Meet the contestants

Meet our challengers stepping up the plate
23 June 2020

Interview with 

Matt Bothwell, Olivia Remes, Ljiljana Fruk, Beth Singler , University of Cambridge




Who have we got, ready to start quizzing? Adam Murphy and Phil Sansom chat to the panel; chemist Ljiljana Fruk, astronomer Matt Bothwell, AI researcher Beth Singler, and mental health expert Olivia Remes...

Ljiljana - Hi Adam, Hi Phil! Nice to be with you again. I mean, I've failed several times in some of the Naked Scientists quizzes, but I am totally primed to be answering and helping out today.

Adam - Brilliant. And in your research vein, what is it that you look into?

Ljiljana - I am a chemist, so I work also on some natural dyes that can be used as photocatalysts. I work on nanotechnology, so how do you make really tiny particles do wonderful things, and how do we design materials that can be used in medicine.

Adam - Amazing. And then Matt, you're with us as well; how do you tend to do in a pub quiz? Any particular areas of expertise?

Matt - I'm not too bad. I don't want to brag, but I have an uninterrupted string of defeats on the Naked Scientists...

Phil - Oh, wow.

Adam - Lovely. Great to hear.

Matt - I'm hoping to continue this strong showing today.

Adam - Your partner is looking forward to being paired with you then, I take it.

Matt - Whoever it is is a very lucky person.

Adam - And what about you? What do you tend to look into?

Matt - Research wise I study galaxies, so looking way back in time to the early universe, and looking at baby galaxies, basically; looking at the first galaxies that form way back billions of years ago at the dawn of time, and then figuring out what physical processes change those baby galaxies into the big grownup galaxies that we see nowadays.

Adam - And how do you go about looking at that kind of thing?

Matt - I'm an observational astronomer, which means I use telescopes. Radio telescopes, normally, so long-wavelength light, which probes the gas in these galaxies. Gas in outer space, gas in galaxies, is the fuel for future star formation. When you study the gas in these galaxies, you can get a sense of how they're behaving, what the physics are, how fast they're forming stars; and those are important things to plug into your models that describe how galaxies evolve over time.

Adam - Amazing. Well we'll be looking forward to chatting with you as well Matt, coming up soon.

Phil - Now Olivia Remes, fantastic to have you with us for the quiz. Tell us, do you have a competitive streak yourself?

Olivia - Well I have to say that after listening to the answers of the other participants, I also must say that I have not been very good. Even though I always want to do as best as I can, I have not been very good at any of the Naked Scientists quizzes, but let's hope that today... today's a new day, so who knows, my luck may be changing.

Phil - Well we do pitch our quizzes pretty hard here on the Naked Scientists. You're at sort of a University Challenge level of hardness, I would say. So I wouldn't be too hard on yourself.

Olivia - Absolutely, absolutely.

Phil - Now tell us about your particular field of interest, because you're a psychologist, correct?

Olivia - That's right, yeah. My area is psychology and mental health, and I look at depression and anxiety, and how people can become resilient. I look at, well what are some of the things that make us have poor mental health? And this is so important now during the coronavirus, when that has been one of the things that a lot of people have been struggling with, these feelings of anxiety and depression; and teaching people coping strategies, how they can overcome that. And I think it's great because there are things that you can do from the comfort of your own home to improve your mental health.

Phil - Are you going to use any of these resilience strategies to give you mental resilience today to last you through this quiz?

Olivia - Absolutely. I have a whole arsenal of things, a whole toolkit to pull from. So the other contestants better be prepared.

Phil - Well, let's move to another of those contestants. In fact, it's Beth Singler! Beth so good to have you back on the show.

Beth - Really great to be back on, thank you.

Phil - Remind us, for those who haven't heard your pieces on our show before: what's your research bag?

Beth - I an expert on artificial intelligence, but I have to caveat that by saying I'm probably the least technologically adept person around. I am a sneaky social scientist getting in undercover; I'm an anthropologist who looks at people's understanding of artificial intelligence, and how they interact with it, and what kind of impact it's going to have on society as well. So I've had to be pretty well versed in what artificial intelligence is and can do, but I'm not a builder.

Phil - Have you seen anything weird happen in this world since everyone was in lockdown at home, plenty of time to code various computer software... has anything weird come out of this?

Beth - Well yeah, there's lots of reports that our current AI systems, quite narrow intelligences that we have, are really struggling to deal with a world where we don't behave in the usual way. I mean, everyone knows this from their experience of buying things online, the expectations that we build up through our purchases; that they're now struggling to understand why we want so many toilet rolls at the beginning of lockdown, and are still reproducing this idea that perhaps we want more and more toilet rolls...

Phil - I'm struggling to understand that one myself, to be honest.

Beth - Well that was always going to be necessary at some point, but I think we... algorithms, they take rubbish in, they push rubbish out. So if we constantly tell them we want one thing, they're going again to reproduce those ideas.

Phil - So what's your plan for the quiz? Take rubbish in, push rubbish out? Or take solid winning answers...

Beth - Quite often my responses will be rubbish! In the normal circumstances of a pub quiz I think I'm usually the person there who only supplies the interesting name for the team. And I'm completely struggling to come up with any today. So I doubt I'll come up with any good answers either.


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