That’s just the first sixteen digits of pi, an irrational number that goes on infinitely without repeating any pattern. The ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter continues to capture the imagination of both mathematicians and the general public. So much so that every year on March 14th, many people around the world celebrate Pi Day with classroom activities, events, and of course, lots and lots of delicious pie.
UCLA professor Amy Rowat uses those tasty pies in her lectures on biology and physiology, including a class where she and her students delved deep into the science of an American favorite, apple pie. Their results were published in the New York Times. It includes how the Maillard reaction can create a browner and tastier crust, why butter choice matters, and day old pie might tastes even better.
Rowat began using a scientific approach to food when she was a child. She considered culinary school, but ended up majoring in physics and earning a doctorate from University of Southern Denmark. Her twin fascinations with food and science aren’t just applied to pastries. She also believes that food science helps us to understand cancer cells. She uses food to explain how different molecular makeups create shape and deformability.
By studying the textures of cells, Rowat’s research lab looks at how the deformability of a cell can indicate it’s health. They have found evidence that more invasive cancer cells are more deformable or softer than normal cells.
This is important because it is the deformability of those cancer cells that can affect how the disease spreads or metastasizes. By studying how to alter the texture of cancer cells, they are finding techniques that may not just help evaluate a tumor quickly but also create ways to treat and slow their growth.
Rowat believes that food is a powerful way to teach people about science, and continues to use chocolate, Jell-O, and even pizza to help people learn.
Written by Mary Ratliff