Testing our panels' metal: quiz time

Who will be The Naked Scientists' big brain of the week?
20 February 2018

Interview with 

Dr Sophie Mowles, Anglia Ruskin University, Allan McRobie, Cambridge University, Dr Kyle Treiber - Cambridge University, Dr Matt Bothwell - Cambridge University

Question marks

Question marks


Chris Smith put our panel  - astronomer Matt Bothwell, engineer Allan McRobie, neurocriminologist Kyle Treiber and behavioural ecologist Sophie Mowles - to the test with a Naked Scientists quiz...

Kyle and Matt, you’re team 1
Sophie and Allan, you are team 2


Q1: Chris -  team 1 [Kyle and Matt]:

Which can exert more force - the kick of a secretary bird or the pinch of a coconut crab?

Kyle - I think it’s the coconut crab.

Matt - It has to be crabs, right? Crustaceans are famous for being able to do these really forceful pinches, aren’t they?

Kyle - Yeah. Although some birds are known for having very hard kicks but…

Matt - Interesting! Yeah, I reckon the crab.

Kyle - Go with the crab.

Correct answer: the coconut crab!

It lives in the tropical Indian and Pacific oceans, and as their name suggests, they’re strong enough to open coconuts! The pinch can exert a force comparable to a boxer’s punch. But the secretary bird’s kick isn’t to be underestimated! These gangly birds have been known to deliver killer kicks with a force equivalent to 5 times their body weight.

Q2. Chris: Team 2 [Sophie and Allan]:

What is more poisonous, a cone snail or a daddy long legs?

Allan - Cone snails are very very poisonous but it’s got to be a trick question hasn’t it? Is this the fact that the daddy long legs can’t pierce your skin or is that an urban myth?

Sophie - I think that’s an urban myth. It depends on how you define daddy long legs as well which can be many many things. It could be the spider or the cone snail. They are very venomous.

Allan - It’s too easy to be the cone snail - it’s got to be a trick question! It’s got to be the cone snail, therefore that’s going to be the wrong answer.

Chris - What would you like to go for, the snail or the daddy long legs?

Sophie - I’d like to go for the cone snail. I think it’s right.

Chris - It’s the right decision!

Answer: Cone snail

Info: Cone snails are predatory, sea-dwelling snails you do not want to tread on.  The estimated lethal dose to humans of the Geography cone snail is less than 0.1mg per kg, so say you’re 80kg, that’s 8mg!

Daddy long legs being poisonous, on the other hand, is a total myth. There are 3 species of creepy crawlies that people refer to as daddy long legs. 2 of these - the harvestman and the crane fly - have no venom at all, and for the other one, the pholcid house spider, can give you a nip, but the venom wouldn't harm a human.



Q3. Chris: Team 1[Kyle and Matt]:

Assuming no impact from space debris, what’s going to survive longer in space? Starman’s tyres, or his windscreen?

Starman is Elon Musk’s Tesla that he blasted into space last week aboard the Falcon Heavy, and it’s currently on its way having missed its target of Mars to the asteroid belt. So it’s car is making its way across space - what’s going to last longer the windscreen, or the tyres?

Kyle - I might have to defer to Matt on this one.

Matt - Assuming no impact from space debris is the confusing thing right, because I assume there would be this constant rain of stuff that would wear things away? Does rubber decay over time?

Kyle - I would have thought rubber would be more resilient than glass, assuming the windscreen is made of glass in this case.

Matt - This is assuming it’s not getting hit by stuff, right?

Kyle - Yeah.

Matt -  We’ll guess windscreen.

Answer: The glass in the windshield.

Solar radiation breaks carbon-carbon and carbon-hydrogen bonds, for instance in the rubber car tyres, whereas glass is in-organic, made mainly of silica (SiO2), so the glass will probably be more resilient. BUT - windscreen glass is laminated with plastic, so it will still discolour and come apart at some point. So the glass is not completely immune to the solar radiation but it will probably be a bit more resilient than the tyres.


Q4: Chris: Team 2 [Sophie and Allan]:

How many Earths could you fit in the distance between the earth and the moon? 10, 30 or 1000?

Sophie - There’s some calculations going on.

Chris - What are your thought processes?

Allan - I’m trying to do the maths!

Sophie - I’m just watching.

Allan - Is it about a quarter of a million miles to the Moon, is it? Is that right? And is it the diameter…

Chris - Metric on this show please. We haven’t left the EU yet!

Allan - The diameter of the Earth is 12,000 kilometres and…

Chris - Going to have to push you, 10, 30 or 1000?

Sophie - Not a thousand.

Allan - It’s got to be 30.

Sophie - Shall we?

Allan - Yes.

Answer: 30. On average, the moon is 380,000 kilometers away from the Earth, and the diameter of the Earth is 12,756km. So - a bit of division later and we end up at 30 Earths about.



Q5 Chris: Team 1[Kyle and Matt]:

Hit with an identical force, what accelerates the fastest: a) Cotton wool ball b) Golf ball c) Football OR d) All the same…?

Matt - I think this about elastic versus inelastic collisions right?

Kyle - I vaguely remember that from my physics class.

Matt - I think it would be a golf ball.

Kyle - That’s the initial response…

Kyle - I’m going to go with your golf ball but I’m wondering...

Chris - Are you going to go golf ball? You got a no no for that one.

Answer: The cotton wool ball!

Newton’s 2nd law of motion is Force = mass x acceleration; so acceleration is force divided by mass. So the lightest object - the cotton wool - will accelerate the fastest. It won’t have much momentum though, and will feel a lot of air resistance, so it won’t travel very far…

It was a bit of sneaky question. Let’s hope they get this one wrong and then you’ll stay in the game.

Q6: Chris: Team 2 [Sophie and Allan]:

In a glass filled with ice and water to its brim, when the ice melts, will the water level in the glass: a) drop, b) stay the same or c) overflow?

Chris - What do you think?

Sophie - Up to its brim. So then it would drop because ice is greater in volume than water, so once the ice melts, as long as it’s up to the glasses brim, the level will drop.

Allan - Yeah. Let’s go with that.

Chris - So you’re saying the levels going to drop?

Sophie - Yep.

Answer: stay the same.

The ice is made of water, so it’s only displacing, or pushing out of the way, a volume of water equivalent to its own mass; hence the level of water won’t change when the ice melts.


Chris - To the nearest 10, how many balloons can the current Guinness World Record holder blow up in an hour? Through the power of puff alone.

Matt - 1,400.

Chris - And Allan and sophie?

Allan - We had 1,000.

Answer: 910

Info: According to the Guiness Book of World Records, Hunter Ewen from Colorado trained for 6 months, worked with a surgeon to get the most efficient balloon-tying technique, and even worked on techniques for conserving air and avoiding getting light-headed. Even then, during his record setting feat he experienced tingling in his hands and changes in eyesight!

Chris: That means the points go to Sophie and Allan. So well done! That enables you to clinch victory from the jaws of defeat and you are this week’s Big Brains of the Naked Scientists!


Citing your own article, water expands in volume when frozen. So how did you conclude in the question above that the volume of water in the glass would be the same after the ice melted? I agree with the panelist that the water level would drop. https://www.thenakedscientists.com/articles/questions/why-does-water-exp...

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