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The blackboard

When you stand in front of a blackboard with chalk in your hand, you know that what you draw is seen immediately. There are no complications. Nothing can go wrong.

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Jan Martin Nordbotten thinks that a blackboard or even two are best suited for solving complicated mathematical problems.

"Blackboards are especially well suited for written work as they make joint research a possibility.  I could have drawn much of what we see on this blackboard with pen and paper, but it isn’t ease to get the same type of interaction with colleagues when they have to hang over your shoulder.  Chalk lowers the threshold for trying out new ideas as it can easily be erased.  So it’s a fantastic medium for creativity.  Even those of us who aren’t particularly artistic as far as drawing is concerned, can easily make sketches that help mirror our thoughts" says Nordbotten.

At the moment Nordbotten’s thoughts are centred on CO2.  Can storing CO2 below the seabed help better the environment safely and effectively?

"It’s difficult to calculate everything you want to know at the same time. So we use different equations for different questions. The three most important questions regarding CO2 storage are how quickly it can be pumped in, how much can be stored and how long it will stay there. There’s not much point in storing large amounts of CO2 if it resurfaces a generation from now, and they have to tackle the problem" he says.

A lot of attempts have been made to replace blackboard and chalk but none of them have yet appealed to Nordbotten.

"We have electronic blackboards and can draw on them with electronic chalk but there’s always a little glitch. The drawing comes up 2cm. from where it was drawn and if you draw too quickly, it doesn’t register. This is distracting when you are really trying to concentrate on a problem and mental activity is stretched to the limit.  Every little distraction is frustrating."

So blackboard and chalk will continue to be used to solve complicated problems.

"I used CO2 storage as an example because we are working on the problem at the moment.  I think it would be difficult for me to find an opposing example.  I can’t think of any field of research involving mathematics, where a blackboard wouldn’t be of use."