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STEM: What Is Math?

PiPi Day, 03.14.15, is almost here. This year, I am observing Pi Day by having a conversation about math. In a recent post, STEM: What is Science?, I shared that I would develop a post on each of the letters in the STEM acronym. It seems appropriate to pose the question: What is math? for our Pi Day discussion.

It’s a good question, and not an easy one to answer because there are so many definitions. Let’s start by saying that math is a discipline – an organized, formal field of study – that has evolved over thousands of years and is still evolving.

The history of math is attributed to the Sumerians that developed a system of counting about 5,000 years ago. [Ref 1, 2] However, the evolution of math goes back much further. The Ishango Bone is often cited as a tool that was used 20,000 years ago that shows a crude system of measurement. The Sumerians devised a system of reading, writing and math that initiated formal instruction and the accumulation of math knowledge. It is used in the development of electronic devises, self-driving cars, digital cameras, and next generation computers.

“Most people would say it has something to do with numbers, but numbers are just one type of mathematical structure.  Saying math is the study of numbers (or something similar) is like saying that zoology is the study of giraffes.  Math may be better thought of as the study of patterns, but this too falls short.” Rafael Espericueta, Professor of Mathematics, Bakersfield College

Math is a science and is embedded in just about everything we do. It is an interdisciplinary tool and language that is used to solve problems or answer questions. It is definitely more than numbers, shapes, and equations. Math has been used by primitive tribes for hunting, or by the Mayans and the Egyptians to develop calendars and calculate the position of the sun. It is used constantly by the astronauts on the International Space Station.

Applied mathematics is a branch of mathematics that allows one to apply her knowledge of math to other fields and make use of new mathematical discoveries that have led to the development of related disciplines like statistics and game theory. [Ref 3]

That brings us to the discussion of Pi Day. Pi Day is almost here. It is Saturday, 03.14.15. It is the Pi Day of the century, primarily because of the way that the numbers line up. Most of you are with me on this, but if you are not, remember from math that Pi (Greek letter “π”) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant — the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter — which is approximately 3.14159.

If you really want to go over the top for Pi Day, your official observance of this event won’t begin until 9:26:53 in your time zone. Why, because 3.141592653 corresponds to the first 10 digits of pi!

Have an epic day!


    1. What is Mathematics, http://darkwing.uoregon.edu/~moursund/Math/mathematics.htm, last viewed on March 11, 2015
    2. What is Mathematics? Elaine J. Hom, August 15, 2013, http://www.livescience.com/38936-mathematics.html, last viewed on March 11, 2015
    3. Mathematics [definition], Wikipedia

About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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