The Function Room
Where Is There a Will?

Where Is There a Will?

September 22, 2021

In this episode after Ruby makes up her mind, we’re talking about the mathematics of free will. It's recorded at the Cat Laughs Comedy Summer Series in Kilkenny, Ireland. A special series of shows to reintroduce everyone to the vague concept of Going To Stuff Again.

My guest is Dr Kevin Mitchell. He’s a neuroscientist a professor at Trinity College Dublin and author of a book called Innate which goes right into the heart of the brain…well not the heart, confusing terminology, but right into the cells.

And as he got to the smallest bits of the brain, Kevin started to wonder about free will and whether we have any choice in any matter. The notion of free will has been debated by the finest minds for thousands of years. So naturally I felt qualified to join in.

And what has it to do with maths. Well…buckle up because we’re in for a bit of a head melt as we tackle topics like quantum physics, a smidge of chaos theory, WHAT IS A NUMBER ANYWAY and where annoying phantom traffic jams come from on the motorway. (apart from over reliance on cars obvs)
You can Kevin at and on twitter at and of course me at and on twitter the podcast is at 

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Miracle Grow

Miracle Grow

September 8, 2021

This time, it's about Growth and De-Growth. De-What? What-Growth? A term that's been around for a while but it's obviously being talked about more if an eejit like me is throwing it around at dinner-parties. (or I will when they come back)

My guest is Dr Jason Hickel who has written about Degrowth in his book Less is More. We talk about what is degrowth what it isn't, the sneaky power of exponential growth, why imperialism is alive and (making people un)well, the curious history of GDP, a brief tangent on the history of the board game monopoly, social media fights, Ruby gets to the nub of global inequality when talking about dolls and why despite all of the depressing stuff he has to read, Jason is still optimistic. 


About — Jason Hickel

The Ps of Queues

The Ps of Queues

August 23, 2021

Welcome back to the Function Room, And this time, it’s about QUEUES. This has been a summer of queues. A flurry of covid tests and two vaccinations have meant a brush with Big Queue. 

Which got me thinking  - What makes a good queue or a bad one? And is there any maths behind it. There’s a hatch free so step forward, Professor Ken Duffy, director of the Hamilton Institute in Maynooth University to tell me about Queuing Theory.

As usual on the Function room, the topic goes off in all sorts of directions. Along the way we find out about old telephone exchanges, how Victorian Britain’s worries about their Lordships going extinct led them to develop theory that was used a century later to look at viruses and what it takes to get your mathematics soldered onto a computer chip.

Telephone exchange - Wikipedia

A Chip Off The New Block

A Chip Off The New Block

June 28, 2021

This time on the function room: My guide to helping people think you’re a great parent. While someone else does the job.

Numberblocks logo.jpg

The secret? It’s numberblocks.  The BAFTA winning animated CBEEBIES TV show for 3 to 6 year old children to get them interested in mathematics in an accessible way.  Our children love it. They request it. They watch the same programmes over and over. They are not geniuses – well obvious they are – but it’s not considered polite to say. We are not Tiger parents  so far. It's just this TV show. It's funny and fun and like millions around the world our Two are hooked on it.

They sing the songs, they get invested in the stories. What is it about it? Well the songs are catchy, the animation is great, the stories work. But the sums add up.

I wanted to find out why. So I talked to Debbie is the Primary  Director at the National centre for Excellence in Teaching Mathematics in the UK  but also she's the maths consultant on Numberblocks!

Debbie Morgan on Twitter 



Welcome to the Fold

Welcome to the Fold

May 14, 2021

This time we’re folding. We’re creasing. We’re origami-ing. As Ruby and I make two birds and two planes, I find out a little bit about the world of folding. Even with those small things we made we still got the feeling we were playing with something much bigger. Just by taking a flat sheet of paper and transforming.  

Folding is seen as a negative word, a defeat. Not to the people like Paul Jackson an artist who teaches folding in 80 universities or Robert Lang who gave up engineering degrees to focus on origami solutions to problems of the small and the big.

Or to my guest She’s Dr Rachel Quinlan, Head of the School of Mathematics, Statistics and Applied Mathematics. In her day-job according to the NUIG website, "hercurrent research interests are generally in the area of algebra, especially linear algebra and its interactions with group theory, combinatorics, and field theory" .."group theory, particularly the ordinary and projective representation theory of finite groups." 

But I know that stuff like the back of my hand. So it’s her beautiful origami tessellations that caught my eye.


Along the way you’ll hear about MC Escher, listen to me struggle to describe Euclid, a brief mention of diffraction, topology, stents, airbags and naturally where it always ends: With the structure of the universe.

And sorry about the delay. I know it’s a pain when podcasts are irregular. Work came in that pays the bills and I'm still trying to work out a way to fit this job into all the others. 


Between the Folds – Youtube

More about Vanessa Gould

More about Paul Jackson

More about Robert Lang

More about Dr. Rachel Quinlan and see her art here

The Matrix Revised

The Matrix Revised

March 15, 2021

Okay enough messing around, this week we get into the Matrix. Okay not that matrix. The mathematical matrix. But this one is way more powerful than a dystopian future in which humanity is unknowingly trapped inside a simulated reality. That’s piddly. Mathematical matrices are used in everywhere, from making computer games to quantum physics.

That’s Jane Breen ,Assistant Professor in Applied Maths in Ontario University in Canada. She loves modelling the complexity of networks in the real world with some very powerful and sometimes simple tools. Speaking of simple tools, before long, I start throw around lingo like Eigenvalues and Markov Chains like I know what I'm talking about. We find out how Google got so successful, a brief digression into how drugmakers know their drugs will work and before finishing off on how to control the spread of disease. And Ruby and Lily find themselves playing with a real-life application of a Markov Chain, a Game of Snakes and Ladders. 
Jane Breen
A really good youtube channel for visualising what's going on in Matrices and All Of That.

Algorithm and Blues

Algorithm and Blues

February 9, 2021

This time on the function room, advertising algorithms start to annoy Ruby so I decided to find out a bit more. And who better to talk to than someone the New York Times described as one of the most valuable observers of Big Data. She is American mathematician, data scientist, and author of Weapons of Math Destruction and budding movie star, Cathy O’Neill.

The Solace of Quantum

The Solace of Quantum

January 18, 2021

This time on the Function Room. It's the little things. The really little things. As Ruby(5) and Lily(3) theorise about the computers a fairy might use, I talk to UCD's John Sheekey about Quantum Computers. I got thinking about it before Christmas when Chinese scientists announced another quantum computing breakthrough.
Those brand new heavies that may help humanity heal itself and even the planet but also could mean your money isn't as safe as it was online. Listen to me trying to fit enormous concepts inside my tiny brain, find out about Coding Theory and how a man in a Maths and Stats department in Dublin is trying to stay one step ahead of The Quantum Menace (my hyperbole) armed with pens, paper, markers, whiteboard in an office that doesn't have a window. 

(news clips from )

A Sum of Funny.

A Sum of Funny.

December 29, 2020

A special Christmas episode recorded in an actual theatre. With actual people. Just sound technicians as events are still banned due to me being TOO FUNNY. This was a fun episode with fellow comedian and fellow former engineer Eleanor Tiernan. 

It was recorded at the Catcast - a special podcast festival held in the Set Theatre Kilkenny (usually the Comedy Festival home) sponsored by a bit of government money to keep the industry - especially the sound and vision people ticking over. 

We chatted about the usual topics of sizing an incinerator, the physics of an adult's jokes, the maths of a toddler's joke, Newton's Law of cooling (whether it's better to put the milk in the tea early or late) and how we both navigated lockdown using the Dunning Kruger effect.

The Math(s) Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings

The Math(s) Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings

November 21, 2020

This week we meet a man who loves maps, elections and naturally Eurovision. We dip our toe in the recent presidential election and find out how you can use maths to see if someone is really trying to steal an election. Not through mysterious bundles of mailed in ballots, but by packing and cracking, drawing funny looking amphibious electoral maps. 

We hear why we need to Build That Wall in Ireland. (A beautiful colourful electoral wall. So that CNN's John King can feel at home when he visits his cousins.)

But all of that is mere fluffing before the substantive issue: Why Albania loves the Eurovision. WIth Adrian Kavanagh Lecturer in Geography at National University of Ireland, Maynooth. 

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