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The National Science Quiz

The National Science Quiz – a virtual success!

ACEMS was the driving force behind the creation of the National Science Quiz (NSQ) in Australia in 2016. The NSQ brings scientists and science communicators together to apply their logical and creative thinking to see who can nut out the best answers to curly questions like:

  • Why do cornflakes floating on milk attract each other?
  • Does grass grow at night?
  • Is an empty rollercoaster faster than a full one?

After a tough 2020 plagued with all event cancellations, our plans for the return of the NSQ in 2021 was full of optimism and excitement. We were one of 30 national projects that was awarded a grant from the Australian government as part of the National Science Week Inspiring Australia Fund. Additionally, we welcomed partner sponsors from five other ARC Centres of Excellence – Future Low-Energy Electronics Technology (FLEET), Exciton Science, OzGrav, Advanced Molecular Imaging and Synthetic Biology.

We were excited to stage the NSQ in front of a live audience within the surrounds of Melbourne’s architectural gem, Fed Square – a venue that allowed for greater community access, and better production values to create a quality produced video to stream online via YouTube Premiere during National Science Week.

Less than three days from event date, Victoria entered a snap COVID lockdown cancelling the live event. Although disappointed, the show must go on and the team rallied together to record the event in a ‘virtual studio’ using zoom technology and premium graphics to recreate the virtual panel.

Simulated image of how the panel would have looked like at Fed Square.

The digital process – from zoom recording, to the panel digitally placed in the virtual studio!

A long-term Quiz supporter since its ACEMS inception in 2016, the ABC’s Charlie Pickering returned for the fourth time to once again host the National Science Quiz with six of Australia’s best scientists and science communicators including:

The new format created a more dynamic event with two teams of three who then battled out 14 questions covering various areas of science for the honour of NSQ winners. Through banter, scientific reasoning, friendly competition, and genuine fun, the outcome was a draw and as our esteemed host Charlie Pickering declared – science was the winner! Science will always be the winner, and as it turns out, so is the National Science Quiz.

Though many of our Nodes were in lockdown affected States, we were delighted that QUT were able to hold an in-person viewing party with ACEMS members, and our partners at The University of Melbourne Node and our sponsor team at FLEET hosted respective virtual viewing parties - sharing the experience with the broader ACEMS community.

Although the Quiz was not presented the way it was initially envisaged, we were pleased with the audience engagement numbers – both in social media sharing and posting, and especially so in live attendances with 1200 participants/households that took part in the live competition using the Slido event app, and more than 5400 views of the Quiz on YouTube. The Quiz is available to view here on ACEMS’ YouTube Channel for the duration of the Centre’s life.

From the audience, to the host, to the panel members, to the sponsors, and the steering and outreach committees – the response has been overwhelmingly positive. ACEMS is thrilled that our partners at FLEET will host the NSQ in 2022 ensuring its future as a feature event during National Science Week.


  1. 5400+ YouTube total views to date.
  2. Charlie Pickering returned as host, engaged and committed to promoting the Quiz in the lead up to premiere – with liked and shared posts – before, during and post event streaming.
  3. The panellists – diverse, celebrated and active scientists and communicators – leveraged their social media follows to attract their followers to the event.
  4. The FLEET team performed, filmed and hosted the experiments with a great team of students.
  5. The format change to competitive teams from the conversive panel style created a more fun and engaging event while continuing to showcase science in a positive and informative way.
  6. The collaborative steering and outreach committees led and directed the programming.
  7. One of only 30 national projects that was awarded a grant from the Australian government as part of the National Science Week Inspiring Australia Fund.
  8. The live competition attracted strong interest – 1200 participants\households nationally.
  9. Quiz viewing parties were hosted at several site, which allowed for greater engagement across ACEMS, sponsor centres and the wider national science communities.
  10. Showcase legacy video of the NSQ to be available online for the remainder of the Centre.
Audience appeal

The NSQ has wide public appeal, engaging all age groups with its family-friendly focus and scheduling. Data collected about the primary viewer that was required as part of the registration and live competition process suggests that the event seemed to resonate with people aged 18-54, with the highest interest levels from the 25-44 age group. (Please note that although we had strong interest from the education sector, children 12 and under could not register, but they could watch the event live or later with their families or schools.)

Geographical reach

The National Science Quiz attracted a strong national audience and was accessible to small and large communities at a local, regional, national, and even international level (viewers registered from USA, India).

Prize-winner’s feedback:

Meghan Shaw – 1st prize

I really enjoyed listening to the panellists describe their reasoning for their answer choices. I loved seeing the thinking processes behind solving problems and their team spirit.’

John Perrier – 2nd prize

It was a fun and educational way to spend a Thursday night. I hope they will be regular!’

Jason Groarke – 3rd prize

It was a lot of fun. We liked how the questions made you think about different processes in everyday life and were accessible to young and old. The video explanations were good visuals for the answers too. It definitely stimulated my kids' interest in science and they told their online class this morning about the quiz. We look forward to doing it again next year.’

Panel feedback:

Jen Martin, Leader of the University of Melbourne Science Communication Teaching Program

I had the great pleasure of being a member of the National Science Quiz Panel hosted by ACEMS in both 2020 and 2021. Not only was the event superbly organised and run, it was incredibly fun to take part in. I learned a lot along the way and loved the opportunity to problem solve in real time with the other amazing scientists on my team. Most importantly, I think the National Science Quiz is an enormously important event on the Australian science calendar. Here’s an opportunity for family and friends at home to learn about science in an enjoyable and very engaging way - and the prizes up for grabs make it even more fun. I very much hope the quiz will continue to be a highlight of National Science Week for many years to come.’

Jared Cole, Professor Physics, RMIT - Chief Investigator, Exciton Science & FLEET

It was an absolute pleasure. I always enjoy participating in the National Science Quiz, it’s the highlight of my outreach calendar. It is a great opportunity to work with scientists who are passionate about conveying the excitement of science to the general public.’

Alanta Colley, Science Communicator, Comedian, Storyteller

It was thoroughly a blast and a great example of an entertaining and educational event; my friends and family said they really liked the videos that explained each of the answers; something they don't get from normal quiz shows’.

Norm Do, A/Professor School of Mathematics, Monash University

Just thought I'd drop some thanks on you all for making the NSQ such a fun experience! Despite the fact that I typically hate watching/hearing myself, it was great to tune in with the kids and I can only imagine how much work went into it behind the scenes.’

Alan Duffy, Professor Astronomy Swinburne University, Lead Scientist RiAus

It was an absolute pleasure and a joy to join you all in this Quiz, what a triumph against extraordinary challenges – congrats ACEMS and all in making this possible!!’

Catriona Nguyen-Robertson, Immunology Researcher, Peter Doherty Institute

You all made it great fun with banter, jokes, and friendly-competitive spirit. I certainly feel as though I need to brush up on some of my knowledge of the physical sciences and some maths now! Thank you so much to the team, for all your hard work putting the quiz together and dealing with the constant uncertainty and changes. The video looked fantastic and came together so well.’

ACEMS gratefully acknowledges our Partners
Thanks also to:

VPRO International, The Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus), Geoscience Australia, and Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute (AMSI) for their support.