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QED Ask a Scientist – Brenna Hassett

During this year’s QED Conference in Manchester, the Cosmic Genome team gave attendees the chance to tweet in, ask us at the CG desk, or even ask on camera, a question to a select few scientists from the Cosmic Genome App. 

Dr Brenna Hassett

Question - Hello, I’m Jo from Oxford Skeptics in the Pub, I have a very simple but confusing question: why do we get brain freeze? 

Brenna - Well, that’s not actually a tooth question, because brain freeze is actually something that happens when your mouth gets very cold and the arteries in your neck basically constrict very fast and give you a headache. Your teeth actually can feel cold: if you've ever had a drink with an ice cube and it hits your tooth, that’s actually possible because your teeth have little nerves in them, so your teeth aren't totally feelingless but they don’t cause brain freeze.

Question - My young daughter wants to be a scientist.  What’s the best way to help her get there?

Brenna - Awesome, that’s awesome, and she can be a scientist and actually, at Trowelblazers, which I’m part of, we are super, super into helping girls become scientists and it is never too early to start.  There are a lot of opportunities for kids to get involved in science even before they start worrying about exams and PhD tuition fees.  There’s a lot of citizen science available and there are a lot of activities that you can just kind of go and do. For instance, we were just at Lyme Regis with our friend Lottie, Lottie Fossil Hunter, and she is a doll specifically designed to sort of inspire kids to get out and do science, so we all went down to Lyme Regis to look at ammonites fossils, took a bunch of kids out, there’s a lot of activities and kids get really excited about it, and that’s a chance to actually find your own fossils, read books about it. [It’s] never too early to start and never too late to start.

Question - At the Cosmic Genome Quiz Night, there was a question that said I could tell if my mother had syphilis by looking at my own teeth.  How does that work?

Brenna - Well, sometimes you need to ask your parents hard questions, but if that’s not the best option, you might want to just go and have a quick chat with your doctor.  But it is true, congenital syphilis does leave stigmata in your teeth.  Happily, it’d probably mostly be your baby teeth that were affected, so if you’re still seeing something in your teeth now, its not syphilis’s fault.