From Relatively Prime

The Lexicon


The Lexicon

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The Three R’s, Reading Writing and ’Rithmetic, have formed the basis of formal education for centuries, at least since they were mentioned by Sir William Curtis in 1795, even if he probably used Reckoning instead of ‘Rithmetic. Most of the time though the three R’s can be simplified down even further to the two Glyphs, Letters and Numbers.

For most people ‘Rithmetic or reckoning or mathematics or what ever you want to call it, falls directly under the umbrella of numbers. That is not incorrect. Numbers are very much mathematics brand. Numbers are how mathematics is represented to children from a young age and when you show an aptitude for the subject you are often branded a numbers person. There is even a youtube channel featuring videos about cool mathematics called Numberphile.

But mathematics is more than numbers, and before you go making a joke about how of course it is otherwise we could never solve for x, mathematics is more than individual letters too. Letters, and that thing you get when you put a bunch of letters together and make them into words and then you take those words and you put them together according to some set of rules called language, plays a very important role in mathematics. This episode of Relatively Prime, The Lexicon, explores this role.

The Trans-Atlantic Battle

Lynne Murphy is an American born, University of Sussex employed linguist. This made her the perfect person to talk to about the linguistic fight which destroys more Anglo-American mathematical friendships than which type of breakfast pastry to serve at a conference: Is it Math or is it Maths? (Ed. Note: It is math, I do not care at all what the story actually concludes)

Digging Down to the Roots

One of the things about the language of mathematics is a lot of it comes from language, like from the languages that we speak. To be fair not the actual languages we speak, at least not that we speak anymore. Unless you just happen to be a scholar of Greek, Latin, or Arabic.

This is where Anthony Lo Bello’s Origins of Mathematical Words: A Comprehensive Dictionary of Latin, Greek, and Arabic Roots comes in. Samuel was joined by Anthony for a conversation about the dictionary and some of the origins therein.

Words’ Younger Sibling

A discussion of mathematical language which only touched on mathematical words would be really unsatisfying. It would probably feel like only one half of a dialogue. This is of course because it would be skipping over half of what constitutes mathematical language, it would be skipping over symbols.

Today symbols are just as much part of the language of mathematics as words. This is a surprisingly recent development. For example, when Algebra was first being developed it was entirely in prose. Joseph Mazur wrote about how symbols were developed and integrated into mathematics in his book Enlightening Symbols and he spoke to Samuel about the evolution of symbols and how they have changed mathematics.

A Train Left Station U Traveling 40 mph…

There are two words which can elicit a groan in almost any mathematics classroom, word problem. Thankfully this does not have to be the case. Tharanga Wijetunge and Kirthi Premadasa are here with the solution. Their research has shown that using different language to frame the problems can help students not only enjoy the problems more, but also better recall the mathematics.

No Words at All

Tim Chartier is a person who spends half of his life trying to find stories within mathematics and the other half telling those stories in as many ways as possible. While this would be a hard enough task if Tim just wrote books, made videos, and gave podcast interviews. All of which he does, but Tim, along with his wife, have gone one step farther and now tour the world tell mathematical stories without any words at all. That is right, they do mathematical mime.

Mime-matics – The Plunger from Tim Chartier on Vimeo.

Mime-matics – the infinite rope from Tim Chartier on Vimeo.

Mime-matics – The Tube (with Topology discussion) from Tim Chartier on Vimeo

Relatively Prime Episode 2: The Score


There are many similarities between mathematics and music. They are their own vocabulary, their own written language, their own way of describing the world around us, but while they are similar the Venn diagram that contains mathematics and music doesn’t always seem to have a huge overlap. This episode of Relatively Prime brings you three stories from that intersection. First a story of mathematics applied to music, in a way that no musician would have thought up. Next a story of what happen when you take mathematician and musician and combine it into a single person. Finally, the story of a composer and how he has harnessed the power of numbers as a music creation tool.

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Relatively Prime Episode 1: The Toolbox

The first episode of Relatively Prime is now up!!!!

The mathematics that we all learn in school is great. No, really, it is. How can anyone get through life without knowing how to add or subtract. Multiply or divide. Solve for an unknown or factor a polynomial. OK, you might be able to get through life without that last one, but the point still stands, the mathematics that we all learn in school is great.  It isn’t everything though. There are a lot of other tools that mathematics has to offer that could enrich people’s lives. On this episode Samuel Hansen rummages through his mathematical tool box and showcases three tools he feel are going to be very important in the coming years.

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Click through to read more about the guests and music!

Announcing Relatively Prime

Relatively Prime is finally ready for its big premiere, and I am happy to announce that it will happen next Monday, September 17th. We are hoping that Relatively Prime will get big buzz and we are also hoping that you will all help us achieve that buzz. So, we here at are asking all of you to tell everyone that you know that Relatively Prime is going to begin next Monday, and even more importantly forward this post(or the press release that will appear below this plea) to any science journalist, blogger, radio producer, communicator, enthusiast, or devotee that you know. Help us let the world know about the great stories from the world of mathematics.

What follows is the press release:




Samuel Hansen



Relatively Prime: Stories from the Mathematical Domain

Eight episode series explores the world of mathematics


NIAGARA, WI – (September 10, 2012): is proud to announce the premiere of its brand-new podcast Relatively Prime: Stories from the Mathematical Domain. A Kickstarter funded series, the first episode of Relatively Prime will be released on September 17th and the series will run until November 5th, with a new episode being released every Monday.

Produced and hosted by Samuel Hansen, Relatively Prime is an eight episode series featuring in-depth stories about the world of mathematics. While each episode revolves around a single theme, the themes themselves vary widely and include a checkers playing computer, new tools for your mathematical toolbox, and things that were flat out unexpected. The guests range widely too, from a Fields Medalist to a composer to a stand-up mathematician.

“Mathematics is not talked about enough. For a subject that is, as you hear over and over again, the foundation of science and technology and engineering it seems to be rather tragically under-covered in the media,” said Samuel Hansen when asked about why he decided to create Relatively Prime. “There are great stories, not just great mathematical stories, but great human stories as mathematics is as human an endeavor as anything else. I wanted to create an outlet for people to hear these stories.”

Relatively Prime looks at these mathematical stories through a lens that anyone can understand. While the shows do not stray away from advanced mathematical topics, the content itself carefully avoids getting bogged down in technical details. Speaking on this Samuel said, “I am a mathematician, I live for the details and trust me I asked my guests plenty of technical questions, but when it came to putting the shows together I wanted to make sure that they were accessible for everyone. It would be a shame if people needed to spend a few years getting an advanced degree before they could appreciate the stories. That is not to say that I lowered the level of the content. I was very careful to maintain the integrity of the mathematics, and I wanted to be sure that my audience never felt I was speaking down to them.”

Relatively Prime will be licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License and Samuel Hansen is looking forward to any remixes that may result. The show will be available to download directly at the show’s website, through the RSS Feed, and through iTunes.


For more information, or sample episodes, please contact:

Samuel Hansen



About is the hub for multiple shows that range in content from video interviews of scientists discussing their newest research to panel discussions about mathematical topics liberally peppered with silly jokes and pop culture references to 80s cult Sci-Fi movies.

About Samuel Hansen

Samuel Hansen is the producer of multiple podcasts at, including the science history show Science Sparring Society and the mathematics interview show Strongly Connected Components. He is also the co-host of the weekly mathematical news podcast Math/Maths with his frequent collaborator Peter Rowlett hosted through Pulse-Project. Samuel has a Masters degree in mathematics from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and has given many mathematical presentations to audiences around the world.



Relatively Prime is Funded

So after a rather long wait everyone came through at the death and the ACMEScience Kickstarter project Relatively Prime got funded. I want to thank all of you who helped make this dream of mine a reality. Right after the pledge that knocked us over the edge happened I talked with my Math/Maths co-host Peter Rowlett to talk about how it felt. Listen to how happy I sound.

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