The Function Room
The Function Room
About The Function Room
This week we look at the maths of conspiracy theories with physicist, cancer researcher, science writer author of the Award-winning The Irrational Ape why flawed logic puts us all at risk. how to tell if one most likely isn't true, a scary thing called Availability Heuristic, why it's not sugar is making those children hyper at the party, what you think when you first hear the name "Freddy Starr"
Kjartan (pronounced Jartan) Poskitt is a maths book phenomenon. Author of Murderous Maths a series of, funny books for children about maths, they've been published in 25 countries. We talk about duels, how a fencing teacher went looking for pi, Archimedes, the magic stall at York market and the importance of having your own lair.
The mysterious world of the Riemann Hypothesis. This is about an unsolved problem relating to prime numbers. Bernhard Riemann was a German mathematician who lived in the 19th century and along with a lot of work on geometry also looked at prime numbers. If you're finding this hard to grasp don't worry. Me too. And this episode is not just about this, it's about the nature of things that are unsolved and why the search for solutions itself is important. My guest is Dr Alex Kontorovich professor of Mathematics at Rutgers university in New Jersey, He takes me on a tour of 18th and 19th century geniuses who couldn't stop thinking about prime numbers. There will be bits where you'd really want to visualise what's going on. For that, check out the link below You'll hear me butt in -in the edit- with some simple explanations of things I didn't understand at the time. I didn't interrupt at the time because I didn't know what queesiotn to ask and wanted to appear smarter than i was. You know, a tale as old as time. How I Learned to Love and Fear the Riemann Hypothesis | Quanta Magazine
My guest is Joanna Donnelly meteorologist and author of From Malin Head to Mizen Head, a lovely book about the almost meditative experience that is Irish Sea Area Forecast. Hers is the voice Irish radio listeners will hear last thing at night and first thing in the morning. We talk Hecto Pascals, my favourite of all the Pascals, how maths finds some patterns on this giant sphere of ours and why its best to give bad news first.
Climate Worrier - the maths of Climate Change. I talk to mathematiciand a man wading kneed deep in the climate models, Chris Budd. Professor of Applied Mathematics at the University of Bath, He takes me painstakingly -but not painfully- through the key Big Numbers that you should know about when it comes to climate change. We recorded this a couple of years ago during Maths Week 2023 and guess what, it's still an issue! WHo knew? (Apologies for sound quality on this, I have a slight Long Wave Radio sound about me, just it was a youtube interview and I think the internet had covid when we recorded.)
This week it's the maths of puzzles, and how to get wrap your brain around the fact that the answer isn't obvious. Rob Eastaway is my guest- the first returning guest. He has a book out called Headscratchers - a compendium of puzzles from the last five years of the New Scientist. And he's over in Ireland for Mathsweek. (check out mathsweek.ie). And given the weekend that was in it, we really have to do a snippet on the maths of rugby.
this week in the function room, It's in our Nature - the fascinating world of biomimicry My guest is Kathyrn Parkes, a technologist with a career spanning nearly 3 decades in designing products and an expert in User Experience. She tells me about what we can learn from nature, the stigmergy of termites, why ants don't have a boss, the benefits of hippo sweat, but also some unusual stuff too.
this week in the function room, It's Anyone's Guess - the maths of guesswork David Malone of Maynooth University and the Hamilton Institute. I ride the wave of ignorance through some big topics like Information theory, Entropy, what makes a good password and how hard it would be to figure out what I had for breakfast. But first, I notice David has that all important mathematician background behind him in the interview - a white board with lots of squiggly symbols. i have to ask
The maths of symmetry. Hi it’s me Colm O’Regan. The function room is back after a little summer break and my guest is Pauline Mellon, professor of mathematics at UCD She wants to talk about symmetry and I’m glad she did. She brings me on a tour of maths, religion, biology, art, chemistry, AI and naturally of course town planning.
The baffling arithmetic of Dereliction. I talk to Jude Sherry and Frank O’Connor of Derelict Ireland who ask the very simple question about an equation that makes no sense: Why is it that there are tens of thousands of people who need a home and tens of thousand of empty buildings that could be homes. Although specifically about Ireland, this is a question that could be asked anywhere.
Function Room 27 A Sense Of Ounce – The absolutely fascinating history of one of the most important hallmarks of our existence - how and why we measure things. James Vincent has written a book, Beyond Measure about it and he joins me to talk about this thing we completely take for granted that has changed the world, been part of revolutions, where the metre is stored and also the very strange world of anti-metric guerillas.
My guest is author of Chums, Simon Kuper about how a small cabal of Oxford chums managed to take over British politics. And from his book just how crap an Oxford and Eton education could be and you can still make it to the top. Along the way we learn what happens when a generation of leaders neither has a clue nor gives a toss about science and maths, the curious case of Jacob Rees Mogg, why Boris Johnson has been an accidental anarchist. what the French for chums is.
The maths of Criminology. With Ian Marder, Assistant Professor of Criminology at Maynooth University. We talk about statistics and randomized control studies, and bias and how crime always seems worse than it is, why you should get on with your neighbours and to build the ideal justice system
My guest is Dr Muireann Lynch of the economic and social research institute here in Ireland. She very carefully guides me an idiot on my first tour of the c-word. Carbon. How much it costs to use it, how much it costs, the maths of optimisation, Lagrange multipliers, carbon offsets, what happens when carbon has an infinite price. Warning – this contains traces of calculus that some listeners may find upsetting. But stick with it and we eventually get onto lighter topics like making twixes or other nougat-biscuit equivlants and then of course the end of habitable earth.
John Butler is a mathematician turned computational neuroscientist, a professor of maths and statistics at TU Dublin who looks at the brain mathematically and tries to figure out why the brain does what it does We talk about the senses, why it’s good to get your questions from a child, what an neural network ‘cares about’, lots of stuff but first of all, what is a computational neuroscientist. Find out more about John and his work here: https://johnsbutler.netlify.app/
Normally I try and come up with an apt pun but I couldn’t possibly come up with anything better than the title of my guest Sarah Hart’s book. She has written Once Upon A Prime, a very enjoyable read and listen about the many links between maths and literature and myth and poetry. We talk about why giants as we know them can’t exist, the 19th century obsession with statistics, the maths of Ulysses and Moby Dick and taking an idea for a walk.
The mathematics of art or the art of mathematics whichever. My guest is teacher, artist, mathematician,m tiktok star, Ayliean MacDonald the only one with that name in the world we think. We talk about the usual things people talk about: aperiodic tiles, Japanese Hitomezashi stitching, L-chair triominals, toilet paper, cozy-gaming and the meditative power of drawing lots of straight lines in a bullet journal. She’s fascinating. Give it a play.
This week Robert Boyle, born in Ireland in the 17th century was one of the world's great scientists. I'm talking about him with Eoin Gill, Eoin Gill is a director of Calmast STEM Engagement Centre at South East Technological University, who likes Robert Boyle so much he made an entire summer school about him. Boyle was a massive deal in the scientific revolution of the 17th century, and his work laid the groundwork for modern chemistry, a founder of the Royal Society, part of a list of big scientific cheeses like Newton and Kepler who discovered the universe was a mathematical and not just a miraculous place. But for all his science, dabbled in alchemy and sometimes he still just wanted a miracle.
My guest is Alan O’Reilly, about his hobby weather forecasting. I first met him when he was on my RTE Radio Show Colm O’Regan Wants A Word. But time constraints meant I don’t think we got to talk for the recommended daily weather talk intake of two hours. Alan lives in County Carlow, in the southern midlands of Ireland from where he observes all the weather that the weather can throw at him. We talk about the hot topic at the moment which is of course snow-drizzle called graupel, we talk about not-hearing-the-weather-forecast-anxiety, being lost in the snow, the unbearable lightness of solar panels, and some of the small numbers that make a big difference in the massive maths of weather, and why it all comes down to dew point.
Welcome back to the function room with me Colm O’Regan. This week, it's ChatGPT. The latest thing that makes people starting dropping the phrase AI into small talk. ChatGPT and all the Ais are of huge interest to my guest. Conrad Wolfram. He’s kind of a big deal. Strategic and international director of Wolfram Research which makes Mathematica the computational software and nearly 4 decades in the area of computational education, Conrad has written The maths fix, about how AI will, or should make the maths we study in school very different. We talk steam engines, democracy and poems about lightbulb filaments. You know, the standard stuff. Find him at conradwolfram.com, find chatGPT at chat.openai.com