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The Sound of Science - 'The Science of Counting'

KC: I'm KC Sauer.

Jeremy: And I'm Jeremy Benson.

KC: We're here from NIU Steam with a special Sound of Science.

J: Today, we are officially one week away from our 100th episode of Sound of Science and we want to talk about what makes the number 100 so special.

KC: We like to celebrate when we reach 100 of something. Days, years, episodes... it's definitely a milestone number. 

J: It is satisfying when that first digit rolls over and everything else goes to zeros.

KC: But is it the notation we like? Or is there something about the quantity itself that inspires us.

J: Believe it or not, the answer is rooted deep in human evolution.

KC: Early humans learned to count by counting what they saw. And what's one of the first ways children learn to count? With their fingers.

J: We use a ten-digit number system because early humans first learned to count using hands with ten digits.

KC: The quantity 100 seems special to us because it is 10 squared. Or 10 groups of 10. But the quantity of 10 isn't inherently special, if humans had evolved with a different number of digits, our counting system would probably look very different.

J: Consider binary numbers, like those used by computers. Binary is a base 2 system, there are only 2 digits: 0 and 1. In binary, 1+1=10 and we would count 1, 10, 11, 100. We'd be celebrating after just a few episodes.

KC: Another commonly used numeric system is hexadecimal. Is a base 16 system. It includes all the regular digits 0 through 9 plus the letters A through F.

J: Counting in hexadecimal, we'd still have another 90C episodes to go before we hit 100. We take our base 10 numbers for granted, but if humans had evolved with only 8 fingers, we would almost certainly use a base 8 counting system. And in that case, we would have had this conversation back at what we called episode 64.

KC: Thanks for joining us. This has been the Sound of Science of WNIJ.

J: Where you can count on learning something new every day.

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