November Quiz: Being Green

It's time for a quiz to challenge our scientists on what they know about all things green.
11 November 2021

Interview with 

Nessa Carey, University of Oxford; John Tregoning, Imperial College, London; Sarafina Nance, UC Berkeley; Huw Griffiths, British Antarctic Survey


Green tiles in a pattern


We like to test our guests to make sure we’ve got the finest brains science has to offer, and of course, you at home can join in too and see if you can beat the boffins. We've got space scientist Sarafina Nance and infectious disease researcher John Tregoning in team 1, and molecular biologist Nessa Carey and Antarctic biologist Huw Griffiths in team 2.

As we are recording this episode in the middle of the international meeting about climate change that is COP26, Sally Le Page will be asking questions this week about being green.

Sally - Round one is 'being green for our planet'. Question one is coming to you Sarafina and John. 'If the whole world adopted a vegan diet, by what percentage would we reduce global agricultural land use? Is it A) 55%, B) 65% or C) 75%?'.

Sarafina - John what do you think?

John - I don't know.

Sarafina - Maybe, maybe, maybe B)? Solid middle ground.

Sally - No other reason than it is the middle answer. You're going for B).

Sally - The answer is C) 75%. Research suggests that if everyone adopted a vegan diet, we would also cut agricultural land use from 4 billion to 1 billion hectares. Isn't that incredible? Question 2, your first question Nessa and Huw. 'In the 1830s, the average person in the UK would have got by on just 18 litres of water per day. However, nowadays we are using over 135 litres a day. Toilet flushing accounts for a large proportion of our water use. What fraction of water used in the average UK home today goes down the toilet. Is it A) a fifth, B) a third, or C) a half?'

Nessa - Should we use their strategy and go for the middle one again? It feels about right.

Huw - I was going to say B) sounded better than the other ones to me.

Sally - Going for B) again, mostly just because it is the middle one and this time it is correct. The answer is a third of our water goes down the toilet.

John - One of the more disgusting things I learned while writing the book was that only 30% of men wash their hands after going to the toilet in petrol stations. That crept up to 40% during the pandemic, but I think it's crept back down again.

Nessa - Okay. So I'm now back onside with Sally and the 'can we follow the condors' because the men are not doing well here. You grubby creatures.

Sally - What does anyone touch inside a petrol station and how can I avoid touching it at all? Oh my goodness. I suppose they're using less water.

John - We're saving the planet. Through cleaner peeing.

Sally - Well at the end of round one, that's so far no points to Sarafina and John, and one point to Nessa and Huw, but you can still catch up. Round two in 'being green'; 'green is not only the colour of envy'. Question one to Sarafina and John. 'Emerald, aquamarine and morganite are all types of beryl. Their individual characteristic colours are determined by metal impurities. What metal impurity gives emerald its green colour. Is it A) chromium? Is it B) copper? Or is it C) cadmium?'

Sarafina - I think it's not copper. I have absolutely no idea, I just feel like you would be able to see that. I don't know.

John - What was the first one?

Sally - We have chromium, copper and cadmium.

John - Let's go chromium. It feels like that one that sort of crystal colour used to do for precipitations.

Sally - You're going for chromium. The answer is indeed chromium. Emerald is a green beryl coloured by about 2% chromium and sometimes vanadium. Aquamarine, which is obviously aquamarine coloured, blue, has iron impurities and the colour of morganite, which is a rose pink colour, can be attributed to manganese irons. Good job. Question two for Nessa and Huw. 'For hundreds of years, copper ores, such as malachite were used as green pigments. In 1775, Carl Wilhelm Scheele invented a new green pigment that took the world by storm. But what questionable component did he mix with copper to obtain this green colour? Was it A) potassium cyanide? Was it B) arsenic trioxide? Or was it C) mercury fulminate?'

Huw - The arsenic thing rings a bell. But lots of painters did horrible things by licking their brushes and things and getting all sorts of things, so it could be any of those that would give you a nasty end.

Sally - The radium women who painted radium paint onto watch faces used to have terrible poisoning after licking their brushes.

Huw - But lovely smiles.

Nessa - Until their jaws dropped off. For some reason, I'm associating arsenic with white for no reason whatsoever.

Sally - Gonna have to press you for an answer.

Nessa - Go on Huw, go with yours.

Huw - Yeah let's go with arsenic.

Sally - We're going with arsenic. And it's a good choice. The answer is indeed B) arsenic trioxide. Napoleon is famously believed to have been poisoned by his wallpaper that had been painted with Scheeles green. Arsenic is found in surviving samples of his hair, but even if there wasn't enough in the paint to kill Napoleon, there was enough in his hair to cause illness. So at the end of round two, that's one point to Sarafina and John, and two points to Nessa and Huw. So it's still all to play for. Round three in our 'being green' quiz is 'It ain't easy being green.' Kermit the frog performed the hit song 'Being Green' in 1970 for Sesame Street. As Kermit is a frog, this round is about frogs.

Nessa - That is not at all tenuous. I really, really like that.

Sally - This is just because I really like frogs, so I wanted to do a round on frogs. With this being a round on frogs, question one to Sarafina and John. '40% of amphibian species are under threat and a lot of that is because of a deadly frog fungus. This initially spread really quickly as frogs were being shipped around the world. What were they being used for? Was it A) as a mosquito control agent? Was it B) testing the safety of drinking water? Or was it C) pregnancy tests? Huw I see you know it, but this is not for you, so try to keep a poker face.

Sarafina - Can we call a friend?

John - Annoyingly three stories down is the guy who works on frog funguses and might have the answer. If you gave me 30 minutes to run down to Matt's office, I would have the answer.

Sally - Has he ever mentioned to you at lunchtime why frogs were such useful animals?

John - It's not pregnancy tests. What were the other two?

Sally - We've got as a mosquito control agent testing, the safety of drinking water and pregnancy tests.

Sarafina -
I think it's B) or C). Simply according to Huw's reaction, I think it's B) or C).

John - I'm gonna go B).

Sally - You're going to go for B), testing the safety of drinking water. Huw put them out of their misery. What is it?

Huw - Pregnancy testing.

Sally - It is indeed pregnancy tests. Female Xenopus frogs were widely used as pregnancy tests in the 1950s and 60s, and get this -  a woman's wee was injected under the skin of a female frog. If she was pregnant, the frog would lay eggs about five hours later.

Sarafina - You're kidding.

Sally - I am not kidding. They shipped these Xenopus frogs all around the world for women to wee on them, and because they were shipping the frogs, they accidentally shipped the fungus with it. And now chytrid fungus is all around the world.

Huw - And the worst thing about this being radio is you didn't see the reactions of the other panelists.

Sally - Sarafina is still yet to pick her jaw up off the floor.

John - Would you buy them in the pharmacist with two lines on them?

Sally - I think you just go to the GP and say, 'excuse me, have you got a frog I could wee on.' Question two for Nessa and Huw. 'Frog tongues are marvels of evolution. They are 10 times softer than human tongues and can catch prey in the fifth of the time it takes to blink. They are also incredibly strong. Research has found out how much a horned frog tongue could lift relative to its body weight. If our tongues were that strong, what would we be able to pick up? Is it A) a small dog? Is it B) a medium fridge? Or is it a C) a large car? And I'll just pause to let you imagine picking up each of those items with your tongue.

Nessa - I can't talk now. My tongue has now been paralysed by the thought.

Huw - I don't want to go for B) again, because we've gone for B) on everything so far. So my brain is saying fridge, but my quiz head is saying they wouldn't give us three B's in a row so why don't we go for car instead? Because a dog, even my tongue could pick up a small dog so I don't feel worried about that.

Sally - Have you tried?

Huw - Every day.

Sally - Chihuahuas watch out if you're ever near the British Antarctic Survey station.

Nessa - Let's go for the car.

Huw - I want it to be car.

Nessa - So do I.

Sally - You really want it to be the car?

Nessa - Yeah, we really want it to be the car.

Sally - Sadly wanting it is not enough. It is B) a medium fridge. You were right with your science head, Huw. Horned frogs can lift 1.4 times their own body weight, and they can fire their tongue out at four meters per second. Isn't that astonishing? At the end of the quiz, Sarafina and John have one point, but Nessa and Huw have two points making Nessa and Huw the winners. You get ultimate bragging rights among all of your friends.


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