KIDS ASK! Can Scientists Study Ghosts? Part II

It’s true that most scientists do not investigate ghosts, but there are a few scientists out there who do use the scientific method to investigate ghost sightings.  This means that the scientists are objective and that they carefully test the evidence they have for all possible explanations.  Vic Tandey, an engineer and researcher at Coventry University in the UK, was one of the most famous of these kinds of scientists.  There’s Dr. Chris French at University of London, who specializes in what’s called “Anomalistic Psychology,” and the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee, a team of ghost hunters who use the scientific method.

No one has yet seen a ghost under a microscope.

Let’s talk about a real-life ghost story that took place in a science lab at Coventry University, UK.  Wouldn’t an actual lab full of scientists be the perfect place to find real evidence of a ghost?  In the Coventry University lab, people always reported bad and creepy feelings there at night, like being watched.  Some people even reported seeing dark figures out of the corner of their eyes.   People in the lab felt stressed, depressed, and terrified!

Ever had the feeling something is standing just behind you?

Vic Tandey, who was working at the university, did not start by looking for a ghost.  He started by studying the laboratory environment, to see if there was any explanation for these feelings and sightings.  Was the lab too cold?  Was there a chemical in the air that made people feel bad?  What he found was something that might explain a lot of ghost hauntings, in a scientific way. 

A normal, non-haunted science lab.

The sounds we hear every day are vibrations that travel in waves on the air around us.  The energy in sound waves means that sound waves can also affect our bodies.  If you have ever heard a song with a strong thumping beat and felt it in your body, you know how powerful sound can be!  You probably know that there are some sounds are so high-pitched, humans cannot hear them, like the high sounds only dogs can hear.  But there are also sounds that are so low-pitched that humans cannot hear, called infrasound. 

Sound vibrations can carry a lot of energy.

Vic Tandey learned that scientists who studied infrasound in experiments found that it can cause feelings of fear, anxiety, and can even cause people to see things, because the infrasound vibrations affect people’s bodies, and seem to affect people’s eyes especially. Infrasound is often made by large machines, especially large fans.  What did scientists find in the laboratory? Not a ghost, but a very large fan!  When they turned off the fan, the ghost sightings all stopped.

Are sound waves the source of ghost sightings?

When scientists are objective and test their evidence of ghosts with the scientific method, they usually find other explanations.  Many of the explanations found have to do with things in your environment that can affect your brain.  This is why most scientists who investigate ghosts work in the fields of psychology or neurology.  For example, it’s been proven that breathing in the poisonous gas called carbon monoxide can cause symptoms that feel like a haunting.  People with carbon monoxide leaking from their stove or heater usually don’t know it, and so they breathe in the gas constantly, which hurts their brain.  This causes them to see things, and to feel very frightened.  There have been many cases of people reporting ghosts, but finding a leaky heater instead. This has happened so many times that scientists now say that if you are seeing ghosts and feeling scared, check the carbon monoxide levels in your house right away, because carbon monoxide can kill you!  There is even fascinating evidence that magnetic or electrical fields can affect people’s brains and give people the feeling that there is someone in the room with them, watching them.

The best scientific evidence for ghosts is mostly found…in your brain!

When scientists study ghosts, they often find that there is something around a person that is influencing what they see, hear, or feel.  So science friends, people who use science to investigate ghosts have to be objective, and they have to find evidence of ghosts that cannot be explained by anything else.  Most times, ghost sightings can be explained by things like infrasound, magnetism, carbon monoxide, or electricity. Because of this, so far, no one has ever scientifically proven ghosts exist – but they haven’t scientifically proven that they don’t exist either! 

Sources and Further Information:

Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee: an awesome team of real ghost researchers who use the scientific method:

The science of ghosts and the Coventry Lab Story:

Dr. Chris French explains why people see ghosts:

A famous tale of a carbon monoxide haunting:

Scientific study on how electricity can produce feelings of being haunted by a ghost:

The GHOST FREQUENCY, the infrasound that makes people see ghosts:

KIDS ASK! Can Scientists Study Ghosts?

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


At HTHT, we work with all kinds of future scientists, from engineers to paleontologists. Encouraging kids on their path to a fulfilling life in science is what we do!  This week’s question comes from a young scientist who was thinking about an unusual path in science … the field of paranormal research, aka GHOST SCIENCE!  Can scientists study ghosts?  When they study them, what do they find?! 

Is it a ghost? No, this photo is scientifically proven to be fake!

Yes!  Scientists in the field of Paranormal Psychology can study people’s reports of ghosts, and travel to haunted places all over the world to investigate and research!  But… no scientist has ever found a real ghost, or studied one.  There is no scientific evidence of ghosts at all.  But at the same time, there is no scientific evidence that ghosts don’t exist, either.  If you are dreaming of becoming the first scientist to prove ghosts are real, here are some things for you to think about!

This was taken at the Jerome Grand Hotel, which people say is very haunted. See the shadowy black figure in the back left? Is it a ghost? No one has scientifically proven it is or it isn’t!
Photo credit:
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you like to watch those awesome “ghost hunting” shows where people have all kinds of expensive-looking instruments like infrared cameras and electromagnetic field detectors.  They go to haunted places and record things that sound like voices, or weird shapes in the darkness.  Aren’t they getting evidence of ghosts?  They have all those cool detectors and machines, after all!  Well science friends, the truth is that you can have all of the cool technology in the world.  But if you are not following the scientific method, you are not doing real science, and whatever you find is not considered scientifically true.

This is an Electromagnetic Field Meter, which scientists can use to detect invisible electricity, magnetic fields, and radio waves. Ghost hunting TV shows say it can also demonstrate when a ghost is near.
Photo credit:
Batanagar Paranormal Society
CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Real-life scientific research has to follow the scientific method, which is a series of steps that ALL scientists, everywhere in the entire world, must use.  For something to be considered true and real, it absolutely has to be found using the scientific method.  One of the first and most important parts of the scientific method is that scientists have to be objective, which means they are not attached to looking for a certain result in their experiments.  All scientists know that if you are looking for a certain result, your mind will naturally look for it in all the experiments you do.  This means that you won’t find the scientific truth, you will find what you want to find!

Scientists who study ghost hauntings, called Paranormal Psychologists, have done a lot of research on how easy it is for your mind to trick you into believing something, if you really want to believe it. Especially when you are scared!

For example, let’s say you are an ocean scientist looking for a Mystery Shark that lives in the Mariana Trench.  No one has ever seen it, but you’ve heard many stories and you are sure it’s real.  If you are using the scientific method, you do not ask Can I find the Mystery Shark?  This means your brain will think every weird thing you see could be the Mystery Shark, and you will probably start believing you found it. If you are thinking like a scientist, you ask Is there any evidence that the Mystery Shark is real?  You can go and collect things you think are evidence. Then you can TEST your evidence, using scientific experiments.

Found the Mystery Shark!

Ghost hunters on TV aren’t objective.  Most of them are very interested in finding ghosts, so to them (and to you watching the show) any little sound or image on a camera could be a ghost!  Although these TV shows use scientific instruments, they are not using the scientific method.  If a scientist looks for ghosts and finds evidence of strange heat on their infrared night vision camera, they cannot go ahead and say it is evidence of a ghost.  They have to carefully investigate other possibilities first to prove that it is not something else!  The truth is that when scientists follow the rules of the scientific method to investigate a haunting, they usually find something else that explains it.  This means that there is no scientific evidence that ghosts are real, but there’s no evidence they aren’t real, either.  All that we know is that every time someone has shown evidence of ghosts, when it was tested carefully according to the scientific method, it was shown to be something else.

Usually hauntings can be explained by other things….but what?  Are there any hauntings that science absolutely CAN’T explain? Next week we’ll investigate creepy real life ghost stories and the real life scientists who study them! 


A great animated explanation of the scientific method and how science works:

A scientist of Paranormal Psychology explains why people see ghosts:

Ghost Hunting TV shows and why they are not exactly scientific:

KIDS ASK! Where Do Whales Go When They Die?

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:


This most excellent question was proposed by a concerned young scientist who had watched some videos of humans dealing with whales that had washed up dead on the shore.  In these videos you can see huge whale carcasses, bloated like balloons from the gases that naturally happen when something is dead and decomposing.  A huge dead whale that’s stuck on land is a pretty big problem, and, in some famous viral videos, you can see whales on the beach either violently explode from the gases inside, or get exploded with DYNAMITE by people trying to get rid of them.  As you can imagine, this is really, really messy! 

A balloon-like dead whale on the beach in Massachusetts, USA.

Much to our young scientist’s relief, I was able to explain that, lucky for us, whales do not usually go to the shore to die.  Humans conducting a funeral for an explosive dead whale is actually pretty rare, and is not a problem humans have to constantly deal with.  Nature has a much better solution.  It’s called a WHALE FALL!

When a whale dies, its body begins to decompose.  This means the tiny microbes in and around the whale’s body begin to break the body down, and this process produces gas.  LOTS of gas.  Plus, the blubber in a whale is full of oil, which also floats.  A dead whale becomes like a balloon, floating on the ocean’s surface.  This might be gross to us, but in the open ocean, it’s like a happy party for everything out there that likes to eat meat.  Sharks especially come from many miles to feed on the tasty treat, taking huge bites until they can’t eat any more.  After the sharks have eaten as much as they can, the gas in the whale is all released, and the whale parts that are left start to sink. 

A very happy Great White Shark chows down on a dead whale.
Photo Credit:
Fallows C, Gallagher AJ, Hammerschlag N (2013)CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

But the party doesn’t stop there! In fact, the best part is what happens after the whale sinks.  When a whale’s body sinks into the deep sea, it keeps falling until it hits the seafloor, which can be very, very far down.  After about one mile down in the ocean, it’s very different than the surface.  There is no sunlight in the deep sea, which means the tiny photosynthetic plankton that support life at the surface cannot live there.  Food is very hard to find in the deep sea.  Animals there usually have to scavenge their food from what is called “marine snow.”  Marine snow is a constant fall of tiny flakes of dead plankton, bacteria, and poop that comes from the surface above. When you live in the deep sea, ANY food is great, even if it is mostly poop from other animals far above you! 

Marine snow is breakfast, lunch, and dinner for most animals in the deep sea!

Can you imagine what it is like for deep sea animals when a huge whale falls from above?  It’s like winning the lottery!  On land, a dead whale is big trouble, but on the floor of the deep sea, it’s a wonderful gift.  Instead of having to use dynamite to clean it up, many deep sea species just go ahead and eat every last bit of the whale.  It’s a snack that can last for years.  It’s estimated that every whale fall provides 2,000 YEARS worth of the nutrients that come from just marine snow alone!

Some very happy deep sea octopi chow down on a whale fall.
Photo credit:
National Marine SanctuariesCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

First, big animals that can swim, like large sharks and hagfish, get their turn.  They eat every little scrap of meat that might be left on the bones.  Then, smaller fish, crabs, and starfish come and rake through the bones and sediment around the whale for tiny crumbs of food left by the bigger animals.  Then, bacteria and special bone-eating worms take over the skeleton, drilling deep into the bones to pull out the last of the nutrients inside.  When they do this, they release more even nutrients, which can feed even more small animals around the whale.  Finally, after several years, when the whale skeleton is just minerals, animals can attach to it like they would to rocks, and live their lives there. 

Some very happy deep sea bacteria, crabs, anemones and worms chowing down on whale bones.

So, science friends, you don’t have to worry about meeting dead whales at the beach.  Nature has a much better answer than humans could ever come up with.  The energy in a dead whale’s body feeds many, many animals in the ocean.  Even though it’s kind of sad to think of a beautiful whale dying, you can be glad that nothing is wasted, and the whale’s body goes on to bring life to other animals for years after it dies.

Whales just make everybody happy! Aren’t we lucky to live in a world that has whales in it?


Sharks enjoying a dead whale:

All about marine snow:

An excellent explanation of whale fall:

Marine biologists very excited to discover a whale fall in real time:

KIDS ASK! Could Scientists Really Bring Back the Dinosaurs Like in Jurassic Park?

Here at HTHT, we teach a LOT of science, and the best part about it is feeding young scientists’ curiosity about this amazing world we live in!  Although our programs are jam packed with experiments, we make time to let our young scientists ask us whatever questions they’ve always wanted to ask a scientist.   

In the coming weeks, we will be sharing a special series of articles answering some of the most frequent questions that come up from our young partners in science.  Our question this week is:

Could Scientists Really Bring Back the Dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park?

In 2021, an article appeared in a British newspaper called The Cambridge Independent.  The headline was “CAMBRDIGE SCIENTISTS AIM TO BIONEGINEER LITTLE DINOSAURS.”  The article read:

Cambridge scientists are aiming to ‘bioengineer’ real-life little dinosaurs that could help teach us more about the Jurassic era – and even carry out tasks such as collecting litter.

Biotechnology start-up company DinoDNA revealed the first details of the extraordinary project today after securing £25million in investment.

It follows what they described as “extremely promising trials” of the technology.

Many details of the pioneering scientific work have been kept under wraps, but the Cambridge Independent understands that it involves rebuilding genetic code from fragments of DNA found in fossilised remains.

The hope is that the mini dinosaurs could be allowed to roam in certain enclosed areas, safely interacting with the public.

Dr. Jean Ome, chief scientific officer at DinoDNA, said: “It might sound like science fiction, but genetic engineering technology has advanced so rapidly that we are quietly confident our first dinosaurs will walk the Earth this summer.”

WHAT?! Did they just say dinosaurs will walk the earth this summer?!

WOW!! Sounds like a dream come true, right science friends?  Interacting with REAL dinosaurs?!  I get many questions from you about if scientists can really bring back dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park.  When I saw this article I got very excited!!  But then I looked at the date: April 1.  April Fool’s Day!  Sorry to say, dinosaur fans, the article was just a joke.  Could it really be possible to bring back dinosaurs using ancient samples of their DNA, just like in the Jurassic Park movies?  Well dino fans, if you’re hoping to meet a real live dinosaur one day, I have good news for you, and I have bad news.  Let’s do the bad news first, and end with the most awesome news!

There really are scientists who specialize in finding and studying ancient DNA. Scientists who do this are called molecular paleontologists or paleogeneticists. In the 1990’s, when this type of science was still fairly new, scientists extracted DNA from a bug called a weevil that lived at the time of the dinosaurs.  The weevil died trapped in tree sap that fossilized and became amber, much like you’ve seen in the movies.  It’s scientifically true that amber might be one of the very best places to find ancient DNA!  Amber is protective and helps stop the natural tendency of DNA to fall apart, or degrade, over a long time.  This is the real problem of why it’s very hard to find dino DNA.  DNA is fragile and very complex, and falls apart naturally even in our living bodies.  Some of your DNA right now, in your very own cells, might be a little ripped or broken, but just like all living things, you have wonderful processes happening in your cells that are always repairing your DNA and making it new and fresh!

This is a modern weevil. Like a lot of insects, the design hasn’t changed much since the time of the dinosaurs.

When an animal dies, that process stops.  So, once a body’s natural repair systems are no longer correcting rips and breaks, the degradation of DNA goes even faster.  To bring back a dinosaur, scientists would need the full genome, the complete set of a living thing’s DNA.  When lots of degradation happens over a long time, scientists might get little bits of the genome, but not the full set.  This is why they were excited about the little weevil from the amber!  There was more ancient DNA than they had ever found before.  Maybe they could put together a whole genome of this bug that lived millions of years ago?  And if they could do that, maybe they COULD get dino DNA?

NOOOOPE!  It turned out most of the ancient weevil DNA the scientists thought they had found was actually from what is called cross contamination, where other things get into a sample and change the results.  There was DNA from modern fungus, trees, and even a human skin cell in the sample.  There was not much true dinosaur-era DNA in the sample at all.  Over time, and with much more research among scientists around the world, it was concluded that DNA simply cannot survive for more than about 7 million years, even if it is in amber or frozen in the ground. 

So, science friends, this is the bad news about bringing back dinosaurs: even if we wanted to, we just cannot get a complete dinosaur genome from a fossil or a bug because DNA degrades over time.  It’s impossible.  But now for the good news!  Technology is advancing all the time, and there are some cool techniques that might hold the key to building the dinosaur petting zoo of your dreams!  Thanks to gene editing technologies like CRISPR, a chemical process which can activate or deactivate DNA in a genome, some scientists at Harvard University were able to activate some of the more ancient genes in the velociraptor’s nearest living relative, the chicken!  The result was a chicken embryo with a “dinosaur-like face” and teeth!  But this was just a small study and the Dino-chicken was not fully hatched.  However, since birds and dinosaurs are such close relatives, as CRISPR technology develops, if you see a headline about a “Dino-chicken” in the next few years, it might not be an April Fool’s joke but the real scientific deal!

Your best chance to see a dinosaur at this time is to just look out your window — birds and dinosaurs are much more closely related than you might think!

Nebreda, S.M., Hernández Fernández, M. & Marugán-Lobón, J., CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Now the most awesome news for last: just last year, in 2021, scientists in China were very surprised to find some intact cells in some very special dinosaur fossils from a place called The Jehol.  When they used a chemical called hematoxylin on these cells, they turned purple, indicating there MIGHT be some cells in the fossil that have a whole nucleus, which might contain several strands of intact DNA!  They think this might be possible because the cells went through an unsual process called silification, with parts of them being replaced by a natural, glass-like substance that protected them from degradation for millions of years.  But, this discovery is very, VERY new and will take many more years of research to understand if there is DNA inside, and if it really could be used to make a complete genome.  There could be something truly amazing revealed in the next few years, so keep your eyes on the science news, dino fans – except on April first.

Sources and Further Information:

The Cambridge Independent’s April Fool’s Day article:

A great explanation of the science of Paleogenetics and the problems of ancient DNA:

Famous Paleontologist Jack Horner on bringing back dinos with DNA and the Dino-chicken:

Full article on the creation of the Dino-chicken:

Video explanation of the Jehol cell discovery:

Full article on the recent discovery of the Jehol cells: