"Nobel Prize winners are normal people"

2.1 million YouTube clicks: Andreas Barthelme, one of TUM’s doctoral candi

2.1 million YouTube clicks: Andreas Barthelme, one of TUM’s doctoral candidates. (Photo: Maren Willkomm)

Recently, Andreas Barthelme became a YouTube star - unintentionally. A video featuring the TUM-scientist was viewed more than 2.1 million times in quite a short time: a blackboard had collapsed during a lecture, closely missing him. In an interview for TUMstudinews, Barthelme talks about why this was a blessing in disguise.

Mr. Barthelme, you managed to become a YouTube star unintentionally. How did this happen?

Andreas Barthelme: In December of last year, I held a lecture in the scope of "Circuit Technology 1" for students in the first semester of Electrical Engineering - at the Carl-von-Linde lecture hall, in front of 400 to 500 people. The lecture hall has a blackboard with three panels that can be moved up and down. I had just finished writing on the first panel, so I pushed it up in order to continue writing. Suddenly, the board came crashing down at full speed. The event was recorded by the Medienzentrum and made available to the students via Moodle. One of the students put the video on the net.

How did you react to the crashing blackboard?

I was totally startled, of course, and I jumped aside. Then, I took a few deep breaths and told myself that I should just try to carry on. I wiped the board to calm down - and, as you can see in the video, I was able to make jokes again quite soon after. I wasn’t hurt, just unpleasantly surprised.

Are you afraid of blackboards now?

Barthelme: No, thank heaven I’m not. I really like blackboards. I think they are just the right tool to teach students, well suited for the tempo of the lecture. Besides, I guess something like that will only happen once in a lifetime.

What do you do at TUM?

I am a research associate and doctoral student at the Associate Professorship of Signal Processing at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. In my doctoral thesis, I focused on signal processing for direction finders - devices that are designed to estimate angles of incidence of electromagnetic waves.

What are direction finders used for?

Direction finders are used to locate sources of electromagnetic radiation. Among other things, I am working on new methods in the areas of Compressed Sensing and Machine Learning, focusing on ways to improve the accuracy and robustness of the angle determination.

Recently, you took part in the TV show "Kaum zu glauben" with Kai Pflaume, on NDR. How did that come about?

Due to the YouTube movie, I was contacted by several TV and radio broadcasters. Kai Pflaume read about me in one of Munich’s local newspaper, and he asked his editors to invite me to his program. At first, I declined, because I thought I might not be eloquent enough for a TV appearance. Then, I watched an episode and saw that the candidates only have to answer "yes" or "no" - so I agreed.

Four celebrities had to guess what happened to you. As a clue, they were told that your "case study had caused a stir" - but they didn’t find the right answer.

Yes, that’s right. I had hoped that they might not immediately suspect that I’m a lecturer, judging by my appearance. As the celebrities didn’t guess correctly, I won 1000 Euros. The incident shouldn’t really have happened, but it was a stroke of luck for me. I’ll invest the money in my honeymoon.

So everything turned out fine in the end... What plans do you have for your future career?

After a change of topic, I am still at the beginning of writing my dissertation. When I’m finished, I would like to enter the business world and gain experience there. But I might like to do something in the way of teaching later on. My lecture series and working with the students is a lot of fun.

(Interview: Sabrina Czechofsky)

Andreas Barthelme (27) is from the Saarland, and he moved to Munich for his studies in 2009. He has a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering and has been working as a research associate at TUM since 2015. The crashing blackboard on YouTube

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