February Quiz: New Beginnings

We test our scientists on their knowledge of all things new through this nifty quiz...
03 February 2022

Interview with 

Becky Smethurst, University of Oxford, Greger Larson, University of Oxford, Olivia Remes, University of Cambridge, & Thor Hanson, Science Author


It's that time in the show where we put our experts knowledge to the test and in honor of it still being near-ish to the new year, - I'm still writing 2021 as the date, that's my marker - the theme for this quiz is 'new beginnings'. Becky and Greger are team one, and Thor and Olivia are team two. This is a multiple choice quiz, and conferring is allowed within teams, but there's no cross team collaboration. So let's see who is going to be the 'new-year-new-me' champion...

Julia - Round one is called 'nature awakens', and this first question is for Becky and Greger. As we speak some animal species are in the depths of hibernation, getting through the cold darkness by slowing down or sleeping (and I wish I could do the same to be honest).Groundhogs - famously used to predict the weather - can sleep for up to five months each winter. Their physiology slows down, including their heart rate, which is normally between 80 to 100 beats per minute. How often does a groundhogs heart beat when it is hibernating? Is it (A) 50 to 60 beats per minute, (B) 20 to 30 beats per minute, or (C) 5 to 10 beats per minute?

Becky - Oh, I was thinking that was lower than A. I was thinking around 10, but I was trying to work out if that was a reasonable, like 10 per minute - that's one, every six seconds. That seems reasonable for a small animal. Right?

Greger - That's my resting heart rate. So that's probably good.

Julia - And the answer is (C) 5 - 10 beats per minute

Greger - Trust your gut.

Julia - Yes, exactly. And their body temperature also drops from 37 degrees Celsius to 2 degrees Celsius, and breathing rate goes down from 16 breaths per minute to just two. So they are very much switched off from the world, which we all probably wish we could do in winter at some point. Question two - Olivia and Thor, we're over to you. A class of flies called periodical cicadas found in north America, mature in the ground for a very long time before coming out into the open for mating. 2021 saw one of these awakenings from a group called brood 10, but when will they next awaken? Will it be (A) 2028, (B) 2038 or (C) 2048?

Greger - Can we chime in and steal their point?

Julia - You definitely can't! No cross team collaboration.

Becky - Thor's already smiling like he knows the answer anyway.

Julia - People in north America, you've got an up here.

Thor - I would say that, in our parts here, you just threw that ball right over the plate. In baseball, we would hit that for a home run. Olivia, I think these are the 17 year cicadas. So that, with my math, would put us at 2038. What do you think?

Olivia - I say, let's go with that.

Julia - And the answer is, of course it's (B) - we've got people from north America here, they're going to know! Periodical cicadas come out of the ground every 13 or 17 years with brood 10's next projected emergence being 2038. And it's still unclear why periodical cicadas wait this long to come out to the surface. It's been theorized that they're high numbers all at once might saturate predators, or they might come out when bird numbers are lower. So it's still a bit of a mystery why they wait so long. But when they come out, it's very noisy I've heard, right?

Thor - Absolutely. They're extremely noisy in their vast numbers.

Julia - All emerging at once, like a big party. So at the end of round one, it's even - one, one. We're going into round two fresh. Round two is called 'birth of the universe' - Becky, you'll be hopefully liking this round. Question one, Becky and Greger. It is thought that planet earth was born around 4.5 billion years ago from a series of, collisions. But how many years after this, did it take for the first signs of life to appear?

Greger - If we guess before we get the multiple choice, do we get bonus points? Just looking for an edge.

Julia - Well, I haven't got the terms and conditions here, so I'll give you the choices, but you can be quick to the mark. I'm sure you will be. So (A) is 500 million years after the 4.5 billion, (B) 800 million years or (C) 1 billion years?

Greger - I mean, I think it's a billion. Three and a half billion. Right?

Julia - The answer is I've got B

Greger - No!

Julia - It said the first signs of life, which were thought to be microscopic organisms, existed 3.7 billion years ago. They were found in rocks that were marked 3.7 billion years old.

Becky - It's just rude.

Greger - And I don't know - the confidence intervals on that dating,I think it's probably 3.5.

Julia - What's the difference? 3.5? 3.7? Same thing. So we just missed that one, but I love the confidence. Question two, we're coming over to Thor and Olivia. When a star is born (not in the Hercules kind of way) clouds of hydrogen called nebulae interact together, producing clumps which heat to 10 million degrees Celsius. Once this high temperature is reached inside a young stellar object, nuclear fusion - the joining two nuclei to make a new atom - transitions it into stardom, with hydrogen atoms fusing to become helium. What element inside a star signals its most near to the end of its lifespan? Is it (A) carbon, (B) magnesium, or (C) iron?

Thor - Olivia, I don't know. We can't ask Becky this question?

Greger - Yes we can!

Julia - I'll ask Becky at the end to probably clarify on the answer for us.

Olivia - I don't know why, but I'm tempted to say carbon, what do you?

Thor - I'm with you a hundred percent. That was my gut reaction too, which is not based on much, but we'll go for it.

Julia - Well, the answer is (C) iron!

Greger - So it's the heavier stuff.

Julia - Yes. When atoms fuse within a star to eventually form iron, this creates an inert core and it doesn't release energy for the star to keep burning and leads to stellar death. Becky, what happens when a star dies?

Becky - Essentially, what happens when you hit iron is that you have to put more energy in to fuse iron together than you get out from nuclear fusion, so there's just nowhere for the star to go at that point. And so when the star dies, essentially there's no force pushing outwards against the gravity pulling inwards and you get this collapse inwards.

Julia - There you go - answered by the expert on that one. We don't want iron at the core of the star. That's not a good sign. So at the end of that round, we're still on one, one - nothing lost nothing gained going into the final round now, which is called 'humans and habits'. Becky and Greger question one is for you. It's thought the human brain is made up of about 86 billion neurons and these cells do not divide. However, in the 1990s stem cells were found in the brain with one pool located in the region important for forming new memories called the hippocampus. But how many of these new neurons are thought to be born each day in an adult human brain? Is the answer (A) 700, (B) 2,700 or (C) 27,000?

Becky - I don't like the neuroscientists, they're the only ones that can give us a run for our money with the big numbers. I feel like for them to put such a small number in there, it has to be quite small?

Greger - This is about as far away from either you or me as possible. Right?

Becky - So do we just go right down the middle?

Greger - Ooh, not a bad idea. 2,700?

Julia - The answer is (A) - Becky, you were close! Based on the data using C14 carbon dating, which essentially time tags DNA due to different levels of C 14 in the atmosphere, it's thought 700 new neurons are added to this part of the brain each day. And that represents a turnover of about 1.75% per year in this little section of the brain. And this is drastically smaller to say our blood cell turnover, where millions of new cells are produced on the daily. Question two, Olivia and Thor - you could steal this here. At new year's, many people set new year's resolutions to signal a new beginning in terms of changing their behaviors. A large study of 60,000 people looking at prompting, showing up to the gym consistently found which method to be most effective? Was it (A) setting a plan in advance of when and where the people would workout, (B) giving people an incentive to return to the gym after they'd missed a workout or (C) signing an exercise commitment pledge?

Olivia - I would go with (A) setting a time and place to go and do the exercise. What do you think?

Thor - I would go with that too. If you're setting a time and place, and making a plan and coordinating with others, you've made a commitment by gosh.

Julia - The answer is - B!

Olivia - What? No!

Julia - This study was published in December, 2021. And it found that while various methods of planning, reminders and incentives to keep working out did work, rewarding people for going back to the gym after they'd missed a workout came out as the best for increasing the number of gym visits and maintaining this change after the study finished. So that means that we're on a tie break and we do have a tie break question. Of course, in these instances, we have a tie break. Our intern who wrote the tie break, didn't hear me correctly when I said the quiz was called 'new beginnings' - they heard me call it 'new innings'. So the tiebreak question is in the 2021-2022 Ashes series, how many runs did England score across all five tests against Australia? So this is a ballpark - whoever gets closest to the number of runs that England got, they claim victory.

Greger - 2000.

Julia - Okay. So Greger is thinking 2000. Becky, you going with that?

Becky - Oh, we have to say The same - Yes, I would've gone 1600, like 400 times four.

Greger - There were five tests though.

Becky - Oh, there's five tests. Not four. Yeah, so 2,000.

Olivia - Gosh, I don't know.

Thor - We'll do the sleazeball move here and add one to yours.

Greger - The price is right manoeuvre.

Thor - That's exactly right!

Becky - You would assume England did better than we think they did.

Julia - So we've got a 2000 versus a 2001. The answer is 1,913 - Becky and Greger stole it at the last minute! That's how many England got. Australia, this time got 2,554, which led to a 4-0 victory for the Aussies. At the end of the quiz, that means we have champion Supreme, Becky and Greger - team Oxford - have won!

Greger - Can we pause this so I can tweet that right now? Just play claim to that victory.

Julia - Claim the victory!


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