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Podcasting about: Chalkboard Ultra podcast

In this series of posts, we’ll be featuring mathematical podcasts from all over the internet, by speaking to the creators of the podcast and asking them about what they do.

We spoke to Louie and Sam, two students at Durham University, who host a podcast there for their uni’s student radio station Purple Radio.

Podcast title: Chalkboard Ultra
Links: SpotifyApple PodcastsPurple Radio On Demand
Average episode length: General conversations 25-30 minutes, interviews 40-50 minutes.
Recommended episode: Shakespeare by Chance (our introductory episode), and Maths in Motion with Dr Adam Townsend.

Chalkboard Ultra podcast logo - a green chalkboard with 'CHALKBOARD ULTRA' written on it below a scribble of chalk

What is your podcast about, and when/why did it start?

Something we noticed growing up was a lot of people were turned away from maths at the secondary school or sixth form age and never really came back. They never saw the day-to-day uses, but it doesn’t have to be that. Sometimes it’s the pure curiosity that leads us to where we are. Chalkboard Ultra is a student-run podcast that discusses interesting concepts throughout all of mathematics, with a focus on the unseen areas  that often slip under the radar… or behind the chalkboard in our case!

Who’s the team behind Chalkboard Ultra?

Louie and Sam are undergraduate mathematicians at Durham University. Louie studies Maths and Stats and gravitates towards the applied statistical concepts, whereas Sam is more enthused by mathematical physics and the geometry of space around us. We publish our podcast through Purple Radio, Durham University’s award-winning radio station that provides students with experience in broadcasting media. We as hosts are grateful for use of their facilities.

Who is the intended audience for the podcast? 

This podcast is aimed at those who are mathematically curious, but don’t know where to begin without picking up a calculator or reliving past traumas of secondary school. Yes, it is a maths podcast, but it is a podcast at the end of the day, and should be a conversation exploring our own interests while guiding the listener through our intuitions. We don’t expect any prior knowledge of maths at any level; everything is explained via a story without any calculations. However, for those that would like more information, we have ‘Chalkboard Ultra Book Reviews’ in which we recommend any literature that could take the listener on their own personal journey of exploration.

What is a typical episode like? What is the format? How long are episodes? How often are they released?

The student-led episodes are conversations between the co-hosts, which are structured in a way that tells a story with an overarching theme of something that relates to maths. Some examples include the infinite monkey theorem, time travel, numerology, and the art of gambling. These are our main episodes and last 25-30 minutes. On occasion, we invite special guests – whether that be fellow students or associate professors – to relive their own journey through academia and discuss what they find engaging. These tend to be longer episodes of 40-50 minutes. The episodes are released weekly through our university’s term time. Most episodes also feature an ‘outtakes’ or ‘post-credit’ session, just for fun.

Why is it different from other mathematical podcasts?

Too many times, have students refrain from bettering their understanding by not attending office hours or not asking questions. This is down to viewing lecturers and tutorial leaders on a different level of hierarchy. But this shouldn’t be the case! Almost all professors were once in our shoes, curious, and seeking help, and there is always a story to tell behind that. We are students, and we talk to our very own university professors and some PhD students to find out more of their own experiences with maths, where they came from and where their research may take them. This bridges the student-lecturer gap and hopes to bring together the academic community.

What are some highlights of the podcast so far?

Most of our favourite moments appear as post-credit sessions. Episode 6 features a series of maths jokes and bad maths puns. In Episode 9, one of our guests reduces Bertrand Russell’s Principia Mathematica to 100 pages of mathematical foreplay. In Episode 10, Sam gets (nearly) cancelled after his attempts to strap a piece of buttered toast to a cat. On the back of this, in Episode 13 Louie summons a demon and banishes Sam to another realm (London).

What exciting plans do you have for the future? 

Both Louie and Sam are Masters students and therefore have one more year of Chalkboard Ultra. This means one more year of interesting concepts, exciting guests, and perhaps interviewing some of the more popular people in the world of maths communication. However, in the far future we may take it past the university and go rogue. Or maybe a new generation of chalklings will take control of the airwaves.

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