Americium and dilithium - it's quiz time

We test the metal of our experts!
05 November 2019

Interview with 

Peter Cowley; Keziah Latham, ARU; Richard Hollingham, Space Boffins, Sophie Mowles, ARU




We put our experts - Richard Hollingham, Keziah Latham, Peter Cowley and Sophie Mowles - to the test with our Naked Scientists quiz...

Chris - Now every time we do one of these programs we have a little quiz and this is where rather than you sending in the questions, I've written some questions and you have the chance to enjoy them as well at home, but our panel will have their mettle tested. Now our two teams are going to be Richard and Kez, they are team one, and Peter and Sophie, you're going to be team two.Now round one is called step back in time. So team one, which scientific invention that we all know and love was patented first? Was it the fridge or was it Edison's light bulb? What do you think Richard and Kez?

Richard - Oh I would say fridge, well I would guess the fridge.

Keziah - I'm thinking it's probably going to be a trick question because it feels like it ought to be the light bulb, so that might make it the fridge.

Richard - because I would say yeah, I think the fridge.

Keziah - Yeah but obviously not a fridge with a light in it.

Chris - Yeah. You get the ping for that. Indeed it is. According to livescience, Edison patented the first commercially successful light bulb in 1879 but the first fridge which had a vapor compression refrigeration cycle that used liquid ammonia was patented in 1835 by Jacob Perkins. Okay, Peter, it's over to you and Sophie now. Which discovery came first - Volta’s battery or Edward Jenner’s smallpox vaccine? What do you reckon?

Peter - So smallpox, when was that 1830’s?

Sophie - I think so, yes.

Peter - Yeah, 1840s? and Volta’s battery feels like it's older than that, but you know.

Sophie - I think it would be a guess from me.

Peter - Yes. What do you want to guess then?

Sophie - Oh crikey. Shall we go for smallpox?

Chris - What are you going for? Are you going for the vaccine or are you going for the battery?

Peter - I think we're disagreeing here so, shall we toss a coin? We go with Sophie. Sophie went first. Yep.

Sophie - Smallpox.

Chris - You’re going vaccine? Well good call. It is indeed the vaccine. Alessandro Volta, who is credited with inventing the first battery, he used zinc and silver in his battery - very expensive, gave a demonstration of his batteries generation of electric current in front of Napoleon in 1801. But, it was in 1796 that Edward Jenner introduced the smallpox vaccine from which the first commercial, well you know commercialized vaccines, after that were invented.

There you go, well done. It's one-all, level pegging. Okay onto round two. Round two is called “Elementary”. “Elementary” and we need you to tell us, Richard and Kez, which of these radioactive elements isn't man made. Okay, Americium, Curium or plutonium. What do you think it is?

Richard - Plutonium. Oh no, because you have to make plutonium don't you?

Kez - Curium has got to be made by curing.

Richard - Yes.

Kez - So I'm guessing not that one.

Richard - and Americium I think was made, im guessing, in America. Yes I would go for plutonium.

Kez - Yeah let's go with that.

Chris - You're on fire. Americium and Curium are produced by smashing neutrons into plutonium - you need a reactor to do that. Now plutonium can be made artificially, but trace amounts of it do occur naturally so good call, well done to you. Right, Peter and Sophie, which one, also elementary speaking, which one of the following aren't elements that you would find in the periodic table? No cheating by the way, no looking up the periodic table. Here are your three elements - Didymium, Di-Lithium or Di-Nitrogen.

Peter - It's not in the periodic table.

Sophie - It’s not dilithium, that's from Star Trek. I hope that no one has found one and made it.

Chris - We're going dilithium?

Sophie - Yes.

Chris - Dilithium. Actually, it’s a pretty horrible question. Okay. Dilithium, you can make molecules of Di-Lithium - just take two lithium atoms and join them together and are commonly occurring. Di-Nitrogen the same, N2, and you just take two nitrogen atoms and they form a triple covalent bond. Didymium was on Mendeleev’s periodic table in the early days. They used to think it was one element but we now realize that in fact, it's the combination of two rare earth metals which is praseodymium and neodymium and we can separate them apart. So Didymium no longer exists in the modern periodic table. So I'm afraid it's nul points for that one. Okay, so round three here we go. Now this is pretty hard. We're going to see what you make of this. Okay, these are riddles and you've got to solve this. This round is called solve this. Listen very carefully, you can take notes Richard and Kez, you might need to. Okay but I'm going to be strict about the time because we don't have too long to answer this. You are on a forested island. It is 500 meters north to south and three kilometers east to west. It is surrounded by high cliffs and ocean. A wind blows constantly across the island from west to east at a constant speed. On Monday at noon the entire western edge of the island forest catches fire. Fanned by the wind, the flames are moving at 100 metres an hour across the island. If you're trapped by the fire you're going to die. You can't jump off the island. With you is a rucksack which has got a penknife, a compass, a calculator and there's a Bible in there for good measure. How do you survive until rescue arrives on Wednesday?

Kez - Oh good grief.

Richard - On no, really, I can't. You know, I was on University Challenge once and I cannot process this sort of information quickly enough. You know, if you gave me a couple of days I'd come back to you with a proper answer. Can we just run and jump in the sea or something?

Kez - No, we can't. We can't do that.

Richard - Okay.

Chris - While you're contemplating that I'm going to come to the other team, and I'm gonna give you your one to think about too, because you can have some extra time to think, then. So team two, Sophie and Peter: A woman has a bucket of water in her hands. She turns it upside down but the bucket stays full. There's no lid on the bucket and the water is in liquid form. She's not relying on centrifugal force. How does this happen? That's your question.

Peter - So it’s obviously not frozen. There’s no lid. She’s not spinning it.. upside down… is she in space?

Chris - Have you solved it yet, Richard and Kez?.

Richard - I think Kez has a better idea about that.

Chris - So Kez, what do you reckon?

Kez - I think we've got to use the.. if we head for the eastern most side of the island, the wind, the flames will catch up with us. So, I'm wondering what will happen if we go to the northernmost or southernmost point of the island. Will we escape the flames if they're just zooming across the middle of the island to the other side? But I suspect not…

Chris - It's a good try. I'm afraid that you're not going to have that. Here's the answer. Okay, you take a little piece of wood from the fire that's currently burning. You hasten across to the other side of the island and come a hundred yards inland and light another fire. You then retreat into the forest while it burns towards the edge of the island and burns out that bit of forest. Meanwhile the other fire hasn’t arrived yet. You then go into the burnt out bit because you've created a firebreak, and you sit in there quite safe and eat your apple and read your Bible until rescue comes on Wednesday. So, I'm afraid, I'd liked your thinking but that wasn't the right answer. Peter and Sophie you've got a chance. Did you solve it?

Peter - Well, we think it’s a question you didn't give to Richard because he’ll right know it immediately.

Chris - You’re going to try me? We were gonna say she's in space? No, that's not the answer. No, she's not in space.

Peter - You’re giving us another guess?

Chris - You could go on then, you can have one. Go on, then.

Peter - Well, clearly it's not frozen. Upside down presumably means something. Rotating slowly is not going to work. It depends what upside down means really, doesn't it?

Sophie - It does.

Chris - Shall I put you out of your misery? I think it's gonna be.. I think you're going to win for the first time that you go. The answer is, okay, she's underwater. That's quite cool, isn't it? That's pretty clever. Okay, so yes, the lady was underwater. So well done, this week's big brains of the week: Richard and Kez. Brilliant, brilliant.



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