Think back to high school algebra class. Unless you had a particularly dynamic teacher, and even if you were good at the subject, it’s likely it wasn’t a particularly thrilling class.

Eugenia Cheng (Courtesy of SAIC)
Eugenia Cheng (Credit: Round Turner Photography)

Eugenia Cheng understands–she was bored at math in high school as well. The difference, is that she was really good at math. Like, good enough to become an expert in category theory, a type of theoretical mathematics that she says “even some pure mathematicians think it goes too far.”

But as she ascended in her career in researching mathematics she became preoccupied with this breakdown in math education, and why people were so uninterested in something that she found fascinating. She created high energy YouTube videos, and used this channel to use another one of her passions–baking–to help explain math (In this video, she creates a Mobius band out of a bagel).

From there, she wrote a book called “How to Bake Pi: An Edible Exploration of the Mathematics of Mathematics,” in which she explores the logic and principles behind math through lasagna, cake, custard, and other dishes.

Now she’s the scientist-in-residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she teaches art students abstract theories in mathematics to help inspire and provoke their work. A recent student created a stained glass window that stated “1+1=1″ to point out that when two colors are mixed together, they create one color.

“It’s so liberating for [students] to discover that math isn’t a place where you have to do what you’re told,” she said.

In this interview, Cheng discusses how she uses chocolate pudding to illustrate principles behind mathematics, why arithmetic is like knife skills, and how her SAIC students are pushing her to understand math in a new way.