Question of the Week, from the Naked Scientists

40 Episodes
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By: Dr Chris Smith

Each week we set out to solve one of the world's weirdest, wackiest, funniest and funkiest scientific puzzles. And along with the answer there's a brand new question to think about for next time...

Why are electrons never in between orbitals?
#470
Last Monday at 9:53 AM

Quantum hats on for this week's 'exciting' question! Listener Mejnun says: "I have learned at school that when an electron excites it jumps to another orbital around the nucleus. If an electron jumps an orbital you would expect that at that moment it can be found between the two orbitals. My teacher told me that this is never the case. I can not wrap my head around it. Does the particle just disappear in one orbital and appear in the other? Is this instant, is the particle in the other orbital the same? Can you please help me to understand...


Why do chillies stay on your hands?
#469
04/12/2021

Nancy asked: "Why does chilli stay on your fingers for so long after cooking with them, even after you wash your hands multiple times it can still hurt if you touch your eyes?" So what's the answer to this burning question. Adam Murphy asked chemist Tim Woodman, from the University of Bath... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How did varying chromosome numbers evolve?
#468
03/29/2021

Listener Mattie asked "If humans have too many or too few chromosomes it can cause them to be infertile. So how did different creatures get different numbers of them? For example, humans have 46 chromosomes, but mice have 40." Eva Higginbotham asked genome evolution expert Hugues Roest Crollius... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Do animals get bored eating the same food?
#467
03/22/2021

Listener Douglas asked us: "do animals get bored eating the same thing all the time? Like sheep - do they get bored of one type of grass?" Katie Haylor bored deep into the question, with help from neuroscientist James Danckert... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why aren't all batteries rechargeable?
#466
03/17/2021

Listener Michael got in touch to ask "Why can't batteries, such as AA or AAA size, be recharged? What's the difference between regular batteries and rechargeables, especially lithium ones? Is this a 'big battery' conspiracy to sell more batteries, or are there valid reasons?" Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How can you make normal TV look 3D?
#465
03/01/2021

Pavel got in touch to ask "Take sunglasses and remove one lens. Watch a normal television film with one eye darkened by a sunglass lens, and the other free. The film will appear in 3D. Can someone explain to me, how does this work?" After dusting off her sunglasses, Eva Higginbotham put the question to 3D vision expert Andrew Glennerster from the University of Reading... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


What are the impacts of an aristocrat's diet?
#464
02/22/2021

James got in touch to ask us: "What were the health impacts of the vastly different diets and lifestyles of aristocrats and peasants? Would wealthy Roman patricians be much smarter than plebeians based solely on improved nutrition?" Hungry for answers, Adam Murphy spoke to University of Cambridge archaeologist Sam Leggett, and the University of Bristol's Julie Dunne... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How would a foetus develop in zero gravity?
#463
02/15/2021

Listener David asked: "Would a foetus develop differently in zero gravity conditions?" Adam Murphy found an answer with the help of reproductive biologist Adam Watkins, from the University of Nottingham... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


When will we run out of music?
#462
02/08/2021

"Assuming there are a finite number of musical notes - chords, notes, octaves - at what point, how many years, would we use all combinations of musical themes such that no more music could be created?" Creative computing expert Rebecca Fiebrink from UAL totted up the answer to listener David's musical musing for us... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why do some people shiver when they pee?
#461
02/01/2021

Listener Eleanora asked: "I want to know why my dad shivers when he pees." Phil Sansom managed to find the answer to this 'Question of the Wee'.... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


If Earth were heavier, would rockets work?
#460
01/25/2021

"Is it true that if the mass of the Earth were greater, it would render our chemical rockets incapable of reaching orbit?" Listener Steven launched this question at us, and so Martin Khechara went to find the answer... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Can you get DNA from crematorium ashes?
#459
01/18/2021

Paul got in touch to ask: "I was wondering if it was possible to get DNA out of crematorium ashes. Could you get any information about the person such as weight or height, from their ashes?" Katie Haylor put the question to Charmaine Bale, from Anglia Ruskin University... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Is sourdough bread a healthy option?
#458
12/21/2020

Mervyn got in touch to ask "Is sourdough bread a healthy option?" Eva Higginbotham put the question to dietician Rebecca McManamon... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why are sperm made below body temperature?
#457
12/14/2020

Jordan got in touch to ask ""Why do females produce eggs inside the body, at body temperature, but males have to produce sperm outside the body, at a lower temperature?" Eva Higginbotham put the question to reproduction expert William Colledge at the University of Cambridge... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Compost or landfill: which emits more?
#456
12/09/2020

Listener Robert asks: "does household composting release fewer greenhouse gases compared to a landfill?" Phil Sansom dug him up an answer, with help from environmental engineer Sintana Vergara... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Can loud music hurt my dog's ears?
#455
11/23/2020

Robyn got in touch to ask: "I often wonder when I listen to music in the car when my dog is with me: since they hear higher frequencies than humans, do they also perceive for example loud music louder than us?" To sniff out an answer, Adam Murphy spoke to Nancy Dreschel, a specialist in animal beaviour from Penn State University... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How many people could share my surname?
#454
11/16/2020

Beata asked "If three hundred years ago there was one person with a certain surname, how many people could have their surname today?" Eva Higginbotham got mathematician James Grime to crunch the numbers... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


What time should I water my plants?
#453
11/09/2020

Kevin asks: "Does watering my veggie garden in the morning mean that water uptake will coincide with the intake of sunlight, and give my vegetables the best chance? Or is it just as good to water in the evening?" Phil Sansom dug out the answer by asking Anthony Bridgen from Cambridge University's Sainsbury Laboratory and Guy Barter from RHS... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How do bats roost upside down?
#452
11/02/2020

Satish asks: "how does a bat sleep the whole day hanging from a tree? Won't being upside down affect blood circulation?" Phil Sansom went to find the answer, with help from Western University's Brock Fenton... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Which water is better: hard or soft?
#451
10/20/2020

Hard... or soft? That's the watery wrangle on which listener Jo asked us to weigh in. She said: "my question is about drinking water. We drink gallons of the stuff in a lifetime, but which is better for us, hard or soft? My skin and hair prefer it soft, but what about teeth and bones? And which do our kidneys prefer?" Adam Murphy got the answer with the help of University of Cambridge chemist Ljiljana Fruk... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Do insects have a stress response?
#450
10/05/2020

Charlie sent in this question "Humans have adrenaline for our fight or flight situation, do bugs have this too?" Eva Higginbotham put the question to insect-lover and expert, Eleanor Drinkwater from the University of York... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why does anxious sweat smell worse?
#449
09/28/2020

This week's question is a sweaty one! It comes to us from listener Margaret: "Why, why, why can I work in the yard and be covered in sweat for hours, and only stink a little; but reveal one personal thing to a group of friends, and immediately stink to high heaven?" Phil Sansom got the answer from the International Hyperhidrosis Society's Angela Ballard, and University of Cambridge physiologist Christof Schwiening... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How would you measure time when in space?
#448
09/21/2020

This week we've been against the clock to get the answer to this question from David "What measurement of time would you use in travelling through space as a day, week, month or a year would become meaningless, and how would this affect the body clock?" Eva Higginbotham spoke to space sleep expert Cassie Hilditch, and also former NASA astronaut Steve Swanson, to find out the answer... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why do I need to pee more nearer the loo?
#447
09/07/2020

This week we're flushing out the answer to this question from Charlie: "Maybe this is just me, but it dawned on me that whenever I have to hold in a pee, the need to go increases exponentially when I know that relief is close. Why is this?" So to relieve Charlie of his question, I asked physiologist Bill Colledge from Cambridge University to expel the answer... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why do particles gather in a bucket's centre?
#446
08/24/2020

Six-year-old listener Jonathan asks: "when you stir a bucket of water, I know the water is pushed to the outside; however, why do any particles end up the centre after the water has finished spinning? I have asked my Dad, but he doesn't know." Phil Sansom found someone who does know - and it's fluid dynamics expert Dan Nickstroem... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Do our brains process sound or light faster?
#445
08/17/2020

Lionel got in touch to ask us about a curious phenomenon he's noticed since installing a new sensor, raising the question whether our brains process light or sound faster. Eva Higginbotham spoke with Brian Moore of the University of Cambridge who helped us unpick the answer... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Does burying paper sequester carbon?
#444
08/10/2020

Johnny asked us if burying paper counts towards carbon sequestration. To dig up an answer, Adam Murphy spoke to Shaun Fitzgerald, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor at the University of Cambridge, about how useful that really is... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Should you wash, rinse, and repeat?
#443
07/20/2020

Julie got in touch to ask whether there was any reason to wash, rinse and repeat, or if it was just marketing hype. Phil Sansom spoke to two hair specialists, Sally-Ann Tarver and Eva Proudman, about this hairy issue... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why do hospitals need so much PPE?
#442
07/13/2020

Carol got in touch to ask "The government has provided more than a billion items of PPE to hospitals. There have been 130,000 COVID cases in hospitals, about 10,000 items of PPE per patient. Can you find out why so much?" Eva Higginbotham put the question to medic Isabelle Cochrane... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why does coffee dissolve so fast?
#441
07/06/2020

Neerav wanted to know why some things dissolve faster than others, so we spoke to University of Cambridge chemist Ljiljana Fruk to find out... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How alike are the kids of identical twins?
#440
06/29/2020

Sam got in touch to ask: "If identical twin brothers marry identical twin sisters, and each of those couples has a child, will those two children be like twins?" Eva Higginbotham put the question to Tessa Bertozzi - a geneticist at the University of Cambridge. Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Why aren't planes dimpled like golf balls?
#439
06/15/2020

Darren got in touch to ask us: "Golf balls are dimpled to disrupt the air around the ball. As far as I can gather, this reduces their drag and allows them to fly further than they would if they were perfectly round. Why do we not see dimpled cars, aircraft, and trains? If this effect is so effective for golf balls, why not use it on Formula 1 cars, for instance?"Adam Murphy went looking for a hole-in-one to this question, and spoke to Sam Grimshaw from the Whittle Lab at the University of Cambridge... Like this podcast? Please help us...


Could saponins help fight coronavirus?
#438
06/08/2020

We've been hunting down the answer to this questions from Denise: "There are plants that contain saponins and were used by Australian aboriginal people as bush medicine. Is there any research on the antiviral properties of saponins in, for example, Australian Acacia species, or other plants?" Eva Higginbotham spoke with Maher Mohamed Abed El Aziz from the University of Tripoli in Libya, and Anthony Davenport from the University of Cambridge, to find the answer. Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Has life changed on the ISS due to COVID-19?
#437
06/01/2020

We're blasting off to the International Space Station to answer this question from listener Fady: "has life changed for astronauts on the ISS due to coronavirus, and are astronauts still allowed to be sent to and from the ISS?" Phil Sansom roped in flight surgeon Filippo Castrucci from the European Space Agency... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How do electrons flow in electric current?
#436
05/26/2020

Rakesh got in touch with this question: "Typically when electrons flow for the electric current, do they come out from the atoms and flow as electric current? Is it not true that when electrons come out from atoms light and energy is released? So why don't electric wires change their colours?" Eva Higginbotham got in touch with Dr Ankita Anirban to find out the answer... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Do we all have the same skin sensitivity?
#435
05/19/2020

Matt got in touch with this question: "Do all humans have the same number of nerve endings in their skin, and if so, do those of us who are bigger, either taller or fatter, have reduced sensitivity in a given area of skin?" Eva Higginbotham spoke with Professor Francis McGlone from Liverpool John Moores University to feel out the answer... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How do C-section babies get their microbiome?
#434
04/20/2020

Pavel asked us "On one of the Naked Scientists programmes it was mentioned that a newborn baby has initially sterile intestines and gets most of its microbiome during the passage through the uterus and vagina. What happens to children that are brought into this world via caesarean?" We reached out to Peter Brocklehurst from the University of Birmingham to find out... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Can frogs survive in a sealed terrarium?
#433
04/06/2020

Listener Jon sent us this question: "I just purchased some dart frogs which need to live in high humidity conditions. In order to attain this we basically sealed off the terrariums. The question is whether a really sealed terrarium could provide enough oxygen for the frogs through plant photosynthesis alone. Who would win: the frogs or the plants?" Phil Sansom got the answer to this 'pet peeve' from plant scientist Stephanie Smith... Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


How much power can we get out of fusion?
#432
03/16/2020

Fusion could be the most sustainable source of energy in the future. But how much can we get out of it? Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists


Are big dogs smarter than small dogs?
#431
03/02/2020

Dogs come in all sizes, from tiny Chihuahuas to giant Great Danes. Their head size is hugely different, as must be their brain size. Does this mean that a Great Dane is massively more intelligent than a Chihuahua? Like this podcast? Please help us by supporting the Naked Scientists