What's it all about? is four-part series co-presented by Colette Kinsella and Sean Duke that will explore some of the wonderful mysteries of science.
Together with some of the brightest and finest thinkers; the presenters will investigate the inner workings of our incredible brains, search for ET, get to grips with consciousness, and consider whether anything awaits us after death.
We speak to scientists whose passion for their subject transforms them into great storytellers. We will also speak to people whose lives have been affected by science, and learn about how science is dramatically impacting all our lives.
The reason we hear music as “nice” or “not nice” depends on mathematical ratios, Dr. Bob Lawlor, NUI Maynooth, told our reporter Lorcan Clancy.
Pythagoras, the famous mathematician of the ancient world, invented the theorem we learned in school, but he also developed the original musical scale.
It is thought Pythagoras gained insight into how mathematical ratios explain pitch and harmony by listening to blacksmiths striking anvils.
He built a monochord – an early single-stringed instrument – and found that pitch was inversely proportional to the length of the monochord string.
This work by Pythagoras explains why we can recognise a discordant sound in the midst of a beautiful, harmonic piece of music.
We humans, it seems, prefer symmetry, even when it comes to music.
Maths can forecast volcanic eruptions
You might be surprised to learn that scientists are still unable to predict the precise time, date and location of a volcanic eruption.
However, scientists like Professor Chris Bean (University College Dublin), a mathematician by training, are getting far better at forecasting the chances of an eruption.
We visited the UCD campus to talk to Chris about maths and its importance in his volcano work.
Maths is used to forecast the weather. It’s not possible to predict that it will rain on Grafton Street at 2pm tomorrow, but we can say there is a “strong chance of showers”. The same applies to how scientists predict volcanic eruptions.
Chris Bean was inspired to apply his mathematical skills to the study of volcanoes after watching the Mount Saint Helens eruption in 1980 on TV.
Sensors are placed on the volcano to measure things like how the ground is shaking, the nature of gas leakages, and the surrounding water chemistry.
Mathematics are used to analyse the resulting data, which then allows scientists to make reliable forecasts.
Each volcano is different, but the scientific strategy is the same: monitor the patterns leading up to a known eruption to try and predict the next one.
Why do we use certain numbers?
Fiacre O’Cairbre tells Lorcan Clancy why certain numbers like
12 are important to us.
The use of 12 as a so-called base number – a basic multiplication unit underpinning a system of numbers – has its origins in the ancient world.
The fact that there are seven days in a week can be traced back to the Babylonians who believed there were seven planets, including the Sun. The Babylonians dedicated one day each to a planet, which is how we came to have seven days in a week.
Meanwhile, the reason that 60 is important, says Fiacre O’Cairbre, is because it is the smallest number divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.
The Babylonians saw that 60 was a good base number for doing divisional calculations in real world, such as dividing up inheritances or bags of grain.
Today, base 10 is key to the metric system. However, number systems go in and out of fashion and today’s system could change again in the future.
The majesty of maths in ancient Ireland
There is plenty of evidence that the people of the ancient world, the builders and architects at least, had a very good knowledge of mathematics.
The builders of Stonehenge, for example, clearly had an understanding of squares and circles, but in Ireland we something just as fascinating.
The Céide Fields near Belderrig, north Mayo, were discovered by Patrick Caulfield in 1934 when he found stone walls buried beneath the bog.
Researchers, including Patrick's son Seamus Caulfield, have since unearthed a huge, buried landscape 5,500 years old.
Our reporter Lorcan Clancy visited the Céide Fields Visitor Centre and spoke to site manager Greta Byrne about why the site is so special.
Lorcan also spoke to Seamus Caulfield, who began work on the Céide Fields in 1970, and who gave up his job as a teacher to become an archaeologist.
Seamus describes how the buried Céide Fields, which cover thousands of acres of north Co. Mayo, were systematically divided up thousands of years ago.