Quiz: From arachnids to awards

It's quiz time!
04 February 2020

Interview with 

Camilla Nord, Sam Virtue and Matt Bothwell, University of Cambridge. Lorna Nisbet, Anglia Ruskin University




It's time to take a break from the questions and give our experts a little quiz. It's astronomer Matt Bothwell and forensic toxicologist Lorna Nisbet on team one, versus neuroscientist Camilla Nord and physiologist Sam Virtue. Who will win...

Chris -  Round 1: this is "Eight-Legged Friends". So, Matt and Lorna: all the spiders on earth could eat the entire human race in a year. Is that science fact, or is that science fiction?

Matt - I've never really thought about this before.

Lorna - What a bizarre question.

Matt - I mean, it's just... you think about the... I'm going to say it's almost certainly not true, because I think I remember telling... because creatures are measured in terms of biomass, right. And I'm sure I remember reading that the biomass of the human race vastly outstrips most other animals, by a very long way.

Lorna - But they do reproduce much quicker. So if you think about it within a year, you wouldn't just be looking at all the spiders that are currently in the world. You'd be looking at all the spiders plus all the future spiders within the space of the year.

Matt - Good point...

Lorna - But I might just be overcomplicating!

Chris - So what are you going to go for, are you going true or false? Do you think all the spiders on earth could eat the human race in a year?

Matt - Well, my instinct would be false.

Lorna - Okay, false.

Chris - You're going false. [WRONG ANSWER] No, actually Lorna and Matt this is true. Apparently all the spiders on earth could eat humanity in under a year. The reference, if you want to read them up, Martin Nyffeler and Klaus Birkhofer said that the 25 million tons of spiders on earth could consume the human race, because they eat between 400 million and 800 million tons of prey per year. And that means that spiders could easily eat as much meat as all of the 7.5 billion humans on the planet put together. And for comparison, us humans eat only about 400 million tons of meat and fish every year. So we actually eat less than all the spiders on earth, the human race, and collectively there are a lot of them. So you were on the right lines Lorna, and unfortunately you're yet to get a point, you two. Over to Team 2, that's Camilla and Sam. So Camilla and Sam: what came first, the spider family or the rings of Saturn? You have to keep quiet, Matt. What do you think about that, you two?

Sam - Again, a question I had not contemplated before. Astronomical time versus spiders.

Camilla - I'm going to be real, this is just a guess. I've no...

Sam - Alright, what do you want to go for?

Camilla - I think we've been relatively pro spider so far, so I might stay on team spider.

Sam - Let's go team spider, and it will probably turn out the rings of Saturn are older than earth, or something...

Chris - [RIGHT ANSWER] No, your instincts were correct. Spiders are older, you two, than the rings of Saturn. Well done. The rings of Saturn are, we believe, relatively young, astronomically speaking. Aren't they, Matt? Can you tell us how old they are?

Matt - Yeah, they formed around the same time that the dinosaurs died out, we reckon. Somewhere round between 60 and 100 million years ago.

Chris - 100 million years old. And this is supposition, largely, but based on the idea that they're a bit too clean and shiny to be terribly old, because were they very old, they would have been decorated by dirt and they would be dull, instead of being nice and pristine and white. Spiders on the other hand came along about 400 million years ago, and the spiders as we would recognise them probably from about 380 million years ago. So spiders predate the rings of Saturn. So well done you two, you're off the mark, one point. Yes Matt?

Matt - The rings are interesting - the rings of Saturn are also disappearing. The rings are raining down onto Saturn at the moment. So in about 100 million years time, just like eclipses, the rings of Saturn will no longer be with us.

Chris - So make the most of them while you can!

Camilla - Will spiders entirely outlive the rings of Saturn as well?

Matt - I would not be surprised.

Chris - Round 2 is called "Nobel Causes". Did you see what we did there? Right, so back to Matt and Lorna. How many Nobel prizes have the Curie family won? Is it a) two, b) three, or c) four?

Lorna - I don't think two, I think they would have got more than that.

Matt - Yeah.

Lorna - Because it's the family.

Matt - Yeah, yeah. I will trust your instincts on this.

Lorna - Oh no, this is awful. Shall we just go straight in the middle and go for three?

Matt - Yeah, let's do it.

Lorna - Yeah. Three.

Chris - So you're going three? And that is a... [WRONG ANSWER] it's actually four, would you believe? Marie, won two, just on herself. Obviously one was shared with Pierre, her husband. Their daughter Irène Joliot-Curie received one with her husband for discovering artificial radioactivity; and Henry Labouisee, who was Marie's other son in law, he got the peace prize on behalf of UNICEF in 1965; total of four. Incredible, isn't it?

Lorna - I don't feel so guilty now considering there was three chemistry ones and only one peace!

Chris - Okay. Let's go back to Camilla and Sam. We want to know: how many people have won multiple Nobel prizes in science? So we've heard about the Curie family winning four between the lot of them, but how many people have actually won multiple prizes just themselves? Is it a) one, b) three, or c) five?

Camilla - So I think Marie Curie is the only one to have won a prize in two topics.

Sam - But Fred Sanger definitely won two.

Camilla - Yeah.

Sam - So he got two...

Camilla - Sorry, what were the multiple choices?

Chris - You can go one, three, or five.

Sam - So we're safe it's not one, because we can name two people.

Camilla - We're safe it's not one.

Sam - I think we go three. What do you reckon?

Camilla - I mean, I would even go as high as five, but I don't mind. Three feels comfortable.

Sam - I think that's pretty rare.

Chris - You're going three? And the answer is... [RIGHT ANSWER] Yep, it is! Marie Curie, John Bardeen, and Frederick Sanger all have two Nobel prizes in sciences. Linus Pauling also won two Nobels; he's the only person to have two solo prizes, one of them was in peace. So there you go. Two marks to you, Sam and Camilla, well done. Back to Matt and Lorna. Let's see if you can get off the ground with this one. But this round is called "That's Cheesy". Question 1: milk is acidic. Is that science fact or science fiction?

Lorna - I should definitely know that, I live on a farm, oh my god!

Matt - This is way more your area than mine. I mean, my instinct is yes, but based on my other track record maybe that means we should answer no.

Chris - What are you going to go for?

Lorna - I think no.

Chris - You want to go false?

Lorna - I think false, but you might be right.

Chris - [WRONG ANSWER] No, I'm really sorry to say that actually it's true. Despite being touted as a cure for heartburn, for example, milk actually contains lactic acid, because there's a lot of lactose in milk. It has a pH of about 6.5, and that falls further as the milk sours. The calcium in milk also encourages stomach acid release, which means it does make your heartburn worse later, paradoxically. So it's not a good remedy for indigestion. Question 2, back to Sam and Camilla. The yellow and red colours in some cheese is produced by the action of microbes as the cheese matures. Science fact or science fiction?

Camilla - Some of it's definitely food colouring, but I grew up partly in the US, so that's a biased answer.

Sam - I don't know. I mean, like... so what's Red Leicester colour? I'm going to say it's true. I reckon it sounds like it. I mean, I know that the green in Stilton is mould, so it depends. So I reckon, yeah, why not. True.

Chris - You're going true?

Camilla - Yeah.

Chris - [WRONG ANSWER] I'm afraid that actually while blue cheeses do indeed owe their colour to the growth of mould within the cheese, red cheeses like Red Leicester owe their colour to the addition of a vegetable dye which is called annatto, and that's added during the production to give them their colour. So I'm really sorry, you didn't get that one right. But you have nonetheless at the end of Round 3 scored two points, which is two more than the other two. So you are this week's Naked Scientists' Big Brain of the Week. You get a round of applause. Well done. Our winners, who are... am I the only person who's going to - are going to be such sore losers that you're going to give them a round of applause? Come on. Well done, well done. Prize beyond price, which is you are our big-brained winners of the week with two points. And you didn't get to do our tie breaker, so I won't subject that to you.


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