbers. Why can some people’s brains work in such completely different ways when really they’re the same organ?

Dr. Ranj: Yeah. So it’s all down to how your brain is wired. So they all look the same. They all contain the same sorts of cells and the same sorts of structures, and they generally work in a similar way. But it’s your experiences that mould you, and to some extent is your genetics. What you’re born with, to some extent is how you grow up and what you experience and learn when you’re growing up.

And you’re right. Some people are naturally, I suppose, geared towards a certain kind of learning or certain kind of thinking. We talk in the book about different kinds of intelligence, as it were. So intelligence isn’t just about book work. It isn’t just about recalling facts and figures and being good at maths and stuff like that. There’s loads of different kinds of intelligence. And that shows us that brains work in different ways and we are naturally good at different things. S

o there are some people who are musically intelligent, so their brains are naturally wired to be better at musical things. There are people who are movement intelligent, so there are dancers and choreographers. There are people who are naturally gifted in terms of dealing with others. Interpersonal intelligence. There’s all sorts of logistical, mathematical intelligence. The one you’re talking about, there’s all sorts of different kinds of intelligence, and one person can have more than one.

But it’s about finding what your type of intelligence is. It’s about finding how your brain works and using that to your advantage.

Dan: What do you mean wired differently? Is it just really the cells in our brain, the way that they connect do different things?

Dr. Ranj: Yeah. So information in our brains is carried by cells, but in the form of electricity. Don’t go plugging yourself into the wall socket. That’s not a good idea. It’s a different kind of electricity carried in a different way. But these cells all make connections, and that’s how they work. That’s how our brains work. They form connections with each other. And those connections are adaptable. They change.

They can change over time. So as you grow, your brain is growing and making connections all the time, depending on what you’re experiencing and what you’re learning and what you’re going through. But to some extent, those connections can change over time as well. That’s what we call plasticity, and that’s what I mean by wiring. It’s different kinds of connections made in different kinds of ways.

Dan: What about, not the negatives of the way we think, but when it doesn’t feel so good, maybe you’ve had a bit of bad news or you’ve had a bad day or you’ve got heartache or something like that, or you’re really nervous and anxious, and you feel that all over your body, like you get butterflies in your stomach when you’re worried. And that’s going on from what’s happening in your brain, how is everything connected like that?

Dr. Ranj: So your brain and your body are intertwined in loads. Your nervous system isn’t just your brain. It runs throughout your body, runs down your spinal cord, through your peripheral nerves, out to right down to your fingertips and the tips of your toes. Your brain and your body are intricately linked. And whilst your nervous system senses what’s going on around you, so it’s taking in information from your body.

So what you touch, what you smell, what you hear, what you feel. It also, that messaging is reciprocal. It goes in the other direction as well. So sometimes you can make yourself feel something because you’re experiencing a particular emotion. So butterflies, for instance, when you’re nervous, you might feel sick. It’s because your brain and your body are intricately linked.

When you’re anxious, your heart beats faster. And some people, rapid breathing and stuff like, we talk about anxiety in the book, and our anxiety, for instance, is felt not just in your head. It’s not just felt as a psychological thing. It’s also felt in your body sometimes as well. It’s a physical manifestation, and that’s all to do with how intricately your brain and your body are linked. You can’t separate the two of them you can’t separate your thoughts and your feelings from sometimes what is going on in your body.

Dan: Now, if I want my muscles to get stronger, or if I want to get fitter, I’ll go out for a run. Maybe I’ll do some strong lifting with weights, things like that. That’s exercise for the body. What exercise can we do for the mind? So maybe those butterflies, the anxiety, it becomes easier to deal with. We’re better at being ready for them.

Dr. Ranj: Absolutely. It’s practise, practise, practise. That’s what it is. So when you’re trying to build on anything, like we all know, when you want to get good at something, you do it over and over again and you strengthen those connections that your brain cells are making so they get better and faster and quicker at it. Exercising your body is hugely important because it makes you fitter, makes you healthier, makes you feel better. But it also is good for your brain and your mind as well.

But there are specific exercises for your brain that you should do. So try and keep your brain as active as possible. So do lots of different kinds of activities. It’s not just about reading and book work, but it’s doing maths puzzles, doing jigsaw puzzles, doing crosswords, doing creative things. Being artistic is really good for your brain, being sociable. A lot of people don’t realise it’s being nice, being kind, being sociable doesn’t just make you feel good about yourself, but it’s actually really good for your mental well being. Giving yourself a break sometimes. So doing things like relaxation exercises or mindfulness that a lot of people will be aware of and may even have done at school.

Giving your brain a break is really important as well. And one big thing that a lot of people forget about that is hugely important. We spend a third of our lives doing it is sleep. Sleep is vitally important not just for your body, but for your brain. It is when our brains recover. It is when our brains replenish and get ready for the next day. And it’s when our brains sort information out and tidy themselves up.

Dan: I’m in love with those stories and those sci-fi movies where someone finds out that they were only using 10% of their brain power and then they get a full 100 and they can control everything and they can fly. Is there any truth to that or are we pretty much using the full lot?

Dr. Ranj: Yeah, there’s not really much truth. The whole concept of we only use 10% of our brain comes from that. There’s a lot of redundancy in our brains. It’s not that at any one time we are using a lot of our brain, if not most of our brain, but we’ve got lots of backup there just in case. So if something goes wrong, if we injure a part of our brain, for instance, or hurt a part of it, then another part can take over, and that’s what it’s all about.

It’s not that we aren’t using abilities we don’t know we have. It’s just that we have a lot of spare parts there, just in case anything goes wrong. And if you do scans, like functional MRI scans are called, you can look and see which parts of the brain are active at any particular time, whether you’re doing something like a particular activity. And you can see that actually, we use a lot of our brains most of the time.

Dan: Amazing. Well, the answers to loads more questions, just like those, loads of mind-bending facts in the brand new book Brain Power. Dr. Ranj, thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Ranj: Thank you!

Dangerous Dan: Nitrogen Triiodide

Dan: It’s time for Dangerous Dan, where we look at some of the most mean, devastating, and cruel things in the universe. And this week, it’s all about a normal looking chemical that can get quite dangerous.

Nitrogen triiodide is a compound. Now, everything in the world is made of atoms. They are the building blocks of everything that you see. Now, when two different types of atoms join together, they make molecules and then compounds. Now, this compound is NI3 That’s one nitrogen atom and then three iodine atoms.

Now, when it’s made, it becomes a dry, ashy, dark chemical, and it becomes what scientists call a contact explosive. Can you guess what it does? Yeah. It explodes when it makes contact with things. It’s quite simple, really. This is very reactive. Even a little flick from a feather can make it go off, because when it becomes dry, the different elements split. And it does this with a lot of energy. And when energy needs to be released, it goes bang. It needs something so small to make it split. And then that energy explodes everywhere.

Now, this can be done in tiny amounts, which is why in many movies or TV shows, when you see a small explosion, it might be Nitrogen Triiodide that sets it off. And that means it goes onto our Dangerous Dan list.

Age of the Dinosaurs: Cretaceous Period: Tyrannosaurus Rex

Dan: Now, for the last time in a little while, it’s time to travel back to the Age of the Dinosaurs. This is one of our other mini podcast episodes that you can catch up with over on the free Fun Kids app. We’re looking at the Cretaceous Period, and around this time, there were more dinosaurs than ever before. It’s also the part of history where you would find one of the most fearsome beasts of them all, the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Narrator: Imagine going back in time, not 100 years or 1000 years, but millions of years to the Age of the Dinosaur. Welcome to the end of the Cretaceous Period – around 65 million years ago. Around this time, there were more dinosaurs than ever before. The world was crowded with groups of Triceratops, Duckbilled Edmontosaurus, squawking birds, and a wide variety of plant and sea life. The end of the Cretaceous Period is also where you’d find one of the best known dinosaurs of them all. Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Child: He’s coming this way! Quick, run!

Narrator: You definitely want to run from a T-rex. His name is King of the tyrant reptiles. And he was a terrifying meat-eating dinosaur found in the continent that is now North America. This Carnivore was massive: At over twelve metres long and six to seven tonnes in weight. He gouged at prey with his enormous jaws and his curved teeth made it hard to escape. Despite standing as tall as an elephant, T-rex’s brain wasn’t much bigger than a loaf of bread. However, a cast from a fossilised T-rex skull shows the parts in charge of his sense of smell were bigger than in other reptiles.

Child: Ew – what’s that horrible smell?

Narrator: That’s the smell of rotting meat. A T-rex could sniff out a carcass from over a kilometre away. It might not have been as tasty as fresh meat, but it was an easy meal.

Child: Quick! Another T-rex is coming!

Narrator: That’s not a Trex, but it’s still good to hide. That’s a Tarbosaurus Bataar or T-Bataar. Tarbosaurus came from Asia, not North America, but had a lot in common with T-rex. They looked similar and were both top predators.

Scientists think they’re closely related, even though they lived on the other sides of the world. Some have even suggested that they might be the same species. But there were differences. Lab tests show the Tarbosaurus had a less flexible jaw, so he might have preferred carcasses to hunting wriggling prey. And whilst T-rex had eyes that face forward, Tarbosaurus had more sideways facing eyes.

Child: Oh no! I think he’s looking at me…

Narrator: I think he’s more interested in that herd of Hadrosaurs over there. When hunting, he’d prefer to pick off the old, young or sick members of a herd. But let’s not hang about.

The age of the dinosaurs came to an end 65 million years ago. It is thought that a giant asteroid 6 miles across smashed into the Earth where the town of Chicxulub in Mexico now sits, triggering tsunamis and dust clouds that blotted out the sun.

Plants could not grow. Animals were cold and hungry and began to die. From the seas to the skies, many creatures and plants disappeared forever. In fact, seven out of every ten species perished. The age of the dinosaurs had gone. And with it, 200 million years of the most amazing creatures the world has ever seen. Thanks to Palaeontologists, we know much about what it was like, but there are many mysteries that remain. Maybe one day you will make a new discovery yourself.

Dan: And that’s it for this week’s Fun Kids Science Weekly. Thank you so much for having a listen. If there’s a question that you’d love answered, leave it as a review for me and for the show on Apple podcasts. It’s dead easy. Find Fun Kids Science Weekly there. There’s a little comment box at the bottom. That’s where you leave your question. Give us five stars so I can see it, drop your name there too so I can say hello.

While you’re there you’ve got loads more of our brilliant podcast series you’ve heard some today Hallux, Age of the Dinosaurs, we’ve got loads more you can also get them on Google, Spotify, on the free fun kids app and at

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