Ask Dr. Cy Borg
Dr. Cy Borg is a microbiologist with a look that’s all her own. Long ago, a mishap in the lab severely damaged her senses and limbs. Science and technology came to the rescue, replacing her eyes and ears with innovative hardware and software. Next, her two arms became four. Her brain was enhanced with nano-computers. And her body was shielded by smart armor. This high-tech human is ready for your borg-boggling question!
I would love to set my circuits spinning on your science question!
Write it down (don’t forget your full name and age!), then beam it to me at
Why do people have bad habits? How can you make them go away?
Claudia L., 11, Temecula, CA
Good habits and bad habits are formed the same way. A part of your brain called the “basal ganglia” takes a repeated behavior and turns it into an automatic routine, allowing the decision-making part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, to take time off. For good habits, this is useful, because you can use your mental energy to focus on something else while you brush your teeth. But turning off your prefrontal cortex also makes bad habits hard to break.
One expert recommends trying to break bad habits while you are on vacation. Because your usual patterns are disrupted anyway, it is easier for you to keep your brain from following the old patterns and to form new ones. This goes for other life changes too. If you are starting at a new school, or moving to a new house, your old routines are disrupted and you have a chance to change your bad habits more easily.
But “easily” is not the same as easy. Breaking a bad habit is never going to be easy. Here are a few other ways to help yourself break bad habits and form good habits: 1) Only try to break one bad habit at a time. 2) Repeat any habit you do want to form as often as you can. 3) Write down your goals, and be as specific as you can. For example, don’t write, “I will stop being mean to my brother.” Instead, write down “I will stop hiding my brother’s toys, pulling his hair, and calling him names.” 4) If you are having trouble breaking a bad habit, start small. Like just stop pulling your brother’s hair. At least on Tuesdays. After 6 p.m.
What do vinegar eels eat, and how do they eat it?
Ryan D., Basking Ridge, NJ
Vinegar eels are tiny nematodes, or roundworms, which means they are not actually eels. Despite their tiny size, vinegar eels do have complete digestive tracts, including mouths. The most popular way to feed vinegar eels is to put sliced apples in a mixture of water and vinegar. Bacteria will grow, and the roundworms will feed on the bacteria.
Why can’t you ever keep your eyes open when you sneeze?
Gabriella M., 10, Sarasota, FL
Your eyes close when you sneeze because of an involuntary reflex . . . the same reason you kick your leg when a doctor taps your knee. It actually is possible to keep your eyes open during a sneeze, but you need to work against the reflex, which is difficult. Some scientists believe that the purpose of the eye-closing reflex is to prevent yucky mucous particles (which come out when you sneeze) from getting into your eyes. Some nonscientists, notably 6-year-old boys, think that the purpose of the reflex is to prevent your eyeballs from popping out from the force of the sneeze. I’ll let you decide for yourself which theory you believe.
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