From Pi to Pie: Why it matters to the next generation

Today is Pi Day, a date officially designated to celebrate Pi (as in the Greek letter π), one of the most fundamental and mysterious numbers in all of mathematics.

Pi represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter and is equal to 3.14159265358979323846… usually approximated to 3.14, hence the choice of 3/14 as Pi Day.

A fourth-grade fan of π is excited to the tenth decimal place.

James, the ten-year-old son of Rev1’s director of marketing and communications, is a major Pi fan.

James’ favorite subject is science, but he’s also very much into math, and apparently engineering, as he recently built a sword with a handle from 16 pieces of paper. His previous “prototype” used only four pieces of paper. When he puts his swords one on each hand, James says he looks like a crab.


James prefers circles over squares. He thinks that Pi is the most interesting mathematical concept because Pi goes on forever and “we don’t know the end.” He recently spent his allowance on a cool Pi tee-shirt.

We need more students to be excited about science, technology, engineering, and math.

Considering the demand for STEM skills in today’s innovation economy, we see a bright future ahead for James.

  • STEM occupations are projected to grow by 13 percent, faster than the average for all occupations.
  • STEM jobs have a median annual wage of $76,000, more than double the median wage for all other jobs.
  • While many STEM positions do require college degrees, there are lots of jobs that require basic STEM and problem solving skills for which a high school diploma or an associate degree qualifies.

Of course, James doesn’t think of science and math in terms of a future careers. He thinks of π, equations, and experiments as cool, interesting, and fun.

I get that. That’s kind of how I thought about science and math when I was his age.

My interest in technology was sparked by my dad.

My dad is a chemist. He’s retired now, but to this day, he likes to share chemistry formulas during conversations ending with…”savvy?”

And its Dad’s love of chemistry that gives me another Pi Day connection…this one “Pie” instead of “PI.”

A little over a year ago, my folks bought a different house. The former owner, a landscaper, planted several fruit trees in the yard.

I’ll let my dad tell the story.

“There’s this peach tree that’s pretty close to the house on the south side. It’s protected from the wind and the only tree that really bore fruit,” he says. “An inspection engineer told me that peach tree needed to be cut down because it would interfere with the house,” my dad says. “I agreed and that was the plan, but once I tasted the first ripe peach off that tree, I thought, this tree is exactly in the right place, and I’m going to leave it here.”

My dad had never raised fruit before, but he looked up raising peaches on the Internet.

“There were peaches all over that tree, small ones. It said to thin them out to get larger peaches,” he says. “So I did.”

The peaches didn’t ripen all at once, so Dad picked green ones and put them in a paper bag. He read that on the Internet, too.

My folks had peaches, lots and lots of peaches. Dad gave them to neighbors; he froze them, and then…

“I couldn’t resist cooking a peach cobbler because my mother made great peach cobbler,” he says. “I looked but couldn’t find her recipe so I just went to Better Homes and Garden because their recipe calls for a little bit of cinnamon and hers did, too.”

More chemistry.

“You mix the sugar and the peaches and a little bit of seasoning and cinnamon,” he says, “and put a little corn starch, on top of stove. It’s amazing how you have that dry sugar and then you put peaches in there and stir and heat and it gets fluid and becomes a melt.”

Chemistry or cooking, I’m here to tell you that the peach cobbler is an amazing two-helping dessert.

“Cobbler,” my dad admits, “is just an easy way to make pie.”

Back to the other Pi

Nobody invented Pi. It was there in nature waiting to be discovered. We don’t even know who used it first; likely some bright Egyptian or Babylonian.

Maybe someone like James or my dad. Someone curious. Someone who enjoyed problem solving, who got hooked on the mystery of Pi and eventually used the concept to design a pyramid, or maybe simply a pie.

And that’s the take-away of Pi Day for me. There’s mystery and magic in technology. We see it every day in the products and services our clients create.

The more we can do to help young people like James stay interested in science and math no matter what career choice they eventually make, the more robust the innovation economy and the more interesting life will be.

Oh, and a postscript on my dad. There’s also a fish pond with a waterfall in the back yard of their house. Dad’s on the path to get a microscope. He’s going to study pond microbiology.