Science Pub Quiz: From Cosmos To G&Ts
It’s quiz time! Three fabulous listeners take on our questions - on everything from physics & space to the natural world. Who will emerge victorious and be crowned Big Brain of the Month? Plus, do grab a drink and play along at home!
In this episode
00:49 - Meet the contestants - and encyclopaedia corner
Meet the contestants - and encyclopaedia corner
Chris Berrow; Bhavesh Bulsara; Megan McGregor
Phil Sansom said hello to this week's contestants...
Phil - Well joining us this week for our quiz are, firstly, listener Chris. Hi, Chris, how are you?
Chris - I'm really good, thank you. Thank you so much for having me on. How are you guys doing?
Phil - Oh, great. Yes. Had a lovely weekend. Now, Chris, I've got to ask, what do you do? Because part of your time is spent making a podcast for the Naked Scientists, isn't it?
Chris - Yeah. So I'm very lucky that quite often I like to play computer games, and I can pretend that that's actually called work; and I make the Naked Gaming podcast for the Naked Scientists, which we do every month. And we've just started doing video versions of it. And it's all about game reviews, the latest news, big releases; but we like going old school as well, so retro revival is one of our big features; and occasionally we get a bit of science in there as well - we once did a feature about the science of Pokemon, and how actually recognising Pokemon from just their silhouettes actually improves your intelligence. So we like to combine it all together.
Phil - Do you then have a favorite game? And is it the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire game version?
Chris - Do you know, on the way back from - because I co-present the show with my genuine wife - so on the way back from our honeymoon we were playing with the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire quiz on the plane. I like to think that that's good training for this! And she may make a cameo appearance because I'm very pleased that you said grab a drink and play along. I think she might be bringing one later on. So I'm excited for that.
Phil - She's very, very welcome. It's great to have you here, Chris. Alongside Chris is Bhavesh from London. Bhavesh, how are you?
Bhavesh - I'm fantastic. How are you doing my friend?
Phil - Very, very good. Now Bhavesh what do you do?
Bhavesh - I currently do customer service, and I study a lot!
Phil - And beyond that, you're also a regular listener to the Naked Scientists, aren't you? How long have you listened?
Bhavesh - Oh, well over 10 years. I think I discovered Dr. Chris in radio serendipitously about 2007. Something like that.
Phil - Since that time - because that's a long time to listen to our program - do you have any highlights? What’s stood out to you?
Bhavesh - Oh my god, the highlights! Well, I absolutely love the Q&A sessions here, or Norfolk, or South African radio. Highlights... well there's the space stuff. Really, I can't get enough of space, whether it be black holes… and Jill Tarter! I think that was just awesome when I listened in one day and she was on.
Phil - I have to say, when we get to the space stuff, you're probably in for a treat. Thanks to you for being here. Our third contestant is Megan from Cambridge, Megan, how's it going?
Megan - Going great, thanks. Looking forward to continuing the lockdown tradition of doing pub quizzes from my front room!
Phil - Now, Megan, can I just say you used to be a Naked Scientists intern, didn't you? What's your science background and how did that happen?
Megan - I did an internship with the Naked Scientists that finished up at the end of February. And the reason that I was doing that was because I just completed a PhD in materials science that was funded by one of the research councils that used to work with the Naked Scientists, I believe. And my PhD was in essentially designing high temperature sandpaper to be used in jet engines.
Phil - What a wonderful world of science that you get once you get into the technicalities. Megan, it's really, really great to have you here. Also joining us in what we're calling encyclopaedia corner is my lovely cohost, Adam Murphy, Adam, tell us what are you going to be doing?
Adam - Hello! So I am going to be your scorekeeper, your timekeeper, and you're going to come to me for some weird science. I am the Susie Dent to your Nick Hewer, the Richard Osman to your Alexander Armstrong. It is what I was born to do.
Phil - I really can't wait to hear what you've got in store for us. Because I know you've been looking into some of these questions and you've got some facts prepared for us. Isn't that right?
Adam - Oh, I've got a notebook full of stuff ready to go. Don't worry.
Phil - Okay, more from Adam later on in the show!
04:40 - Quiz Round 1: Physics & Space
Quiz Round 1: Physics & Space
- Albert Einstein
- Electromagnetism, gravity, the strong nuclear force, and the weak nuclear force
- A coil of wire
- Gamma/gamma rays
- Yuri Gagarin
- C) 5%
- Special relativity/time dilation
- Higgs boson
- Two - north and south
- Event horizon
- Neutron star
- Big Bang
- The weight of the fluid displaced
- A) Kinetic energy
- Iron, cobalt, nickel, various of their alloys, or certain rare earth metals and alloys
- C) 9.5 quadrillion metres
- White (trick question - the atmosphere makes it look yellow)
- B) Billions of years
13:35 - Encyclopaedia corner: black holes and kilograms
Encyclopaedia corner: black holes and kilograms
Adam Murphy, The Naked Scientists
Phil Sansom checked in with Adam Murphy in encyclopaedia corner after the physics & space round...
Phil - Adam - scores from the contestants after that?
Adam - Right so scores after the physics round: we have Chris with five; Megan coming up after that with seven; but thanks to some pretty serious joker play, Bhavesh is on fourteen!
Phil - Oh my goodness. That's a huge performance. Any interesting answers in there that you picked out over in encyclopaedia corner?
Adam - The first one I have to point out is Bhavesh bringing up that ergosphere in black holes, because that's a really weird part of physics. That is a bit where spacetime itself gets pulled around by the black hole. You can't stay still in the ergosphere. It's really weird.
Phil - You have to move towards it? What happens?
Adam - No, you have to move around. You just can't stop.
Phil - There’s no way to do it?
Adam - Because the fabric of space is pulling, so you have to pull with it.
Phil - Wow. Wow. I'm so glad I found that out.
Adam - Everything about black holes is really cool. Like if you get sucked into a black hole, the word scientists use for what will happen to you is called spaghettification.
Phil - Oh goodness! Goodness gracious me. I can imagine what they mean by that.
Adam - Yeah. Slowly you turn into a noodle as you go in.
Phil - Now am I right that that happens because the force of gravity on your feet is so much bigger than that on your head that it actually makes a physical difference, and stretches you out?
Adam - Yeah. Even on Earth there's more gravity at your feet than there is at your head, but at a black hole that gets so, so much worse than you end up being noodled.
Phil - Wow. What a horrible thing to happen.
Adam - Exactly. But a wonderful fact.
Phil - Apart from black holes, any other interesting tidbits?
Adam - So one of the questions there was about kilograms, and we are in a new era of the kilogram, because until 2019, the kilogram was just a block of metal that sat in a vacuum chamber in Paris. And that was the kilogram.
Phil - What do you mean, ‘the kilogram’?
Adam - As in, that was the definition of the kilogram. If you changed that block of metal in Paris, you changed what a kilogram was.
Phil - How strange! I'm thinking that every time I want to know what a kilogram is, I've got to go to the block and compare them.
Adam - Yeah. So the block was called’ Le Grand K’ that was sitting in Paris. And what would happen was other countries would go to Le Grand K - or the international prototype kilogram, for its proper name - and they make copies. And then that would become the German kilogram or the Eastern seaboard of the United States kilogram. And then from those measuring companies would make their own standards. And that's how they'd calibrate weighing scales and things like that.
Phil - What was it made of?
Adam - Platinum and iridium, because that doesn't rust and won't change on its own.
Phil - Now scientists, I know, love to be precise.
Adam - Oh, very.
Phil - Especially physicists. How on earth could they get away with having a block of metal? Because you say it's not going to rust, but surely it might lose a bunch of atoms here or there. And physicists love being that precise. Would that actually make a difference? How do they avoid that?
Adam - It did make a difference. So what they would do is every couple of years they'd measure like Germany's kilogram and the UK's kilogram and all the ones around the world. And what they found was they were diverging; some were getting heavier, some were getting lighter, some were staying the same, and everyone was thinking, “well, if all these ones are changing than the one we've got is definitely changing”. And the race was to find something that could replace the kilogram, because the metre used to be the same until we replaced it with how far light travels in a certain amount of time, which is based on a constant. So we were looking for a constant.
Phil - And what's come out?
Adam - It's based on a mathematical constant called the Planck constant, which is a really, really small number. But the Planck constant also has units of kilogram metre squared per second, which means that if you've got a good definition of a metre and a good definition of a second, then you can pull out a definition of the kilogram that's based on those two.
Phil - What's the Planck constant?
Adam - The Planck constant is this tiny, tiny, tiny amount, zero point 34 zeros, and then like a six. And what it does is it relates the energy of a photon, a tiny single particle of light, to what colour that photon is.
Phil - And because quantum mechanics, of course, it's called quantum because the stuff comes in quantised, discrete amounts.
Adam - Yeah.
Phil - The Planck constant is a constant because of the way this quantum world works. Is that what you're saying?
Adam - Yeah. So you've got a single quantum, a photon of light; if it's this particular colour, it will always have the same amount of energy.
Phil - So is the new kilogram some weird bit of maths involving the Planck constant, a bunch of other stuff like the speed of light, in order to get to a kilogram.
Adam - That's exactly what it is, yeah. So now we don't need to go to blocks in Paris, and that block can have a nice retirement in a museum somewhere.
Phil - I'd love to buy the kilogram on eBay. Wouldn't that be fun?
Adam - Yeah. I own the kilogram. Deal with it.
Phil - That's fantastic.
19:18 - Quiz Round 2: Chemistry & Materials
Quiz Round 2: Chemistry & Materials
- Radium or polonium
- Carbon dioxide
- 18 - the sum of the protons and neutrons
- A ceramic
- Compounds contain multiple elements (in fixed ratios)
- Slightly acidic
- Carbon and hydrogen
- A composite
- A) 118
- For you, no charge!
- A composite
- Starch, cellulose, chitin, gum, animal proteins, rubbers, DNA/RNA, lignin, and many others
- They make up everything!
26:49 - Encyclopaedia corner: elements, bad smells, and purples
Encyclopaedia corner: elements, bad smells, and purples
Adam Murphy, The Naked Scientists
Adam Murphy took Phil Sansom through some extra credit 'material' from the Chemistry & Materials round...
Phil - Adam - now that we've had Chemistry & Materials, can you give us the scores just for that round, please?
Adam - Okay. Just for that round, we have: Bhavesh got two in that round, then Megan with six, and Chris with a pretty fantastic seven.
Phil - Wow. Came from not backing himself to an excellent performance. Well done Chris, but also to the other two. Now, Adam, over in encyclopaedia corner, what would you pick out from that?
Adam - So one of the things I was looking at was elements. And we said there are 118 elements; that 118th element is called - hang on, let me get it right - oganesson.
Phil - Oganesson.
Adam - Yeah. And it was discovered all the way back in 2002. So it's an 18 year old element, but we didn't get a name for it until 2016.
Phil - Now can you tell me anything about it? Is it bizarre and radioactive, and lives for half a moment, or what?
Adam - All those elements that are that side live for really low level times. Even if you go and look up sheets about it, you get "it will have this property. Maybe. We think."
Phil - Right, right. Oganesson then - what's the symbol for that?
Adam - It's Og. So it is the OG element.
Phil - The OG element! That's helpful though, because you get some elements that are... well, presumably not designed with us English speakers in mind, because their letter acronyms don't actually match the letters in their English name.
Adam - Yeah, that's very true. One great example of that is lead. Lead's symbol on the periodic table is Pb. But if you go into Latin, the Latin word for lead is 'plumbum'. And that's where we get that Pb from. And as well as that, in Latin they used to coat their drainpipes in lead, and they used to coat the pipes that brought water around the place. So the people who would take care of those water pipes under the ground were 'plumb-ers'.
Phil - Well that makes sense, but now I'm really worried for their health, because lead is toxic...
Adam - They didn't know quite how toxic it was! But it's why we have the word plumber, and why it has that weird, random 'b' stuck in the middle of it silently.
Phil - Oh how interesting. Elements aside, anything else from that round take your fancy? Any interesting answers?
Adam - Well just with all the weird chemicals that have come through, can I tell you about one of my favourite chemicals?
Phil - Absolutely.
Adam - So there's a chemical called thioacetone, and it is the stinkiest chemical we have ever discovered. In 1890 it got out in Leeds, and the smell was described as "fearful".
Phil - Jesus!
Adam - And then in Esso research south of Oxford - and I have this written down to tell you - "two of our chemists, who had done no more than investigate the cracking of minute amounts of trithioacetone, found themselves the object of hostile stares in a restaurant and suffered the humiliation of having a waitress spray the area around them with deodorant.
Phil - Oh my goodness. So this is some real stink bomb stuff, right?
Adam - Oh yeah. In a town in Freiburg, you could smell it nearly a full kilometre away when a few drops of this stuff sprayed out.
Phil - Why were these scientists even using this chemical? Were they creating the world's best stink bomb?
Adam - It generally is what happens when you take this other thing called trithioacetone, which is actually used a lot in flavouring compounds.
Phil - How strange is that!
Adam - Yeah, so something that we actually have as tasty, if you make it wrong or it breaks the wrong way, it becomes the stinkiest thing we know of - or one of.
Phil - Just before we move on - any other facts for us from that set of questions back there?
Adam - One of the things that we've talked about in chemistry - a lot of the questions had what colour the elements were. And one of my favourite stories when it comes to colour in science is the making of purple. So for years, purple was only worn by emperors and kings and queens; the Queen's robes are often purple. And that's because it's almost impossible to get a purple that both looks really, really purple, and stays for a really long period of time. So where do you think that purple came from?
Phil - Is it from a... is it from a rock?
Adam - It's something that moves nearly as slowly as a rock! So we get it from a kind of snail.
Phil - From its shell?
Adam - No, you have to boil the poor snail to get it.
Phil - Oh really!
Adam - Yeah. So it's this kind of snail called a Murex snail, and it's actually a predatory snail. And it shoots this stuff out to sedate its prey before it eats it, so it's sleepy and it can eat it. Underwater, that chemical is cloudy and milky. But above water, when it's exposed to oxygen, it turns into this really, really deep purple. And for years, this was the purple for all fancy robes. It's called Tyrian purple. And it took thousands of snails to make grams of dye. So that's why it was so hugely expensive.
Phil - Do you know what changed? Do we still boil snails to get our lovely violets?
Adam - What happened was -we don't still boil snails, the snails are left to have a good time underwater - but in the 19th Century, this guy William Henry Perkin, he was working on his schoolwork. Well, his undergraduate work - he was in college. And he was trying to come up with something that could be replaced with quinine, because quinine has some medicinal properties. And he screwed it up, and he made this just horrible black mass; or as he later checked, a very, very, very dark purple mess. That became the first synthetic purple dye, called mauvine. And then that became the replacement dye, and then people from that discovered loads of synthetic purples. Purple used to be illegal to wear, and now I can go down to Primark and just grab a purple shirt if I want to.
33:31 - Quiz Round 3: Inside the Body
Quiz Round 3: Inside the Body
- Knee (it's your kneecap)
- A) Fat
- C) Macula
- C) Trillions
- Alzheimer's disease
- Spike/S proteins
- O negative
- Hair loss
- Shoulder/upper chest (it's your collarbone)
- B) A quarter of a kilogram
- A virus
- The skin
- The blood
- Parkinson's disease
- C) Every two weeks
- Seratonin (or noradrenaline)
- Bum/lower back (it's your tailbone)
- B) 1%
- C) Millions
- C) Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft
- Down's syndrome
- A biconcave discoid (accept donut, dumbell, any description that describes a disc that's thicker at the edges)
- C) Around 500
42:00 - Encyclopaedia corner: blood and dancing plagues
Encyclopaedia corner: blood and dancing plagues
Adam Murphy, The Naked Scientists
Adam Murphy mopped up from the Inside the Body round of the quiz - by letting Phil Sansom in on some bizarre science stories...
Phil - Adam, can you give us the scores just for that round, please?
Adam - So just for that round, we have: Bhavesh got five; Chris got seven; but Megan had an incredible clean sweep and managed to pull the full ten questions out of the bag.
Phil - Wow. What a good round!
Adam - And not using the joker on a clean sweep!
Phil - Well no regrets in this quiz! You never know what you're gonna get.
Adam - True, true!
Phil - What facts from that caught your fancy over in encyclopaedia corner?
Adam - So I've found some fun things about blood given that we were talking about blood types and blood cells. Do you know you've got gold in your veins?
Phil - I do?
Adam - Yeah, you've got a certain amount of gold running through your blood!
Phil - How rich am I?
Adam - You are - get this, hold onto your hats - 0.2 milligrams of gold richer than you were before.
Phil - Oh boy!
Adam - You're going to be cashing it in. That's your retirement check right there.
Phil - Beverley Hills, here I come. What's it doing in there?
Adam - It's part of the trace amounts of minerals and things like that that we all have in our bloodstream. We have all kinds of minerals and chemicals.
Phil - Now does that mean that, like iron, it's an essential mineral for you to get a certain amount of, and that your body needs it - that you know of?
Adam - That is a good question. I'm not sure!
Phil - Is it something that comes from our foods, that you know of?
Adam - Most things do so I would imagine so. But if we're talking about rich blood though, there's an animal called the horseshoe crab, and its blood looks like fabric softener - like blue fabric softener. But it's got a chemical in it that's really sensitive to bacteria and clumps onto bacteria, so we can use it really, really well to test the purity of chemicals. And if the horseshoe crab blood says "no, there's bacteria in there," it's one of the best ways we know that something isn't pure.
Phil - How has that happened? That seems like an incredible way to defend yourself against bacteria.
Adam - So they have a particular chemical called LAL that sits in their bloodstreams, that is designed to do exactly this for them. And it turns out that it works for us.
Phil - And moving on from blood, because we're talking about a lot of other stuff inside our bodies - what else have you got for me, Adam?
Adam - So I'm going to talk to you about a really weird plague that happened. And this was in 1518, and it was in Strasbourg in what's now France. What happened was this one woman suddenly started dancing. And she couldn't stop dancing - like far beyond where you should pass out from exhaustion, or where you'd just think, "I'm tired and this isn't fun anymore".
Phil - You know, I was thinking of the coronavirus when you started with plague, but not so much anymore.
Adam - Yeah the dancing plague of 1518! And what happened was it wasn't just her, people started to join in; and there were between 50 and 400 people in this town in France stuck dancing. And we don't know for sure because there's no evidence from directly then, just written afterwards, but there's a good chance that some of these people died because they couldn't stop dancing.
Phil - I mean... did they all get very knocked up on hard drugs?
Adam - Potentially! You're not actually a million miles away. So there's a fungus thing that grows on corn and wheat called ergot, and ergot can break down and give off basically LSD. And there's a thought that they were eating this contaminated wheat, and maybe some of them just ended up on the worst acid trip and then they ended up dancing until they died. That's one theory. The other one is that just mass hysteria happens. Sometimes people get caught up in horrible versions of mob mentality.
Phil - What's happened to ergot now? Is it still around?
Adam - It's still around. And whenever something serious and mass hysteria happens, people tend to blame it on ergot.
Phil - Powerful stuff that, isn't it? Well thank you Adam. And still all to play for!
46:02 - Quiz Round 4: The Living World
Quiz Round 4: The Living World
- Amphibians & reptiles
- A meteor
- Blue whale
- A bobkitten
- A zebra
- Echidna or platypus
- False (they can distinguish blues and greens well)
- Morphine, heroin, opium, fentanyl... any opiates
- Tyrannosaurs rex
- The ostrich
- Killer whale
- Giant pandas
- Butterflies and moths
- An apple (it's a myth that its brain was walnut-sized)
- A bat (the Kitti's hog-nosed bat, aka the bumblebee bat)
- The red panda
- A lion
- Sharks, skates, or rays
53:20 - Encyclopaedia corner: pando trees and gin & tonic
Encyclopaedia corner: pando trees and gin & tonic
Adam Murphy, The Naked Scientists
Phil Sansom heard some final stories from encyclopaedia corner, as Adam Murphy covered the Living World...
Phil - Adam over in encyclopaedia corner - before you give us our lovely final scores, have you got any lovely facts for us about animals or plants?
Adam - I do indeed. We had one of those questions there, that the blue whale is the largest animal to ever live. But I'm going to ask you a question, because you've asked so many questions...
Phil - Oh no!
Adam - What is the largest organism that is alive today?
Phil - Now I've heard about an enormous colony of fungi that is actually technically one organism. Is it that?
Adam - That is on the list, but it is beaten out by something called pando, which is Latin for 'I spread out'. It's a big colony of quaking aspen trees that all have the same root system. And we've checked, and they all come from the same roots, and genetically they're the same tree. It weighs 6 million kilograms.
Phil - So are you saying that what looks like a forest above ground, actually underground is like how a plant will bud off from another; It's actually one interconnected thing that's got these trees coming out of the ground connected by roots.
Adam - That's exactly it. If you were to walk through it, you'd see all these trees with this nice silver bark, and they've all got yellowy leaves a lot of the time. But once you go underground, the root system is all the same, and genetically each one of those trees is the same tree.
Phil - Where can I go see this?
Adam - In the Western edge of the Colorado plateau in south-central Utah.
Phil - I love it. More living world facts, please.
Adam - Right! One of the questions there was about gin and tonics and how they can fight malaria. Well it's sort of an interesting story, and it might be the most important cocktail in human history - a G&T. Because as you said, tonic water contains quinine, which is an antimalarial drug. This has been known for centuries - where it comes from in Peru it's part of a bark called the cinchona tree, which was found by the Quechua people. And in the 1850s, we managed to extract from that bark and bring it to the Western world, and mixed it into tonic water. But tonic water, even today, doesn't have much quinine in it anymore, and it still tastes pretty bitter. So can you imagine that bitter taste in tonic water times 10?
Phil - So when they were doing this, were they doing it for the pure appreciation of the bark of this tree? Or was there some knowledge that it could help against something like malaria?
Adam - There was knowledge that it could help against malaria. There were stories of Jesuit monks being shaky and feverish and falling into puddles at the base of cinchona trees, and then waking up better. That probably didn't happen, but it's the same thing that it was Jesuit monks in the Western world who first figured out it could do this. The tribe who lived there knew! They were well up on things. But what happened was this stuff tasted so foul, especially to British soldiers when they went to Africa, that they had to mix it with something. And soldiers often got a ration of gin as well. So one plus the other means you could get an antimalarial that you could drink in a cocktail. And the thing about it was until then, Africa was called 'the white man's grave' because colonists from Europe kept going to Africa and kept dying of malaria. But suddenly they didn't anymore because they had a defense. So it allowed for the colonisation of Africa, and changed the face of the world as we know it - and still has impact.
Phil - It's quite something. People like me I think will be thinking of this drug that's similar to the quinine in tonic water, but that's being touted on and off as a coronavirus treatment. Is that the same thing or is that something slightly different?
Adam - So it's the same family of drugs. It's hydroxychloroquine - that 'quin' comes from quinine, but it has far fewer side effects, which is why we use it now. And we've been using it since roughly about World War Two. That's why nowadays tonic water doesn't have that much quinine in it. So if you're going abroad, don't use gin and tonics as an antimalarial; go to your doctor and get them to give you one.
Phil - They don't advertise their malaria treating effects now, I assume - they're going for taste.
Adam - Yeah, that's the plan.
57:29 - The final scores
The final scores
Chris Berrow; Bhavesh Bulsara; Megan McGregor
Did Megan make first, will Chris be christened champion, or did Bhavesh beat them all? Phil Sansom and Adam Murphy revealed the results...
Phil - Now that we've gone through all our questions, I think it's time for the moment of truth. I'm going to bring back in Chris, Bhavesh, and Megan. You're all three of you here. Can we get a drum roll please for Adam to read out the final scores? Adam, hit us.
Adam - Okay. So in third place we have Bhavesh with 28 points; then Chris with 37; but Megan with 41 points is our winner.
Phil - Very well done!
Megan - Clearly I specialised in the wrong thing. I should be doing PhDs in 'the living world'.
Phil - Very well done all of you. Those were some incredible answers. And if you were playing along at home, do let us know how you did! Tweet @nakedscientists to get in touch.