Science Corner: Math with a Flourish

Photo of a slice of cheesecake on a plate with the remaining cheesecake in the background.

Math can help you bake the cheesecake, and math can help you slice it. (Photo by ponce photography)

“I was told there would be no math.” That line from a Saturday Night Live sketch sums up a common attreaditude. When I started a science & faith Sunday School series of my own devising with some math topics, that was essentially the criticism I received from those who opted not to return for week two. I find myself more inclined to the sentiment “To Live Your Best Life, Do Mathematics,” the title of a recent interview with Francis Su, friend of this blog, mathematics professor at Harvey Mudd and outgoing president of the Mathematics Association of America. Su shares his enthusiasm for math, his reasons for believing a mathematics education is worthwhile for everyone regardless of career, and his concerns for the barriers that keep such an education from some. In particular, his comments about the relationship between liberal arts colleges and research universities and the selection functions that operate at various levels of higher education will likely be of interest across disciplines.

If you think you’d like to flourish by adding some more mathematics to your life, but you’re not ready to sign up for Calculus II, may I suggest How to Bake Pi by Eugenia Cheng. Cheng explores the ways that mathematics is like baking, and in doing so reveals some of the deep connections between mathematical thinking and everyday life. You won’t be asked to do sums or long division; arithmetic and calculation are not all that math has to offer. You may however have to give up the way you currently look at brownies.

To bring this discussion full circle, once you’ve had a deep think about math and rewarded yourself by baking some pie, math can also help you figure out how to divide the pie up fairly. Francis Su does research on the problem of fair division; that link provides a tool for helping you divide up things like rent among roommates. Here you can read about how to solve the problem when actual cake is involved.

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Andy Walsh

Andy has worn many hats in his life. He knows this is a dreadfully clichéd notion, but since it is also literally true he uses it anyway. Among his current metaphorical hats: husband of one wife, father of two elementary school students, reader of science fiction and science fact, enthusiast of contemporary symphonic music, and chief science officer. Previous metaphorical hats include: comp bio postdoc, molecular biology grad student, InterVarsity chapter president (that one came with a literal hat), music store clerk, house painter, and mosquito trapper. Among his more unique literal hats: British bobby, captain's hats (of varying levels of authenticity) of several specific vessels, a deerstalker from 221B Baker St, and a railroad engineer's cap. His monthly Science in Review is drawn from his weekly Science Corner posts -- Wednesdays, 8am (Eastern) on the Emerging Scholars Network Blog. His book Faith across the Multiverse is available from Hendrickson.

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One Comment

    resonate47 commented on February 9, 2017 Reply

    We’ve discussed this before, but I absolutely love mathematics. I get really emotional when I read about formulas or equations and overwhelmed with deep joy when I see these beautiful symbols and numbers. I like to think of it as the faithfulness of God expressed in a different kind of language.
    And now you’ve added some baking to the equation, which only makes me happier.
    God Bless

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