New PBS Show All About Math

Last week PBS launched a new show on YouTube all about math called Infinite Series. The first three episodes are up and they’re a ton of fun. The show is hosted by Kelsey Houston-Edwards, who is a graduate student at Cornell studying probability theory and the 2016 AMS-AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

In the first installation of the series, Houston-Edwards contemplates the sphere-packing problem, something that we talked about over here a few months ago. Aided by really cool animation and sound effects, she helps us to visualize spheres in higher dimensions and get a sense of how they might be packed. I especially liked her explanation of what happens when you pack spheres in more than 9 dimensions in a box. My mind — much like the sides of that box — was blown!

The second episode takes a somewhat of a philosophical turn. In it Houston-Edwards, who got her bachelor’s degree is in the interdisciplinary study of mathematics and philosophy, asks “Are prime numbers made up?” She delves into some of those tricky questions about whether math was invented, discovered or just…is. A question that certainly vexes those among us who dabble in math and patent law. Houston-Edwards says we can expect a few more episodes of this flavor.

Today I got a chance to catch up with Houston-Edwards to ask her about what’s headed our way in the next few episodes. “There are a couple of episodes like that which just came from personal knowledge, stuff that I just happen to know quite a bit about,” she says, “but the cool part about it, now that it’s aired, people are coming up to me like ‘Oh! You should make an episode about this!’ And that part’s really cool.” And given that she’s the one dreaming up all the ideas of the show I asked her if she was excited for all this feedback. She said, “Totally! I am more than happy to hear any ideas!” So feel free to pitch her all of your most strange and pressing math questions.

Kelsey Houston-Edwards, host of the new PBS online show about math.

Kelsey Houston-Edwards, host of the new PBS web series Infinite Series.

The most recent episode gives a very approachable treatment of the pigeon hole principle by answering that question that I know we all are wondering, “How many humans have the same number of body hairs?” Spoiler: tons and tons.

We can expect a new episode of Infinite Series every Thursday. If you’re interested in becoming a blogger or hosting a YouTube show of your own, a great place to start is with the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. Evelyn and I are also both proud alumni of the program, and to learn more you can read about my experience at NPR or Evelyn’s experience at Scientific America. The fellowship program is accepting applications now until January 15th.

You can find Kelsey on Twitter @KelseyAHE. And while you’re there, you can find me too, @extremefriday, and let me know what else you’d like to see on this blog.

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