Can You Answer These Basic Science Questions Everyone Should Know?


By: Zoe Samuel

7 Min Quiz

Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

Our world is built on a foundation of science. Without science, none of our technology would exist. Of course, few high school students are expected to know the intricacies of how an i7 chip works, but those most complex scientific achievements are built upon centuries of much lower hanging fruit.

Science was born in ancient Greece, had its adolescence in the late middle ages and Renaissance, and came into its own with the Industrial Revolution and the twentieth century. By 1900, science was still in what we could consider a period of blindness, confusion, and crude groping for truth. Still, most of the basics were there, waiting for scientists of the future to put things together and give us what we have now.

Were you paying attention in science class? By the time you graduated from high school, you likely knew more about science than the top minds of the 1700s. How much of that stuck? Are you still ahead of Sir Isaac Newton, or did you let his profound insights pass in one ear and out the other? Can you recall why the world works the way it does? Do you know your basic science facts? Put your knowledge to the test with this quiz!

What does the Earth orbit around?

That's right: the Earth orbits the sun, as do all the other planets in our solar system. It was once believed that the Earth was the center of the solar system, and scientists even developed models to explain and prove this model, but it was all blown away by more science!


What orbits around the Earth?

The orbit of the Earth is cluttered with the moon, space debris like small asteroids trapped in our orbit, and satellites ranging in age from those launched in 2018 by SpaceX to ones put in orbit by Russia and the USA in the 1960s.


What kind of animal are humans?

Humans are mammals, but all these other classifications are cousins of ours. All of the above are types of Chordates (belonging to the phylum Chordata) and more specifically, the subphyla Vertebrata, which is defined by the presence of a spinal column.


Which of the following traits doesn't mean you're a mammal?

Mammals share a lot with our cousins in the Chordate phylum, but we have extra stuff they don't. Mammals all have lower jaws made of a single bone, nurse their young from mammary glands, have four-chambered hearts, inner ear bones, and are warm-blooded. Take that, fish!


How fast is the speed of sound?

The speed of sound is entirely dependent on the temperature and pressure of the environment. For example, in space, where there are some particles and there are sounds we cannot hear, the speed of sound is roughly 300 km/s. In case you were wondering about 299,792,458 m/s, that's the speed of light, which does not change, no matter what the temperature is or what the air pressure is.


What does CRT stand for?

CRTs are essential parts of CRT televisions. Essentially they are conical vacuum tubes with a phosphorescent screen on one end and a lightning gun on the other. This cathode emitter shoots electrical particles at the screen, writing in the pixels with variable levels of energy, causing each pixel to light up in a different color and brightness. Collectively, this forms an image.


What is a Turing machine?

Alan Turing designed the first computers, as we would now call them. For a long time after his death, they were called simply "Turing Machines". Their original purpose was breaking the Enigma Code used by Nazi Germany to send secret messages to its army.


What is established by the law of conservation of energy?

This law determines that energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only moved around or changed into something else. For example, if you eat food, and then use that energy to push a rock up a hill, you've taken energy from the food in the form of calories, and through your efforts, converted some of it into the potential energy held in the rock, which can come tumbling down the hill with force equal to what you used putting it there.


Which of these did Galileo do?

Galileo did a lot of things, but his contributions to astronomy were his biggest claim to fame, and in his lifetime, infamy. He got in trouble with the Catholic Church because of some of the observations he made with his telescope (capable of 30x magnification!) were used by Galileo and others to back Copernicus' theory that the Earth went around the sun, and not the other way around.


What was Einstein's most famous theory?

Coming on the heels of special relativity, general relativity turned what was believed about physics on its head. Here's a scenario proposed by general relativity. Two scientists stand in two rooms, one on Earth and one in a spaceship flying to Mars. A beam of light comes through a window, appearing to curve as it enters the ship, since the ship is moving through space perpendicular to the beam, and the beam is traveling in a straight line. Because of general relativity, the same thing would happen to the same degree in the room on Earth, which means that movement through space is the same as the effects of gravity. Boom.


Who was in charge of The Manhattan Project?

While nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer ran the Los Alamos lab where the project's prototypes were made, the whole project was run by Major General Leslie Groves of the Army Corps of Engineers.


What did The Manhattan Project develop?

The Manhattan project was a massive project undertaken by the Army Corps of Engineers during WW2 to develop nuclear weapons. The US knew that the Nazis and the Japanese were working independently and collectively on the weapon technology and delivery systems and the US had to play catch-up. The Manhattan Project was started to do just that.


Where was The Manhattan Project primarily based?

Groves made the permanent HQ for The Manhattan Project on the fifth floor of what is now called The Harry S Truman Building in Washington, D.C. The project took its name from the project's original headquarters at 270 Broadway, in Manhattan. That site was chosen initially because of its proximity to Army Corps of Engineers human resources necessary to kick start the project.


What was the Trinity Test?

"The Gadget" was the name of the first nuclear weapon, a prototype developed under the supervision of J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Trinity Test was a test conducted in the deserts of New Mexico, in which The Gadget was raised onto a short tower, and detonated from a safe distance. The name Trinity was chosen by J. Robert Oppenheimer as a reference to a poem he was reading at the time, Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person'd God, by John Donne.


Why shouldn't you mix chlorine bleach and ammonia?

Mixing chlorine bleach and ammonia produces chloramines, compounds which will irritate you, and could, if you were trapped in a confined space without ventilation, kill you. The good news is that it won't catch fire, or produce phosgene gas, which was used as a horrific chemical a weapon in WW1. The lesson? Read the bottles of cleaning chemicals for warnings before using them in concert!


What must an object be in order to be affected by magnetism?

Magnetism affects objects containing iron. The scientific term for that is "ferrous objects." Fe is the abbreviation for the element iron, because the Latin word for iron is ferrum. Ferrum: ferrous. Get it?


What would Archimedes need to move the whole world?

Archimedes was a master of the mechanical. He invented methods of moving water uphill, and moving large objects. The lever was a piece of technology he was particularly fascinated by, as it increased the reach of human power by means of, you guessed it, leverage. He is famous for having claimed that with a long enough lever, he could move the whole Earth.


What does LCD stand for?

The principles of the LCD may go back to the 1880s, but they've come a long way. Essentially, a layer of liquid crystal (the first discovery was made with liquid cholesterol crystals) will change opacity and color, depending on how you pass a current through it. Combine this with a light source and you have the makings of a pixel. Add millions of these pixels together and you have a modern LCD.


What is a catalyst?

Catalysts can be many things. Traditionally, there are chemicals and compounds that, depending on the chemical reaction in question, can speed things along. For example, hydrogen peroxide will slowly react with itself, decomposing into water and oxygen. Adding potassium permanganate will make this happen suddenly and violently, it will cause an exothermic reaction, and burn the oxygen as a flame. Similarly, adding a flame to most chemical reactions will speed them along. This is the premise of, you guessed it: cooking.


What is the term representing the relationship between magnetism and electricity?

Magnetism is a fascinating force. Some metal objects are naturally magnetic, but what is fascinating is that any iron object, if affected by current, will turn into a magnet, specifically an electromagnet. Specifically, the electromagnetic force can create magnetic fields, electric fields and even light.


What technology preceded the advent of solid state transistors?

Vacuum tubes are great transistors, and in fact they work better than solid state transistors for some applications, like in audio amplifiers, but they have drawbacks. They are huge. They are hot. They need to be replaced, periodically. If your PC ran on vacuum tubes, it would be enormous. You would need a whole room in your house for the dang thing. Solid state transistors made the miniaturization of circuit boards possible, and our whole technological age a reality.


What scientific invention is credited to Golden Age of Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr?

Hedy Lamarr was a once-in-a-generation genius. She was not just good at one thing, but many. She was a talented actress, and reached the apex of Hollywood stardom, but in her spare time, she researched a method of remotely controlling torpedoes for the US Navy. This technology didn't get used by the Navy, but decades later, it became the basis for CDMA (the signal technology used by Verizon and Sprint) WiFi, and Bluetooth.


How many laws of thermodynamics are there?

You may have never heard of a fourth law, and that's because there isn't one. There is however, a zeroth law. The laws are as follows.%0D0 - If two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.%0D1 - Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms. In any process, the total energy of the universe remains the same. For a thermodynamic cycle the net heat supplied to the system equals the net work done by the system.%0D2 - The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.%0D3 - As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant minimum.


Which of these acids isn't generally something you'd want in your body?

Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid your body needs to live. Gastric acid is what's in your stomach and allows digestion (it's mostly hydrochloric acid). Deoxyribonucleic acid is DNA. Lysergic acid diethylamide on the other hand is LSD, and while there are currently studies on the effectiveness of trace amounts of LSD on psychological health, we don't recommend it as a regular ingredient of your bodily chemistry.


How powerful is a median solar flare?

1 joule is 1 watt per second. The average home needs 126,360,000 joules per day (1 kilowatt-hour (kWh) is 3,600,000 joules and the average American home needs 35 .1 kWhs per day) An average solar flare produces 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 joules, or "one sextillion" joules. That means that the average solar flare would power 7.9138968E12 average homes for a day, if you could somehow capture all that energy.


Which of the following did Newton assert about gravity?

Specifically, in Newton's The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy Proposition VI. Theorem VI. states "That all bodies gravitate towards every planet; and that the weights of bodies towards any the same planet, at equal distances from the centre of the planet, are proportional to the quantities of matter which they severally contain."


What kind of radiation are humans exposed to in the course of life?

The Earth's atmosphere filters out most dangerous radiation, but UV and IR radiation easily pass through. IR radiation is the radiation you can feel as heat, and UV is the kind you wear sunblock to cover up. Tiny amount of gamma radiation make it through, but most of the gamma radiation we are exposed to comes courtesy of medical scans like X-rays and CT scans. Don't worry, the amount you're being exposed to is harmless.


What is the scientific difference between an A-bomb and an H-bomb?

If you clicked "One was dropped on Hiroshima, and the other on Nagasaki," you aren't technically wrong about that fact, but the real difference is the one between fusion and fission. An A-bomb uses nuclear fission, meaning a core of volatile nuclear material with exceptionally strong bonds is broken apart at the atomic level, releasing a huge amount of energy as the atomic bonds turn into fire and fury. An H-bomb (the H stands for "hybrid") uses a very small fission device to trigger a fusion reaction, which is far stronger, in deuterium and/or tritium. If you have a wristwatch that glows in the dark without being exposed to light, you're carrying some tritium around right now.


What do you call the long, thin clouds forming behind airplanes as they fly?

Contrails are made by condensing moisture from the exhaust from an airplane. Because of the altitude, temperature, and air pressure, the moisture instantly condenses, and because of the disturbance in the air caused by the airplane itself, that forms into lines.


How many elements will you typically find in "pure" water?

Water is made of two elements: hydrogen and oxygen. Fully pure water would only contain those two things. Of course, in the real world, even water free of pollution will carry minerals like zinc, calcium, and copper. The truth is that tap water is usually even cleaner than bottled water.


Which contains more information, analog, or digital?

Digital information, which is based in binary code (1s and 0s) holds far less information than analog information, and that's the idea. The real world is analog. You can uses lenses to look endlessly closer at a leaf with your eyes, seeing every hidden detail, but if you do that with a digital photograph, you will eventually be looking at a single pixel.


What percentage of the cells in your body are human?

That's right! By pure numbers of cells, most cells in your body are bacteria, not human cells! Humans evolved to live in a symbiotic relationship with our bacterial buddies. Normal, healthy bacteria help us digest food, and they crowd out the bacterial food supply in and on our bodies, so that unhealthy bacteria capable of killing us can't get a foothold. Are you alive today? You have bacteria to thank for that.


Does science change?

Yes, of course science changes. Science is our understanding of the universe and its inner workings, and while mankind has developed some working theories that allow human technological progress, quite often we learn that we were right for the wrong reasons, and our understanding deepens, and we discard the old ideas for new ones. Science never stops evolving.


What is triple point?

Triple point is the point at which pressure and temperature conspire to make water exist as a solid, liquid and gas, all at the same time.


Which sport is not influenced by the Magnus effect?

The Magnus effect was discovered by Heinrich Gustav Magnus, who as far as we can tell, did not play any of these sports. In a nutshell, the Magnus effect means that when the air on one side of a spinning sphere (or cylinder) moves in the same direction as the object's rotation, the object moves towards the side moving in the same direction as the air. This is why arching three-pointers, cut fastballs, and all bowling in cricket, works.


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