The Random Sample - an ACEMS Podcast Series

Welcome to The Random Sample

An ACEMS podcast series

We hope The Random Sample will give you a unique glimpse into the world of mathematics and statistics, and how these sciences play such a crucial role in so many areas where you wouldn't expect.

You'll meet some fascinating people along the way and get the chance to know some of our researchers. Enjoy! (just click on the episode number to take you to each individual podcast)

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SEASON SIX

Episode 61: The Maths Behind Movie Magic

Ever wonder how the impossible becomes possible on the big screen? Not surprisingly, there's a lot of maths and stats that can make amazing things happen in your favourite movies.

In this episode, we chat with a man who uses mathematical tools to create that movie magic. It's a must listen for anyone who's ever asked the question in maths class, "when am I ever going to use this stuff?". There are few cooler answers than what you'll hear in this episode!


Episode 60: OPTiMA Centre

Companies from many different sectors are all starting to realise one thing - that mathematics can help them make better decisions. That's the goal of a new ARC Industrial Transformation Training Centre. It's called OPTIMA and its aim is to bring cutting-edge optimisation research to industry. 

In this episode, we explore the field of optimisation and why Centre Director Kate Smith-Miles believes OPTIMA is poised to tackle some very interesting and challenge industry problems.


Episode 59: Experiment in Lockdown

The Safe Blues project was created to see in close to real-time how social mobility and epidemic spread interact. To test its mobile technology, the Safe Blues team has been conducting an experiment in New Zealand at the University of Auckland City Campus. The experiment took a turn, though, when Auckland went into lockdown a few weeks ago.

In this episode, we explore how lockdown is both an opportunity and a challenge for this experiment.


Episode 58: Clearing the Air on COVID-19

Our guest is QUT Distiguished Professor Lidia Morawska who led the push to get health organisations to finally recognise the airborne spread of COVID-19.

Prof Morawska is now leading an effort to change the way buildings and homes are ventilated to help prevent the spread of not just COVID, but other respiratory illnesses like the flu and the common cold.


Episode 57: Predicting What the Clouds are Covering Up

Thousands of species around the world are being threatened by land clearing to make way for agricultural or urban development. To track land clearing, researchers are now turning to free satellite imagery to try to see what's going on in certain areas.

But there's one big problem. At any given time, two-thirds of the earth is covered by clouds. To get around that, an ACEMS team developed new statistical modelling techniques to predict what the clouds are covering up in those images.


Episode 56: Success, Luck & Second Chances

When things go your way – or don’t go your way – how much of that is luck? Do we overvalue or undervalue a process or a person's performance because of how things eventually turn out? Do we need to take into account things out of our control?

In this episode, we explore these questions and look into whether we need to do more to give some people a second chance.


Episode 55: The 2021 Australian Census

Every five years, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducts a national Census. In this episode, we explore what's new with this year's Census, how COVID is impacting it, and what's being done to avoid a repeat of what happened on Census night in 2016.


SEASON FIVE

Episode 54: The future of statistics is in good hands: the Early Career & Student Statisticians Conference

In a world that’s more data-driven than ever before, we need people who can analyse and find the hidden stories within the data.

In this episode, we explore the future of statistics with two early career statisticians who took very different paths to get where they are now. We also give you a sneak peak at the upcoming Early Career and Student Statistician’s Conference. 


Episode 53: A Chat with Professor Cheryl Praeger

She is considered one of Australia’s greatest mathematicians. Professor Cheryl Praeger turned her passion for the mathematics of symmetry into a long and distinguished career at the University of Western Australia.

In this episode, we chat with Cheryl about her career, her mathematics, the many honours she has been given, and her passion for advancing mathematics education and women in STEM.


Episode 52: The "Wondrous Worlds" of Maths

What can maths do for you? A new children’s book aims to give youngsters – and their parents and teachers – a glimpse of what’s possible if they study maths. It's called "Wondrous Worlds" and in this episode we chat to the author, ACEMS PhD Candidate Katie Buchhorn.


Episode 51: The Road Ahead for Women in STEM

The mathematical sciences community recently celebrated international women in mathematics day. To mark the day, ACEMS hosted a panel discussion titled, "The Road Ahead for Women in STEM". Featuring three female leaders in Australian academia, we explored efforts to increase diversity in maths and science.


Episode 50: The Maths & Stats Behind Testing Vaccines

What does it take to test a vaccine? Among other things, some very important mathematical and statistical methodology!

This episode doesn't tackle the specifics of any of the different COVID-19 vaccines, but rather it explores some of the maths and stats that was needed in their testing. We also hope to make you better consumers of all the news you see and hear when it comes to the different vaccines.


Episode 49: A Pint of Maths & Stats

For an 8th straight year, the Pint of Science Festival has just kicked off in Australia. Its aim is to give everyday people a chance to meet and interact with Australian scientists and find out what they’re doing and also to combat the stereotypes associated with science.

In this episode, we’ll explore how the festival works, and meet two women who are taking part so that they can change the way people feel about maths and stats!


Episode 48: Australian Women of Mathematics Exhibit

The term mathematical modelling takes on a whole new meaning for a group of Australian mathematicians. In this case, they are models. Or should we say, role models. They are part of the just-released “Australian Women of Mathematics” exhibit, launched as part of the 2021 International Women in Mathematics Day celebrations.

In this episode, we introduce you to the exhibit, how it came together, and how it shares the stories of the women who are featured.


Episode 47: A Mathematical Approach to the Issue of Gender Inequality

Mathematics has a numbers problem – at least when it comes to gender equity. But what if we could use maths to help fix the problem? That's just what Dr Eugenia Cheng is proposing we do. She's the author of a new book, "X+Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto to Rethinking Gender".

In this episode, Dr Cheng describes how a mathematical approach to this issue could be the key to moving forward.


Episode 46: Significance & the Replication Crisis

In the last decade, a controversy called the 'replication crisis' rocked the scientific community. The crisis centered around the fact that many scientific studies were difficult or even impossible to reproduce. At the heart of the issue is statistical significance.

In this episode, we explore the crisis, the questions around significance, and the possible solutions that are being considered. 


Episode 45: The International Prize in Statistics

The International Prize in Statistics is considered the top award in the field of statistics. This year, it was awarded to Harvard Biostatistician Professor Nan Laird.

In this episode, we chat with Professor Laird about the award as she looks back on her career. Joining us is one of her former PhD students turned colleague, Harvard Professor Garrett Fitzmaurice.


SEASON FOUR

Episode 44: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

When it comes to the number of women in mathematics, the numbers are low. In this episode, we explore why that is, the role women are being asked to play in making that change, and why many women are battling imposter syndrome.


Episode 43: Maths & the Power of Perseverance

Have you heard someone say they weren't good at maths or hated it at school? Is there such a thing as a 'maths person'? What does a mathematician do?

In this episode, we make the case for maths, why it's important students not give up on it too soon and, more importantly, why they should do as much as they can.


Episode 42: Bubbles, Maths & a World Record

An Adelaide man recently set a world record for the tallest free-standing soap bubble. It reached up 10.75 metres, or more than 35 feet, from the ground high into the air. ACEMS Chief Investigator Professor Matt Roughan did the maths that verified the record-breaking bubble attempt.

In this episode, we talk about the world-record-breaking soap bubble, what needed to be done to mathematically verify it, and what we can learn from bubbles in maths and science. 


Episode 41: Open Data Opens Doors to Answers

Data can unlock the answers to a lot of questions. But few researchers are asking some of the questions that QUT Professor Adrian Barnett is.

In this episode, we explore some of the interesting problems and questions Adrian has looked into, why he chose them, and why he believes it’s more important than ever that we have access to open data sources.


Episode 40: Driven by Data: Statistics in Sports

In the race for gold, athletes are always looking for a competitive edge. But could that edge now come from the mathematical sciences? There is more data than ever available now about athletes – and that data can tell us a lot about how these competitors are doing – or even how they might perform in the future. To do that, though, we need statistics to bring meaning to all that data.

In this episode, we explore the ever increasing role of data and statistics in athletic performance and sports.


Episode 39: Living & Playing Together in Moreton Bay

Moreton Bay, off the coast of Southeast Queensland, is home to an incredible array of iconic marine species like dugongs, turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, sharks and rays. But because it's so close to Brisbane, it's also a very busy bay for recreational and commercial traffic. And that's only going to increase.

In this episode, we introduce you to a new project that will use statistical analysis - and some very cool technology - to try to show how what's happening above the surface is impacting the marine life below it.


Episode 38: Making a Connection to Culture

We explore the connections between mathematics and Aboriginal culture and how they can be used to transform how Aboriginal students learn maths.

Also in this episode, we look into how these connections, and this education, might help all students and teachers when it comes to teaching and learning maths.


Episode 37: Why Study Maths & Stats?

We sit down with four university students from around Australia who are studying maths and stats. When did they realise they wanted to study the mathematical sciences? The four students are at various stages of their academic journey. What has it been like so far? And do they think they’ve made the right choice and why?

Our hope with this episode is to maybe get some young people to think about maths and stats as a field of study, or at least something to think about.


Episode 36: From Maths to the Media

What can you do with a mathematics education? For Casey Briggs, he's turned it into a career with the ABC.

In this episode, Casey talks about his role in communicating data, especially when it comes to a story like the COVID-19 pandemic. Casey also talks about the challenges of presenting statistics and data to a TV audience.


Episode 35: A Chat with Professor Kerry Landman

From business to biology, Professor Kerry Landman has taken her love for applied mathematics and made a huge impact. For some 40-years, she has devoted her career to cross-disciplinary research to help solve a wide range of problems. In 2019, she was named a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.

In this episode podcast, Kerry talks about her career, some of the people who have impacted her life over the years, and what she's doing now in retirement to make a difference.


Episode 34: Hacking Your Lower Brain to Improve Predictions

Do you ever stop and think about how much time you spend on your mobile phone, or binge-watching your favourite TV show? Not surprisingly, tech companies and apps actually make those predictions - and they also sell those predictions.

In this episode, we look investigate the disturbing possibility that companies might take it a step further by also getting us to do what they were predicting - or at least pushing us closer to our predicted behaviour.


SEASON THREE

Episode 33: Fact vs Fake - Targeting Misinformation on Social Media

One of the biggest issues we face is the deliberate spread of false information over platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Because of the network properties of those platforms, it’s not hard to see how wrong, or even dangerous, information can end up in the news feeds and the minds a lot of people.

In this episode, we explore what a team of researchers  is doing to tackle this problem. 


Episode 32: Bayes' Theorem - The Past & the Future

Bayesian statistics help decide what email you get is spam. It can assess security and medical risks, decode DNA, enhance blurry pictures, help explain stock market volatility, predict the spread of an infectious disease, and its methods were even used by Alan Turing in World War 2 to crack the secret of the Nazi enigma code.

In this episode, we explore the history of Bayes' theorem, the ideas behind it, and why it's really becoming a powerful statistical tool in the 21st century.


Episode 31: From Cells to Systems: Maths meets Biology

It’s one of the fastest growing areas of mathematics, and for good reason. Mathematical biology tackles problems involving things like genetics, diseases, epidemics, ecology, population growth and extinction. The list could go on and on.

In this episode, we explore the field of mathematical biology as we chat with one of Australia's rising stars in the field, QUT Professor Matthew Simpson.


Episode 30: The Maths Behind Australia's Response to COVID-19

Professor James McCaw is one of the leaders of the pandemic modelling group advising Australia's National Cabinet.

In this episode, Professor McCaw talks about the role mathematical modelling played in Australia's response to COVID-19, and we explore how this crisis has given many people a glimpse into how maths and stats can play a key role in tackling problems they wouldn’t expect.


Episode 29: Forecasting the Future & the Future of Forecasting

The closest thing to a crystal ball that many organisations and businesses have to look into the future is what’s called a forecast. Not for weather, but for so many other things like product sales, or unemployment figures, or energy usage.

In this episode, we get a glimpse into how forecasting works and how it continues to develop.


Episode 28: The Random Sample samples Randomised Trials

How do you know if a new drug will do what it claims to do? Or a new policy will have a desired effect on a population? Many experts believe the best way to answer questions like those are to use 'randomised trials'. 

In this episode, we explore why and how randomised trials are used, what happens when they're not, and how they might be used even more in Australia to drive decisions and policy. 


Episode 27: Hospital Hesitancy

In the build up to the COVID-19 pandemic, hospitals started preparing for the worst. On a normal day, they operate at or around 100 per cent capacity. But in the past few weeks – during this pandemic – something strange has happened. Those numbers have dropped. But why?

In this episode, we explore that question, and also look at why ACEMS researchers are closely tracking hospital emergency department data.  


Episode 26: COVID Clues in Dirty Water Data

In the search for clues in tracking the presence or spread of COVID-19 in communities, sometimes experts need to look in some spots they'd rather not. Australia's Chief Scientist is mobilising a team to look for such data in the dirty wastewater that leaves homes and businesses every day.

In this episode, we explore why that data could provide important information on what's going on with the pandemic in Australia.


Episode 25: Safe Blues

How well do social distancing measures work when it comes to controlling the spread of COVID-19? Which ones can we start to remove? And when? The problem with these questions is time. It takes days, even weeks to see if a certain measure or measures are working.

In this episode, we introduce you to a project called 'Safe Blues'. Its aim is to provide a way to get these answers in a more real-time fashion, by tapping into the power of your mobile device.


Episode 24: Antarctic Outreach

Patricia Menendez is on a mission to get more girls and young women interested in maths and stats. In late 2019, that mission to took her to Antarctica!

In this episode, Patricia talks about the voyage to one of the most remote places on our planet, and how she hopes to use it in her outreach efforts.


SEASON TWO

Episode 23: The Maths Behind Mining the Blockchain

Chances are you’ve heard of bitcoin – or blockchain – or both. But what are they? How did they start? And what does their future look like?

In this episode, we explore those questions and look at how, mathematically, this topic is really a rich source for some really interesting problems and solutions.


Episode 22: Australian Maths Tour

Every two years, AustMS and AMSI choose a prominent mathematician to tour Australia. This year's Mahler lecture series speaker is Dr Holly Krieger, originally from the United States, but now at the University of Cambridge.

In this episode, Holly talks about her research, her outreach to female students and young researchers, and her tour of Australian universities.


Episode 21: A Chat with Hadley Wickham

The world of data science has seen a massive explosion of interest in the last decade. It’s more important than ever before to be able to handle data, work with it, visualise it and find the meaning in it.

One man who is helping hundreds of thousands of people do just that – is statistician Hadley Wickham. Hadley is now the Chief Scientist at RStudio.

In this episode, Hadley talks about his groundbreaking work, and shares his journey on how he got to where he is now.


Episode 20: Talking Stats & Stories

How do we find the stories that are hidden inside of statistics and data? And how can we better communicate those stories?

In this episode, we meet the co-creator of the "Stats and Stories" podcast. We explore the challenges, opportunities and importance of communicating statistics, especially in this data-driven world that we live in.


Episode 19: Playing the Game of Maths

What if we could change the way a lot of students feel about mathematics?

In this episode, we introduce you to ACEMS' flagship outreach program, MathsCraft, which is designed to supplement what is already being taught in classrooms. MathsCraft allows kids to experience things like the creativity of maths, collaboration, having ideas, exploring those ideas, and coming up with new ideas and questions.


Episode 18: Model Health - Using Maths to Understand a Hospital ICU

How many beds should a new hospital include for its intensive care unit? Not enough is bad for those who need the care. Too many is bad for the hospital, especially cost-wise.

In this episode, we explore how maths can be used to explore the problem and others like it. It’s also a fascinating example of how maths can reveal a lot about what’s happening all around us!


Episode 17: A Day Can Make a Difference

In May 2019, there were more than a dozen "Women in Maths" Day celebrations around Australia. Maybe the biggest event was in South Australia. In this episode, we talk to three of the women behind that big event, what they did, why it was so important, did anything come of it, and what's ahead when it comes to the issue of gender equity in mathematics.


Episode 16: MARVEL-lous Casting

There's no denying the popularity of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) - and all the movies that are a part of that franchise.

In fact, it's the most popular movie franchise ever.

But what if you could use maths to help explain the popularity of the MCU? That's just what we do in this episode!


Episode 15: Weighing Up Evidence in Criminal Courts and at a King's Burial Site

Few things have changed the legal system over the past few decades as much as the use of forensic evidence – most notably, DNA.

DNA evidence can provide powerful evidence in support of a person’s guilt – or innocence. The key, though, is making sure it’s used and interpreted properly.

In this episode, we explore the use of statistical genetics in the legal system, and in identifying the remains of a medieval king.


Episode 14: Matilda to the Rescue

The role of algorithms can’t be understated in the technological world we now live in. For example, they help dictate the search results and ads we get online and help us get from place to place. Plus, businesses and governments rely on them more than ever to help make critical decisions.

But can we trust algorithms? If not, what will it take for us to trust algorithms? In this episode, we explore the new web-based platform, MATILDA, designed to 'stress-algorithms' so we know when they will work - and when they won't. 


 


SEASON ONE

Episodes 12 &13: Space Junk & Shield Technology

Space junk and micrometeoroids present serious problems for any satellite or ship that ventures into earth's orbit. While we don't yet have graviton-based deflector shields like in Star Trek, there are some shield technologies that we use today to protect the craft.

In these two episodes, we talk about the problem of space junk and some of the maths and stats models that are used to predict the effectiveness of a shield.


Episode 11: Citizen Science & the Great Barrier Reef

In this episode, we explore an innovative project designed to help the Great Barrier Reef. It's called Virtual Reef Diver, and the project was named by ABC Science as its 2018 Citizen Science Project for National Science Week. The best part of the project is that you, or anyone in Australia or around the world, can help with the project from the comfort of your home or office. 


Episode 10: Pioneering Women - Helen Newton Turner

In this episode, we look back at the life of Helen Newton Turner, an Australian statistician and a statistical genetist who made some amazing contributions to science starting in the 1930s and spanning over a 40 year career.

Helen started off as a secretary, and worked her way up to become an accomplished statistician, principle scientist and world-renowned leader of CSIRO's program in sheep breeding research.  


Episode 9: Information Theory

Imagine your life without a mobile phone or WiFi. It wasn't that long ago that we didn't have either of these things.

In this episode, we chat with ACEMS Chief Investigator Matt Roughan about the fascinating concept of information theory, and how we got from morse code - all the way to where we are now. 


Episode 8: Women in STEM

Women make up less than one-fifth of the STEM workforce in Australia. But in this episode, we chat with three women who are doing what they can to help change those numbers, by the work and research they're doing. We discuss with them their different sciences, the importance of maths in their work, the challenges women have faced in the STEM workforce over the years, and why it's important to have women role models in STEM. Among the women we talk to is the President of Science & Technology Australia, Prof Emma Johnston. (pictured left)


Episode 7: A conversation with Prof Louise Ryan

Prof Louise Ryan is one of ACEMS Chief Investigators, and like many of ACEMS’ CIs she has had an amazing career of unlikely and unplanned opportunities.

In this episode, we chat with Louise about her career and what advice she has for PhD students and early career researchers. 


Episode 6: Wanted: Gender Equity in STEM

Why aren't there more women in maths or STEM? What's being done about that, and why is that so important?

In this episode, we chat with one of Australia's best known mathematicians, Prof Nalini Joshi from The University of Sydney, as she talks about why a maths education is more important than ever before.


Episode 5: Can you really be a mathematician?

According to CareerCast.com, five of the top 10 jobs require skills that are maths-related.

In this episode, we explore whether the ways maths is taught needs to be changed to attract more students into maths to meet the demand for these jobs. We also talk to a woman who has made maths her career, and no one is more surprised about that than her!


Episode 4: Should you believe what the survey says?

When you see or hear news stories about the latest poll, or what conclusions have been drawn from one survey or another, it's easy to take that information at face value. But should you? Should you be more skeptical about the conclusions these claim to show us?

In this episode, we look at how surveys work, why we need them, and what you need to look out for before you're convinced.


Episode 3: How to get from a dog to DNA in two short steps

How does your phone or computer know the word you're trying to type and autocorrects you? How do online shops suggest books or other items for you to buy?

In this episode, we explore the concept of distance and how it can be used in places you wouldn't expect.


Episode 2: A not-so secret linear programming paper: The story of Alison Harcourt

In 1960, an Australian mathematician named AG Doig co-authored a seminal paper in the field of linear programming. This highly-cited paper created a tool that allowed computers to do something they were uniquely good at: solving optimisation problems. What no one knew at the time was that AG Doig was a woman!

In this episode, we chat with AG Doig, or as most people know her now, Alison Harcourt, about her life as a mathematics pioneer in Australia.


Episode 1: What do you win when you gamble?

How likely is it that you'll win big by playing the lottery, poker machines, or casino games?

In this episode, we look at gambling from a mathematician's point of view. The numbers will surprise you!

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