Jeopardy IYC Recap

I don’t think I’ve ever been as tuned into the TV game show Jeopardy as I was last night. It’s usually on in the background while I’m eating dinner. But last night was different. For weeks, I had known that this episode would be featuring questions related to the International Year of Chemistry.

I was eager to find out what questions would be asked … or in this case, what clues would be posed.

About halfway through the episode, and after a commercial break, host Alex Trebek introduces the categories for Double Jeopardy. The IYC logo pops up on the screen, and Trebek says, “This is the International Year of Chemistry, according to the U.N.” He then introduces the other categories: musical theater, papal bulls, writers’ relatives, what do you stand for, and nothing.

The contestants went straight for the musical theater clues. The minutes seemed to drag on, and most of the other categories had been completed, before one of the contestants, Jay Rhee, an oncologist from Annapolis, Md., finally tackles the first IYC clue for $1600, which turned out to be a Daily Double:

“Frederick Soddy came up with this term for atoms having the same nuclear charge but different masses.”

Rhee, who was up to $17,100 by this point, bet $100 and poses the question, “What are isotopes?”

“Isotopes is right,” said Trebek.

Rhee asked for a second IYC clue for $400:

“The celebratory year 2011 marks 100 years since this radiant scientist’s Nobel prize for chemistry,” said Trebek.

Rhee: Who is Curie?

Trebek: Be more specific.

Rhee: Who is Marie Curie?

Trebek: Yes!

After a break to tackle some of the other categories, Rhee came back to IYC and asked for the $2000 clue:

“A solid can be finely analyzed using the EELS technique, which studies energy loss in these particles.”

Buzzer (signaling no response). “Energy loss in the electrons,” Trebek offered.

Rhee asked for the $1200 IYC clue:

“A chemical known as an anhydride is one that removes this from substances.”

Contestant Julianne Moore, a mom and volunteer from Placentia, Calif., chimed in: “What is water?”


She asked for the next IYC clue for $800:

“You exhale this gas first identified by British scientist Joseph Black in the 1750s.”

Not one to be outdone, contestant Scott Goldstein, a director and writer of a sketch comedy theater from Chicago, Ill., asked, “What is carbon dioxide?”


And the IYC category was finished, with one clue left in the “Nothing” category.

Watch for yourself and let us know what you think about the chemistry clues posed and how the contestants did:

Author: Linda Wang

Associate Editor, Chemical & Engineering News

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  1. The $800 question (CO2) was too easy; more fitting for celebrity jeopardy 😉

  2. Great, thanks!
    Think, everything was too easy (except maybe eels, but easy as well). Even the schoolboy could answer :p

  3. The anhydride clue isn’t really correct, though, is it?

    I think the term they were looking for is desiccant (or more generally a dehydrating agent).

    An anhydride is a organic functional group with two acyl (carbonyl) groups bound to a central oxygen atom.

    Looking at some dictionary definitions, one says an anhydride is ‘a compound formed in a reaction resulting in the removal of water.’ Unless you knew the workings of the mechanism, I can see how this could be confusing. Two carboxylic acids can combine in a reaction to form an anhydride. During the mechanism, a molecule of water is removed from the reactants in the formation of the anhydride, but the net process (ironically) produces a mole of water for every 2 moles of acids reacted.

    2 RCOOH –> RC(O)OC(O)R + H2O
    (In this reaction, phosphorous pentoxide is commonly added to sop up the produced water and is utilized as the (correctly used) dehydrating agent.

    Another definition is perhaps more clear, ‘A compound from which water has been abstracted.’ That’s maybe a bit better, but perhaps still somewhat of an oversimplification.

    I’m kind of disappointed in that clue.

  4. I mean, c’mon, where’s the questions on Curtin-Hammett? Eigenfunctions? Crystal packing? 🙂