Primates, Pi and (unconscious) Ponderings
A diverse range of expertise graces this month's "Q n May" panel show! Find out how we listen to our cosmos for signatures that herald the birth of the first stars, how gender labels help us understand our society, and whether or not your dreams might be worth remembering. We also probe your insights into the latest scientific discoveries in our new quiz, NEWSWORTHY. Unfortunately, there is no prize for the winner, but we'll give you bragging rights if you ace it...
In this episode
06:11 - 10 years of Raspberry Pi
10 years of Raspberry Pi
Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi Ltd
This year marks a rather special birthday for the Raspberry Pi mini computer, an essential tool used a lot of systems. Harry Lewis interviews Eben Upton, who helped create the technology, about it's legacy...
Eben - We've been around a decade. We launched on the 29th of February 2012, which of course creates birthday challenges for us. We've only really had two birthdays but we've been around for almost exactly 10 years now.
Harry - And do you remember those original months?
Eben - They were just a blur, right? They were a little bit like the first months of having a new child. Everything sort of smears together into this incredibly hectic blur, but things stand out like arriving at the punter on North Hampton Street in the evening of the first day.
Harry - That that a pub Eban?
Eben - Yeah. It's a pub in Cambridge. Realising that we'd sold a hundred thousand or taken orders for, we didn't have a hundred thousand units, we'd taken orders for a hundred thousand parts in the first 24 hours, so these kind of flashes, like the very first time I went to the factory in Wales where we've ended up building all of the Raspberry Pis. Now, you know, just these sort of just little vignettes, little moments.
Harry - Yeah. Little flash backs. That's an awful lot of orders to have placed within the first 24 hours, but it's an accessible tool, isn't it? How much does one of these things cost?
Eben - Well our cheapest units cost five bucks, right? So it really is the latte computer. You can have a Linux workstation for the price of a latte or a bit less than the price of a pint of beer these days. The most expensive thing we make is $75. That's the eight gigabyte, the largest memory version of Raspberry Pi 4, which is our most modern platform.
Harry - Going back to the fact that it's the latte of computer systems, is that gonna change? Because I feel like there's a lot of other industries that are relying on computing at the moment. And you guys are obviously all dealing with a chip shortage, that feels like it's been going on for a long time. What's the latest on that? And how does that apply to Raspberry Pi?
Eben - It's actually only really been going on for, in terms of its impact on our output, it's only been going on for about a year. It's strange to look back on March last year, that was our largest ever month for sales with over 800,000 units going out the door. I think it's making fools of us all. I'm mostly trying to predict when this is gonna end. It has to end. I suspect though, it's not gonna end, you know, it's not gonna end next month. That's for certain.
Harry - And what is the issue again?
Eben - It's interesting. The semiconductor industry is very cyclic industry. These things come around all the time. Maybe every five years you get some sort of shortage situation and in the middle, you then get a glut where the manufacturers are desperate to sell you product and they don't have enough demand to meet the supply rather than not having enough supply to meet demand. Talking to people at Raspberry Pi, our chief commercial officer, who's been doing this for the best part of 40 years. It's as bad as he's ever seen. And if you think, if you go back 40 years, that takes you back into sort to 1980, it's fairly likely it's the worst we've ever seen in the entire history of electronics. Because electronics itself only goes back another 30 years really before that. So this really is a once in a lifetime offer. And of course it's driven partly by demand, partly by supply. There was a miscalculation at the start of the pandemic, on a lot of people's part, including mine. Which was an assumption there would be a recession and that when there's a recession you don't want to get caught holding too much inventory. And so people dial down their orders. At the same time, people were stuck at home and they weren't able to go out to restaurants. They weren't able to go and consume services for many people, their income, even people who weren't able to work during the pandemic, their income was supported to some degree by furlough payments. And so the money that people couldn't spend on services, they tended to spend on goods. And many of those goods had semiconductors in. So you had an almost unnoticed, positive demand shock, and a negative supply shock. And the eventual unwinding of that is this kind of imbalance in the supply chain. Once an imbalance starts, as we found with toilet rolls two years ago, once an imbalance in the supply chain starts, it's very hard to persuade people not to engage in anti-social behaviour, hoarding, effectively hoarding behaviour. We're probably now no longer in the stage where this is driven by fundamentals. It's largely driven by panic.
Harry - Apart from waiting for it to end, are there any other solutions? Is there something that Raspberry Pi can do?
Eben - I think waiting for it to end is what we're all doing. Yeah. I mean, obviously, you know, on a component by component basis on Raspberry Pi, enormous amount of engineering and commercial effort goes into finding alternative sources for components. On any given day there will be a different component, which is causing the shortage, it's very seldom the same component twice that's causing the problem. So it's enormous amount of work goes in there. There are certainly reducable components though on the board for which we have no substitutes. Those are the components that regardless of how much engineering work we do there isn't that much we can do other than wait for it to end.
Harry - So making your own chips, is that what it could come down to?
Eben - Well, the interesting thing is that last year Raspberry Pi started making its own chips. We have a product called RP 2040, which is a micro controller. So I mentioned earlier big Raspberry Pi. When I say big Raspberry Pi, I mean a PC a thing that runs the next that gives you a desktop, gives you a web browser that gives you a C compiler programming tools. We have another sort of Raspberry Pi product called a Raspberry PICO, which is a lower end, lower power consumption embedded device with a micro controller inside. We make that micro controller. And so one of the bright spots of the last year is while it's been a difficult time to be a semiconductor customer, it's been probably the best year ever to become a semiconductor supplier. And we became a semiconductor supplier in January of last year. And we've seen enormous interest in that RP 2040 platform, as an alternative to a whole heap of micro control products out there from guys like ST micro electronics that you just can't buy this year.
Harry - Just amazing growth there from Evan and Raspberry Pi over the past 10 years.
14:20 - Stellar archaeology
Emma Chapman, University of Nottingham
Dr Emma Chapman speaks to Harry Lewis about stars dating back 13 billion years...
Harry - Emma, I hear you never actually wanted to be an astrophysicist at all. Instead, you wanted the job in Egyptology hunting for tombs and learning Egyptian. I want to say it didn't work out, but in your new book, I came across a chapter called stellar archeology, which might make me think otherwise. This isn't an actual discipline is it? This is something that publicists have thought up to make a good soundbite!
Emma - No, this is is a real scientific field full of cutting edge technology and well, incredibly excellent research carried out by scientists called stellar archeologists. I'm very, very, very jealous of their name and what they do is they try and uncover the first stars that existed in our universe that have survived and are just knocking around the neighbourhood today.
Harry - Knocking around the neighbourhood today. I mean, you're gonna have to tell us a little bit more because you've peaked my interest.
Emma - So we think that if the first stars, if there were some stars that were small enough, because the bigger the star, the faster it fuses through its fuel, the bigger star the greedier it is, the quicker it explodes basically. So if we can find some small first stars, then they might have survived the whole 13 billion years and still be around in the Milky Way. The problem is that they have been through a 13 billion year timeline of stuff, being chucked at them of pollution, basically of what I just referred to of all these heavy elements like lithium, beryllium, boron, silicon, all of these things that were created as the universe went along, they're camouflaged. So stellar archeologists, the job is to look at the light from, let's say, several hundred billion stars in the Milky Way and dust it off dust off this light to figure out what is the pollution and what is a real first real pristine, really clean star, lying under all of that. That could be one of these first ever stars to exist.
Harry - And how does one go about choosing where to look? Because I'm assuming you must have masses of data if you point your telescope anywhere. So where do you try and find these, what you would've thought are extinct stars?
Emma - Telescope time is money. It costs a lot of time and patience to get any time on the telescope reserved. And it's 10,000 pounds a night or more. So you have to know where to point and the best guess we can really have is that we know that the stars tend to migrate out of the disc of the galaxy into the halo of the galaxy. That's a good first starting point. We can just look in the halo and that's indeed where we do tend to do most of our observations at the minute, but there's still tens of billions, hundreds of billions to go through. So it really is a case of griding up the sky of just meticulously searching for that that hidden treasure as it were. This is why it all links back to Egyptology for me, because it's the same kind of thing. What people will never tell you about. For example, the discovery of Tutanhkamun's tomb, Howard Carter didn't just stumble across it on his first go. He was there for five years having grided out the desert patch that he'd got permission for. It was on his last dig, as in his funding was about to be cut off that he found this treasure and it really is the same kind of thing for this stellar archeology. We have to be meticulous. We have to grid off the sky, use an educated guess, but it's gonna take time and grit.
Harry - Do you think it'll be successful? Do you think you will find one of these stars?
Emma - I think so. As a scientist, I can only give my well educated guess, but we are getting so close. We've managed to find a second star, if you will. So a star that has so few heavy elements in it that it has to have been from a very, very early time in the universe. And we believe that star is kind of the first descendant in that it was formed from the gas, from the explosion of a first star. That all makes sense. So the point is we're getting really, really close now and our technology is improving all the time. So I have a lot of hope for the next decade for this field.
Harry - And Emma, how do we look back in time and observe these first stars?
Emma - Well, the great thing about light is that it has a speed limit, which means that it takes time to travel. So when we look at the sun, don't look at the sun, but when we look at the sun, then the light from the sun is about eight minutes old. It's taken eight minutes to get to us. So we're seeing the sun as it was eight minutes in the past. When we look at light from the nearest galaxy, we are seeing Andromeda 2.5 million years in the past. So what we do, what I do as a day job is I use radio telescopes to tune into radio light that has been traveling to us for 13 billion years. So we can see the universe as it was 13 billion years ago and pick up the light from this era of the first stars and learn all about it. In real time if you will, it's not through simulation, it's through watching.
Frans - I have a small question.
Harry - Yeah, go Frans.
Frans - In a country notoriously cloudy like the UK, the telescopes must have a bit of trouble or do carry out your observations in Patagonia or some other place?
Emma - This is why I'm a radio astronomer and why radio astronomy really flourished in the UK. Radio waves can penetrate clouds, dust a lot of the atmosphere a lot more than the optical telescopes and so we can observe day and night.
20:25 - The seriousness of dreaming
The seriousness of dreaming
Sidarta Ribeiro, Federal University for Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an uptick in the number of reports of vivid dreaming. Many people claimed their dreams were becoming graphic and easier to remember. Harry Lewis speaks to neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro to find out why…
Sidarta - Absolutely. We are all united in the fear of death. We spend most of our lives thinking that death will not come, or come much later, or we don't want to think about it. Suddenly, we all felt very unsafe.
Harry - I assume there's a lot of neurological mechanisms that are changing due to this fear. Can you talk us through any of those and what's happening in the brain?
Sidarta - Well, we are all capable of fear responses. When you're living life as an affluent member of society, most of the anxiety is delayed, postponed or just repressed. We're talking about hormones like cortisol, adrenaline, neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, dopamine. There's several mechanisms, molecular mechanisms, that will make us urge for novelty, or be afraid of novelty. If you put a rat in a new space, before exploration goes on, they tend to freeze. They freeze for a while and then they will not go to sleep and at some point they will go to sleep. If they didn't experience anything bad, then everything normalises and they will become quite curious about the environment and show novelty seeking behaviours. I think in terms of what happened, and is still happening, with COVID - we have to remember many people in the world are not vaccinated in Africa, in the Caribbean, in many countries in the world, in fact - but for most people, the first few months, the first year, the first year and a half, was a period of loss. Many, many things were compounded and in different studies across the globe it was clear that most people were responding with insomnia, with anxiety, an increased latency for sleep onset, and very vivid nightmares and nightmares that started to have some common themes of contagion. For example, in the study that we published on COVID dreams last year, we found that there's a continuity between what people experience during their waking life in terms of symptoms of mental suffering, and in terms of the contents of the dreams using probe words such as contagion. Similar results have been observed by different groups of researchers. It brings us to a collective experience: a lot of what goes on in dreams is to do with your personal unconscious, with your personal life, with your personal challenges and desires and fears. But sometimes these are also the same as your neighbours.
Harry - Why do we have these dreams? Is there a reason behind them?
Sidarta - I believe so. Dreams are part of the neurobiological machinery of adaptation. Sleep is super important for adaptation. It really helps us make a triage of the memories that need to be kept, those that need to be forgotten or repressed, the stuff that needs to be recombined so that we can have new ideas. Dreams come on top of that as a very sophisticated simulation of potential futures, of counterfactuals. Of course, this is not apparent for most people in contemporary urban societies, because this is not the setting in which dreams evolved at all. If we want to understand what dreams are or how they were selected, we need to think of the evolution of dreaming.
Harry - There's a notion that dreams are pretty meaningless, right? So, it might be a result of stress, they might be a result of something going on in your life...
Sidarta - I think this notion is detrimental to human beings. Our ancestors were dreamers - I'm not talking just about human ancestors, I'm talking about mammalian ancestors. Dreams were a very important part of the cultural process. It's very obvious. If you look at the earliest literary texts in Sumerian Egypt, you'll see that the roles were very complicated, very sophisticated already. We have to imagine that this before writing was invented. Every culture before, let's say, the last 500 years assigned a very special role for dreams as a space for divination, revelation, and decision making, in public as well as private life. And in most, if not all, current, semi-nomadic societies, hunter gatherer societies, dreams occupy a very special place. It's actually quite naive of us contemporary, urban people to believe that we can fare well in this world without the advice of dreams. That's not to say that all dreams are clearly meaningful. That's not to say that they're easy to interpret. That's not to say that there's only one interpretation to a dream. But to believe that dreams are nonsense is not to connect with our own introspection when we were children or adolescents and we had easier contact with our dreams. We all have dreams every night, but few people in cities remember their dreams, much less apply dreams to aid in their navigation of life. This is what I think we need to rescue.
Harry - Sidarta, do you get enough sleep? Do you dream enough?
Sidarta - Nowadays? Yes. Until the pandemic, I was not getting enough sleep. When the pandemic hit, I changed my life in many ways, and this is one way in which things got much better. I'm sleeping as much as I need, as much as I want, every night.
Harry - How do you measure that? How do you know that you're getting enough?
Sidarta - I live near the equator and the sun is up around 05:15. Now, I usually go to bed with my partner around 9:00 PM. Then I wake up spontaneously.
Thanks very much there to Sidarta.
Frans de Waal, Emory University
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Primatologist Frans de Waal's first publication 'Chimpanzee Politics', something a lot of us in the UK probably feels well accustomed to watching as of late. Harry Lewis interviews Frans about his resarch and findings...
Frans - Yeah, I think so, because the gender is the cultural side of the sex binary and, you know, the sexual binary itself is already complex enough. It's not really a binary, it's like an almost binary, and gender is more the cultural expression, the social norms, the education, all the cultural overlays. Gender is usually divided in masculine and feminine terms and everything in between. So, there's a much more flexible concept that relates to what you learn during your lifetime. Primates like the chimpanzee are adult when they're 16, so have a very slow development and learn a lot of things when they're young, some of which is from adult females, some from adult males. They also have a cultural transmission of how you behave as a male or a female in society. In that sense, they are gendered too. For example, we have evidence that young females pick up more behaviour from their mums than young males do. Young males often look around and look at adult males, I call it self socialisation, they emulate adult males more than they emulate their mum, and so self socialisation leads to a transmission of, let's say, cultural norms about how you behave as a male or a female.
Harry - So, in this chimpanzee community, if we're talking about the young, what are those behaviours?
Frans - The evidence that we have comes mostly from these culture studies that we do, which is mostly on what you eat and how you eat things because it's easy to measure. Tool use, for example, the field workers find easier than social behaviour. From a recent study of orangutans in the field, in the forest, we found that young females ate exactly the same foods as their mums. There are thousands of plants and fruits out there, but they have exactly the same diet as their mums. On the other hand, young males, the sons, they have a much broader choice because they mimic the behaviour of the males that they see. And so, we have evidence of this self socialisation ID. Another important point when you talk about gender is gender diversity. We have individuals who are more homosexual than heterosexual in their behaviour, we have individuals who don't exactly fit the roles that you usually see. You may have, for example, a big adult male who doesn't want to play the macho game, doesn't want to be the dominant male, and doesn't even engage in confrontations with other males and stays out of all of that. And you may have females, I described in my book a female named Donna, who, from very young, was into wrestling and mock fighting the way young males usually do. She sought out adult males to do it with, and when she grew older she grew into a male like character. She had the big shoulders, the big hair, the big head, the big hands of a male. And she associated with males - she hung out with them the whole day. From a distance, she would swear she was a male. And so, that same gender diversity that you see in human society where not everyone fits the mould exactly, is visible in the other primates. That's also why I think the word gender is applicable to them.
Harry - I think that's really interesting that you say that those blurring of boundaries is the same in human populations, but we do really love to put people in boxes, don't we? We like to say it's black or white?
Frans - That's so unfortunate. In human society, we are a symbolic species. We love labelling: you are a man, you're a woman, you're homosexual, you're heterosexual. If you fall in between these boxes, too bad for you, we can't handle you in our society. The beauty of primates, they're not ideal in every respect ideal, they can sometimes be brutal, but they tolerate these individuals. For example, Donna was perfectly well integrated in her community. I've never actually noticed that they are intolerant of individuals who are slightly different than they are. Homosexual behaviour as well. I also study bonobos and I describe extensively bonobo behaviour, I consider them bisexual because they don't even seem to have a preference for one gender over the other. For them, that's not a major issue.
Harry - And Frans, just briefly, what else is there that we can learn from the gender of your primates?
Frans - One other thing that I think is important to learn comes from the fact that people always think the natural order is men dominate women, males dominate females: our two closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, in one of them, the male are dominant, the other one, the females are dominant. Even in societies where the males dominate physically, they are not necessarily the most powerful individuals politically. In my previous book, I described Mama, the chimpanzee, who was a female for 40 years, and saw a lot of alpha males come and go during her lifetime. She was an central and powerful character in the community, even though she was physically incapable of beating up males. I think that's an important message: we should distinguish physical dominance and power, and that there's plenty of leadership and power in females in primates.
Frans de Waal, thank you ever so much.
33:44 - NEWSWORTHY
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.
49:10 - Quick fire science questions
Quick fire science questions
Eben Upton, Raspberry Pi Ltd & Emma Chapman, University of Nottingham & Sidarta Ribeiro, Federal University for Rio Grande do Norte & Frans de Waal, Emory University
Harry Lewis presents your burning questions to Raspberry Pi developer Eben Upton, astronomer Emma Chapman, neurologist Sidarta Ribeiro, and primatologist Frans de Waal...
Harry - We've heard from all our wonderful experts, but they have so much more juicy science to smell and it's time for a quick fire round to squeeze yet more facts into any brain space you might have left. Eben, where is the most remote location that your computer has travelled to?
Eben - It's certainly been used in Antarctica for photographing penguins over Winter, in Antarctica, which is a pretty brutal environment. The other one's the International Space Station. Actually, the International Space Station is pretty close, if it goes over your head a lot closer than Antarctica, but it's certainly an even more extreme environment.
Harry - What is it doing on the space station?
Eben - We've had two pairs of Raspberry Pi's on the station. The first ones went up with Tim Peake a few years ago. They're being used to run computer programs written by school children. The Raspberry Pi Foundation runs a program called Astro Pi in partnership with the European Space Agency, and tens of thousands of children now have a chance to run their code on the ISS.
Harry - With those kids that are running code on the Raspberry Pi, are there any other cool projects? I imagine there's a whole list, but what are some of the coolest things that you've seen your computer involved in?
Eben - There's an engineer in Japan who used a Raspberry Pi to build a cucumber sorter. His parents own a cucumber farm and they're getting on in years. Japanese cucumbers apparently have 23 grades, depending on how straight, green, and spiny the cucumbers are. They were not enjoying spending their later years sorting cucumbers, so he built an automated system around the Raspberry Pi to do that for them. It's a silly example, but it's kind of emblematic of the sort of creativity that the Raspberry Pi platform has unlocked in individuals and in businesses.
Harry - Next up, Emma, we've spoken about your radio telescopes, do you listen to stuff or do you see stuff when you're using a radio telescope?
Emma - I think you can say both. You're using lights, so we're used to using "see" in conversation, but you can also plug in your headphones and actually listen to the hiss. That's how we first discovered the galaxy and radio waves. We heard a hiss on the telephone line.
Harry - Amazing. Whereabouts do you need to place these? I imagine it's got to be quite quiet in the environment you put them in.
Emma - Normally, yes. I'm helping to build one in the Western Australian desert. I've just visited one in the North California mountains. But the one that I work with mainly is in the Netherlands called Lofar. There, we just have to be very clever about how we remove the noise.
Harry - What happens if your mobile phone goes off?
Emma - It swamps out the galaxy entirely.
Harry - Does that mean you have to put them somewhere special?
Emma - Yeah. Ideally you turn them off completely, but then you can get rooms that are Faraday cages, which means that electromagnetic waves just cannot get out. These telescopes are seriously sensitive. The one that we're building, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), will be able to detect the equivalent of an airport radar on a planet 10 light years away.
Harry - Wow. In Australia you are doing a project, you just said, what does that consist of?
Emma - That consists of 130,000 antennas. They look like Christmas trees if you imagine a Christmas tree about 2 meters tall made of wire, that's what it looks like. 130,000 of them. We are joining them all up this way and that, and it's the equivalent of a gigantic telescope. That's what we're using to listen for the first stars.
Harry - 130,000, that's outrageous. Sidarta, what impact does a lack of proper sleep have on our ability to plan for the future and make decisions?
Sidarta - Not having a good night of sleep is a liability in the short term, as well as in the long term. The next day you'll have cognitive trouble, you'll have difficulty remembering easy stuff, you'll have difficulties learning new stuff. You also will be emotionally impaired; you won't be able to deal with negative stimulants the same way you would if you had your full night of sleep. And of course, there's this snowball effect. If you have a job that prevents you from sleeping properly, for whatever the reason, you cannot get your good night of sleep every night, you're gonna have a compound effect that's actually very detrimental to society. Now, in down the road, you're talking about depression, you're talking about diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and many, many years later Alzheimer's disease. It's really a bad thing to skip a night of sleep.
Harry - And do you have any sort of method for helping us rescue our dreams so we can better remember them?
Sidarta - Yes. I have 3 steps. Before you go to sleep, think about it and make an intention in your mind that you're going to remember your dream and record it. When you wake up, don't move from your bed. Don't talk to anybody, don't do anything, but remember. Try to remember and bring those images together and recreate this narrative, and then write it down or record it in audio. Then the 3rd one, which is something a few people do, is bring that dream into your life, into your waking life. Tell it to your spouse, to your family, to your friends, to your co-workers, and make it part of your own internal conversation. If you keep a dream diary, it's like getting many, many pieces of a puzzle. At some point, you will stop seeing just the data points and you'll see a trajectory. You'll see how things are going. To have this kind of insight is very important to understand the fears and desires and challenges that we have, but it's also important for the community. This is a word that Frans brought to the conversation today. Dreams were always in the human lineage, not just about having an individual experience, but about sharing that experience.
Harry - Frans over to you. We've spoken a little bit about homosexuality and sexuality, and you mentioned bonobos, are there any other species in which we see these kind of behaviours?
Frans - Well, homosexual behaviour is found in many, many primates and many other species as well, but the extent to which the bonobos do it is exceptional. I think the only species that does quite a bit too, is the dolphin; The bottlenose dolphin. I don't think it's accidental that all mammals have a clitoris, a mouse and elephant, all the females have a clitoris, but the biggest ones are in dolphins and Bonobos. That must be that female & female sex which is very prominent in both species, must be made pleasurable and that's the way it was done.
Harry - Do you think, or does there even need to be an evolutionary mechanism underneath that? Is there a reason why this trait persists across a lot of species?
Frans - I think for the dolphins, I'm not sure that I can answer that question, but for bonobos clearly homosexual sex between the females has a political function. The females dominate the males, but they do so collectively. An individual female bonobo is smaller than a male, and cannot do that. But the females as a group, they dominate the males. As a result, they need to do a lot of bonding and sisterhood and hanging out together and sharing food and the sex is part of that. The sex is a bonding mechanism and the females actually have more sex I think with females than with males. There's now also some indications from oxytocin studies in the field that they get more out of the sex with other females than with males. Females are probably emotionally more affected even by sex with females than with males.