The quiz that sees if you've been keeping up to date on the latest scientific stories to hit the headlines...
05 May 2022

Interview with 

Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi Ltd & Emma Chapman, University of Nottingham & Sidarta Ribeiro, Federal University for Rio Grande do Norte & Frans de Waal, Emory University




Here comes the NEWSWORTHY quiz with our specialist panel including: Eben Upton, Emma Chapman, Sidarta Ribeiro & Frans de Waal...

Harry - I'm gonna split you into two teams and give you each two science news stories that we've recently covered here at the Naked Scientists. For each story, you're gonna have three quick questions related, albeit maybe tenuously, to that topic. The team which answers the most questions correctly will be the rulers of the land of science quizzes and get to sit on a theoretical throne of glory, Emma and Eban, your team one. Sidarta and Frans, you're team two. That works well doesn't it Sidarta?

Sidarta - I'm really glad to be in the same boat as Frans.

Harry - Fantastic.

Frans - The boat will float.

Harry - I'm sure the boat will definitely float. So the four categories for this week's newsworthy stories are smell, Mars, dogs, and lettuce. Now I'm gonna give you the chance to choose which categories you want to answer team one and team two, but to decide who gets to go first, I have an icebreaker question. So this one's a finger on the buzzer kind of jobby, first person to answer this correctly has the first pick of our newsworthy stories. You ready? Here it comes? In the UK, which government commissioner really put her foot in it at the end of last month by saying that girls do not take up physics at school because they quote, 'dislike hard maths?'

Eben - Katharine Birbalsing. Isn't it?

Harry - It was indeed, she's the social mobility head. She said they don't like it. They don't want to do it. And she later remarked 'that was a pretty natural thing.' I mean, Emma, you must be somebody who loves hard maths. How does that make you feel?

Emma - I mean, yes I do. And I am a gender equality campaigner in the physics and the science world. Honestly, I mean, I'm angry, but also I've had to just learn to suppress the anger because otherwise I'd be angry all of the time because this is not a new comment. And yeah, I mean, it just means I get to spend less time on the science that I love because now I have to go and comment on this.

Harry - Oh, and it is damaging, isn't it?

Emma - Yeah.

Harry - Out of smell, Mars, dogs and lettuce. Which topic would you like to tackle?

Emma - I have a feeling everyone's gonna be expecting me to choose Mars, but in every pub quiz I do I never know the answers to anything astronomical. And then I sit there in shame. So Eban, do you have...

Eben - Should we agree on lettuce? Because neither of us are lettuce experts. Therefore, when we get the answer wrong, there'll be no shame.

Harry - It's an interesting choice to play to your weaknesses and not your strengths. Okay. It's lettuce for team one. Astronauts living on the international space station can experience bone density loss due to the effects of living in prolonged microgravity. Emma, you couldn't get away from space could you? Recently scientists added a novel ingredient to lettuce to boost bone strength. First up, how much bone density loss can be experienced by astronauts for each month that they spend in space. Is it A) 0.1% B) 0.5% or C) 1%?

Emma - I'd actually say about one, because I know it's really significant. They have to do a lot of training when they come back. Eban, do you have an idea?

Eben - I'll go with one as well.

Harry - That's correct, it's 1%. Onto the next question. Space lettuce could help to combat this problem. Scientists modified the plant to produce a fusion protein called PTHFC. It involves a crafty bit of gene editing, but what does PTHFC help to regulate in the blood? Is it A) phosphorus B) calcium or C) fibrinogen.

Eben - I would guess calcium.

Harry - Of course it is. Calcium is essential for bone density. A 1% loss of bone density is outrageous isn't it?

Emma - Yeah. They really have to work hard when they come back to prevent osteoporosis and breakages.

Harry - If you were to look after yourself when you do come back, are you able to replace that bone density that you've lost?

Emma - Yeah, I believe so. I'm certainly not an expert on this, but I believe you can recover it with training, so it's not lifelong.

Harry - And the third part of the question, it's pretty tough to grow food under microgravity, but the space station has its own space garden called the vegetable production system. It's known as veggie. Which of the following vegetables have been successfully grown on board? Is it A) kale B) carrots or C) Spinach?

Emma - I'm gonna go with spinach because it's really easy to grow because I've grown it and I kill everything.

Eben - Yeah. I'm gonna go with spinach due to blame diffusion. Yeah, that's good. Spinach, definitely spinach.

Harry - Smart move Eben. The answer is kale. That's exactly what you want when you're up there on the space station. So out of those three questions, you take away two points, two outta three ain't bad guys.

Emma - Yeah, I'm happy with that. And I just can't believe that we chose lettuce and I still got the space shame, but there we go.

Harry - Over to Sidarta and Frans now, team two. So what you are left with is Mars, smell, and dogs. Which would you like Frans?

Frans - I'd love to do dogs.

Sidarta - Likewise.

Harry - Here we go. For team two we have dogs. By analysing the musculature in the face of dogs and the faces of wolves, it's been found that our four-legged pets have different physiological faces, including a reduction in slow twitch muscle fibers compared to their old ancestors. These changes have resulted in more expressive faces, but what muscle is it that gives Lassy her puppy-dog eyes. Is it A) the buccinator muscle B) the caninus muscle or C) the levator muscle?

Frans - Ah I know it's the muscle close to the eye, but I'm not familiar with all these muscles. You know that Sidarta?

Sidarta - No.

Frans - It's a muscle close to the eye that makes the eye a bit rounder, and so more puppy-like.

Harry - That's correct? Yep.

Frans - Do the first one maybe.

Harry - Yeah. We're going with the first one. It's actually the levator muscle. We have one called the levator ani and it's in the human pelvis, but this one sits just above the dog's eyebrow. Very different. It sits above the eyebrow. So that's why, if you look at my brother's cockapoo, he's a ridiculous dog, but he's got these massive eyebrows, very expressive. Second question: dogs have been crowned the UK's favorite pet, but according to a 2020 survey, what breed is the most common to have as part of the family? Is it A) springer spaniel B) labrador retriever or C) a German shepherd. See what's happened here is we've given Emma space and we've given you guys a question for the UK!

Frans - Yeah.

Sidarta - Thank you very much.

Frans - I would say a, but I don't know. What do you say Frans?

Sidarta - Yeah, it could be number one or two. I don't think it's a German shepherd, but let's go with number one.

Harry - Oh, so close. It's a labrador retriever. The cuteness of dogs is thought to have been derived in part by humans domesticating them over a millennia. Other than losing the ability to howl like wolves, what else have dogs lost as they've evolved? Is it A) a rigid breeding season B) the ability to see in colour or C) the ability to taste corriander?

Frans - They don't have a rigid breeding season.

Harry - Yeah, that's correct. So with wolves, they do have quite a rigid breeding season. It's about eight weeks or so for those in North America, that's from late January through to March, but across the world that does change slightly. It's two out of three for team one. And for team two it's one out of three. It's still all to play for. Team one. You're up again! What's left. It's Mars or smell.

Emma - Let's go with Mars. Come on. Let's embarrass myself. It's inevitable.

Harry - It had to happen. Emma, here we go. A recent recording came back from the perseverance Rover on Mars, which to me sounded like a bit of windy audio, but this clip actually reveals something quite interesting. Sound on Mars travels at two different speeds. What gas is it in Mars's atmosphere that's responsible for this dual speed of sound waves? Is it A) oxygen B) carbon dioxide or C) nitrogen?

Eben - I know nothing. So I'm gonna say carbon dioxide because it makes up most of the atmosphere.

Emma - Yeah, I've just got horror on my face.

Harry - Emma, I think it was fair to say you were giving Eban a chance to go first. Right? You didn't wanna steal the spotlight.

Emma - 100 percent. Edit that out. Edit that out. Eban, you go. Let's go with carbon dioxide. I like your confidence.

Harry - It's true. Well deduced. Carbon dioxide is the one responsible. Now Olympus Mons is a shield volcano on Mars with a peak of 26 kilometers. When measured from the planes, roughly how many Mount Everest's tall is that? Is it A) one B) three or C) five?

Emma - I have no idea.

Eben - So it's about 25,000 feet. And you said 25 kilometers.

Emma - Oh, I'm on the right team.

Eben - And there are 3000 feet in... three.

Harry - The answer is three. Well deduced again. Everest is in total 8,849 meters tall. Here we go then Emma, it is time to shine now.

Emma - Yeah.

Harry - Mars has two moons. Can you give me the correct name for one of them out of this selection, A) Phobos B) Europa or C) Mimus?

Emma - That's Mimus, right?

Eben - Oh, I think it's Phobos.

Emma - Is it Phobos? I'm panic, fear and panic. I am sweating. I'm sweating right now. I'm not enjoying this. This was not part of the package. I don't like it.

Harry - Well done.

Emma - Can I just put a caveat here? I look at the first stars, which are 13 billion years ago. So I really don't care about anything close by.

Harry - None of us care about rocks. Yeah that's correct. Get out of the way. The other moon is Deimo. So at the end of that round, that brings you up to a total of five points. Wait a second. Does that mean team one has got it. They've won.

Eben - Oh yeah.

Harry - Oh, okay Sidarta and Frans. You've gotta bring something back, right? There's a couple points to be had here. Yeah. We get

Frans - We can get a bonus point!

Harry - Of course. So here we go. Your final topic is smell. A recent study are several different populations from around the globe to rank, pardon the pun, smells to determine the role culture plays in our preference for whiffs. The overwhelming result for the worst smell was described as being similar to that of sweaty feet. But what chemical is responsible for this disgusting odor? A) isovaleric acid B) ethyl butyrate or C) octanoic acid?

Sidarta - I don't think it's B.

Harry - That leaves you with A or C.

Frans - There was a study of cheese, you know, that has a component that's in smelly feet also.

Harry - Really?

Frans - Yeah. Actually it's a cheese, a very favorite cheese.

Sidarta - Maybe it's A?

Frans - You think it's A. Okay let's go with that.

Sidarta - I think it's A.

Harry - It is indeed, isovaleric acid. That's one. The comeback begins now. Many animals rely heavily on scent for guiding behavior, but the human nose is also pretty nifty at discriminating between them. How many scents are noses thoughts to be able to tell apart? Is it A) 1 million B) 1 billion or C) 1 trillion?

Sidarta - I think it's 1 million.

Frans - 1 trillion seems ridiculous.

Harry - No! We can apparently tell the difference between 1 trillion different types of smell.

Frans - Do we have words for 1 trillion smells?

Emma - Every type of cheese.

Harry - One of the main symptoms of several COVID 19 causing variants is a loss of taste and smell, but which part of the nose is thought to be impacted by the virus and therefore responsible for wiping out scent? Is it A) olfactory neurons B) nose hairs or C) epithelial support cells.

Sidarta - Epithelial support cells.

Harry - Straight into Sidarta. It is indeed. Well, that was a pretty good end to finish on. I think two points were taken there, but it does mean of course that at the end of newsworthy our very winner worthy victors at team one are Emma and Eben. Congratulations. How does it feel?

Emma - I totally carried the team.

Eben - Truly we are correctly named team.


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