If you want to know who'd win a battle between a jellyfish and a sea anemone, you need to consult Dr. Biology, "the most brilliant scientist you will ever meet," according to Charles Kazilek.
Kazilek, who looks suspiciously like the drawings of Dr. Biology on the "Ask a Biologist" website, says the real reason the good doctor is so smart is that he's actually about 150 different people - mostly volunteer faculty members and graduate students at Arizona State University's School of Life Sciences.
The website was set up 11 years ago to answer questions about biology from schoolchildren.
It has grown from a single page in 1999 to a 2,500-page cornucopia of science stories, puzzles, podcasts, cartoons, activities and instructional materials. It now attracts 1 million unique visitors each year, Kazilek said.
Its activities are used in K-12 classrooms across the country, said Kazilek, director of technology integration and outreach at the school. "I am a teacher groupie," he said. "I am so impressed with what they do."
The editors of Science magazine last week recognized the site's educational worth and awarded it the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education.
"When I got the e-mail, I had to sit down for a minute and say, 'Wow,' " Kazilek said. "It was very unexpected."
At its core, it is still a question-and-answer website, Kazilek said, and still critical in these days of instant Internet answers.
There is a lot of information out there, Kazilek said, often erroneous and quickly outdated, especially in the ever-changing scientific fields in which today's research often negates yesterday's certainties. Schoolchildren can also have trouble formulating questions, and the interaction of the website can help them refine their quests.
Kazilek and his team also tailor the answers to the age of the questioner, something Google can't do for you, he said.
"The coolest thing about the website is you can actually reach a scientist to answer your question," he said.
"Kids ask interesting questions," he said, "like, 'Who would win a battle between a jellyfish and a sea anemone?' or, 'Do bears pee when they hibernate?' "
The constant stream of questions also gives him a barometer of what kids are interested in, Kazilek said, allowing his team to create content for the website that matches that curiosity.
The site is partially supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, but volunteers make it work, he said.
It hasn't been hard to find volunteers, Kazilek said. Scientists love to stimulate interest in what they do. His core of volunteer experts has expanded across the ASU campus, he said, and now includes professors in biochemistry, physics, molecular and cellular biology, nursing, speech and hearing and other departments. He has volunteers at other universities, and he has some translating content into Spanish and French.
As for whether bears pee when they hibernate or who would win that jellyfish vs. sea anemone battle, you probably won't be surprised to hear that Dr. Biology didn't provide a direct answer and instead discussed the many variables possible.
"There is no big book of answers in science," Kazilek said.
Contact reporter Tom Beal at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4158.