Brain Food

Hungry for more stories on science, culture and technology?

Check out Brain Food: Insights and Discoveries from Northern Arizona. From ground breaking scientific research to global music projects, Brain Food profiles some of the unique projects happening in the region and the interesting people behind them.

KNAU/Bonnie Stevens

Flagstaff has long been a training destination for world class athletes. The high altitude makes their bodies produce more red blood cells and absorb more oxygen, which in turn builds their endurance and speed. Canadian exercise physiologist Trent Stellingwerff wants to know what else happens when elite athletes train at 7,000 feet. 

KNAU/Bonnie Stevens

Wine making is an art. It's also a science. Yavapai College in Prescott, Arizona is teaching that science in the Southwest's only viticulture program. 

Nikki Bagley is the director of the "wine school". She says, "What a student will get when they get in this program is experience from planting the vine in the ground, managing it through its entire life. They'll get experience with that and then move into the winter - producing the wine, labeling the wine and selling the wine out of our tasting room."

KNAU/Bonnie Stevens

If a tree falls in the forest and no one's there to hear, does it make a sound? It definitely makes sound waves, according to wood scientist Dave Auty of Northern Arizona University. Auty uses "acoustic evaluation technology", or sound wave probes, to determine the stiffness and quality of a tree before it's harvested. It's a technique new to northern Arizona forests.

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Voracious Japanese beetles are becoming frequent fliers on airlines traveling from the East Coast to the West Coast. And that’s wreaking havoc on hundreds of species of plants. Ecosystem scientist Bruce Hungate is trying to find out how the beetles are getting their boarding passes. 


Glyptodonts were giant armadillo-like creatures that went extinct with the last Ice Age. But not before they traveled across the land bridge from South America; some ending up in the Arizona desert near Safford. That's where scientists recently found a pair of their enormous skeletons, remarkably preserved. 

NAU/Jackie Thomas

Scientists are trying to project what mule deer on the Kaibab Plateau might need in order to survive a changing climate. The herd lives on a forested "sky island" - an elevated area surrounded by different low-land environments. If the future holds warmer, drier conditions, how would food sources and hiding places change for the deer? That's what Spatial Ecologist Jackie Thomas is trying to find out.

LIGO technology is enabling astronomers to listen to the sounds of the universe through gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of time and space. 

Dogs have long been used to sniff out bombs, drugs and bodies. Now, a forest ecologist at Northern Arizona University is enlisting the help of scent-detecting dogs to locate bat colonies. Carol Chambers is testing the idea in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, working with dogs trained to pick up the scent of bat guano. 

Rapid Eye Movement – that thing we do in our deepest sleep – is not fully understood. Scientists think it happens when different parts of the brain are communicating and making sense out of the chaos of the day. 

Literary and cinematic history is full of characters who have some type of disability...from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, to Rain Man, to Marlee Matlin's Oscar-winning performance in  Children of a Lesser God. But there aren't nearly as many of these characters in musical theater. That's according to Jim Leve, a musicology professor at Northern Arizona University. He's researching the repertoire of musical productions that feature characters - and actors - with all kinds of disabilities.