Dr. Eugenia Cheng is a mathematician, educator, de-mystifier, author, public speaker, columnist, concert pianist and artist. Eugenia was an early pioneer of math on YouTube and her videos have been viewed over 15 million times to date. She is the author of popular math books “How to Bake Pi”, “Beyond Infinity”, “The Art of Logic” and “x+y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender” (2020). She is the founder of the Liederstube, an intimate oasis for art song based in Chicago. Dr. Cheng is Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, won tenure in Pure Mathematics at the University in Sheffield, and holds a PhD in pure mathematics from the University of Cambridge.
www.eugeniacheng.com

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

No

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

My first art commission was at Hotel EMC2 in Chicago and consisted of large chalkboard drawings which were then printed for permanence. I have one of the original chalkboards hanging on my wall at home. It’s based on a Koch snowflake fractal and commemorates Emmy Noether’s work and struggles with anti-semitism.

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Baking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Sweet

7 Do you speak any other languages?

French, the German of Romantic music, the Cantonese of a five year old

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Well I sort of did switch professions, and this is what I do. If I *had* to switch, I’d probably become an immunologist because, you know.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Oh, I just answered that.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

The trash. I have no intention of getting on a plane during the pandemic.

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Teleportation

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

“Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women” by Susan Burton. An amazing story of a woman who was almost destroyed by deeply embedded systemic racism, but who managed to rise up and help other women rise too, despite all of society’s attempts to oppress them.

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Sit on a hot beach and play the piano with friends singing. It’s hard to do both at the same time though.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Espresso, dark chocolate, Bach.

15 What beverage gives you life?

Espresso

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

The Diary of Anne Frank.
In lockdown, I knew that what we had to endure staying at home was absolutely nothing to what she and so many others endured, and she did it with grace and kindness, so that’s the least we could do.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

A mathematician, pianist, host on a cooking show on TV, newsreader, and star in a shampoo commercial.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

The desire to help people who are downtrodden and disadvantaged in the world.

19 What got you excited in science?

My mother talking to me about amazing math ideas when I was little.

20 What excites you about science now?

The idea that it can help the world become a better place. That and the inherent feeling of stretching my brain.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

None of my pleasures hurts anyone else so I don’t feel guilty about any of them.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I can make a mess in a hotel room faster than the speed of light.

23 What is your favorite game?

Mahjong. It might be the only one I like, so my favorite by default.

24 What is the last book you read?

Probably mine if I’m going to be honest; you have to re-read your book a lot in the editing process. Apart from that it might have been “The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers-Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing” by Merve Emre.

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

I can’t think of any. My life is swamped with bad advice, most of it unsolicited.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Nothing! When I’m scared of something I just don’t want to do it.

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean you’re selfish, although the world will try to convince you it does.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

I de-stress by playing the piano or inventing a new healthy chocolate cake recipe.

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Wow, I can’t remember. I don’t really watch things. I find moving images way too much information at once, and plots move so fast now I haven’t been able to follow a film plot without pre-reading the synopsis online since about the 90s. Plus all white guys look the same to me and seeing as most films are still dominated by white guys I just can’t tell any characters apart.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

I am often carrying around Möbius strips for math demonstrations; I guess that’s a bit weird?

31 What is your favorite animal?

Fluffy bunnies

32 What is your favorite book?

Pride and Prejudice.

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Custard. Or cake.

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

The day after Christmas. Because I really hate Christmas.

35 What is your favorite plant?

We had strawberry plants when I was growing up. Those little strawberries were the most delicious strawberries I’ve ever tasted.

36 What is your favorite science fact?

I’m not really into facts. I guess I like the “fact” that the two square roots of negative one, i and -i, are indistinguishable in the sense that we can’t tell which is which, we can only tell that each one is the negative of the other. So we have to pick one and declare it to be i and then the other is -i…except we can’t ever say which one we picked to be which because until we pick one we can’t tell them apart! Ok that was pretty abstract but it’s the sort of conundrum that fascinates me in math.

37 What is your favorite season?

Summer

38 What is your favorite smell?

Chocolate cake in the oven.

39 What is your favorite sound?

Waves crashing on a pebble beach, like where I grew up (Brighton, UK).

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Gosh that’s a bit self-centred. I think I really like the fact that I’m more driven by the possibility of helping other people than by really anything else, but that I’ve managed to find ways of doing that and looking after myself at the same time.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

I like making words up. My friend Greg came up with “figerally”, which means literally and figuratively at the same time. My friend Sarah came up with “off of on” as a preposition. My friend Corey came up with the word “healtheous” when I expressed frustration with people who insist we should call food “healthful” rather than “healthy”.

42 What is your proudest moment?

I don’t really get proud of things in moments. I try not to be proud very much, but the thing I’m most proud of in my life, I think, is that I figured out how to quit a job that was making me miserable and wasn’t doing much good in the world, and build myself a portfolio career that makes me happy and, I think, does more good in the world.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Some sort of fruit tree, so that people could have delicious things to eat.

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

The small family-run shops on the block. I especially appreciate it during lockdown: I can get everything I need without having to go more than half a block. In a straight line.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

Well I don’t know if you know this but mashed banana can play the role of both butter and sugar in a cake, making it much more…healtheous.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Edray Goins
Emily Riehdl @emilyriehl
Mike Tosca @trans_icon_mika

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