Meet The Cambridge Math Nerd Who Ditched Silicon Valley To Perfect The Measuring Cup

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You use a measuring cup for its precision, right? But maybe its measurements aren't as precise as you think.

That's an idea that one self-described math nerd zeroed in on, and his mission to redesign this common kitchen tool took him more than four years and tens of thousands of dollars.

'There Was This Math Question'

Cambridge resident Josh Redstone, a former Silicon Valley software engineer who holds a math doctorate, was baking in his kitchen one day when he realized something didn’t add up.

“There was this math question — that the issue was the shape and how a measuring cup was shaped affects what the accuracy is," Redstone explained. "I was hooked from then on."

Josh Redstone holds his prototype of what he says is a new, more precise, measuring cup. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
(Jesse Costa/WBUR)

And by hooked, Redstone means it. He quit his job and began redesigning the measuring cup full-time. He named his new company and product Euclid, after the Greek mathematician known as the father of geometry.

We had to ask: Why would anyone quit a high-paying engineering job to spend four years reinventing a kitchen utensil that no one has thought about for decades?

Redstone nervously paused for a second before answering. He clearly loves the math behind it, but he also said Silicon Valley culture played a role in his obsession.

“This culture of starting something permeates the air," he said. "I was looking around for things to do, and the measuring cup one was the one I was most excited about."

An ordinary 1-cup measuring vessel inside many people's homes is usually the same size from top to bottom. Redstone said this shape is what makes existing measuring cups out there inherently less accurate.

Narrower shapes, like test tubes, tend to be more accurate when measuring small amounts. The bottom of most existing cups is oftentimes too wide to give you that perfect quarter-cup measure. And while some, like the Pyrex, flare out gradually as you get closer to the top, they don't narrow nearly enough at the bottom, he says.

The Euclid cup starts out narrow and starts to flare out at the quarter-cup mark. It looks kind of like a sideways megaphone but with a flat back. Near the bottom of the cup is the math formula Redstone came up with to guide his design.

“It narrows such that the ratio surface area to volume is the same in every measurement amount,” he said.

In other words, the surface area — or how wide the cup is — down at the bottom where it says a quarter cup is exactly one-fourth of the surface area at the top where it’s a full cup.

Translating this math problem into an object wasn’t easy for Redstone, who didn't have much experience with physical prototyping. He said he spent a lot of time just learning the software. Then, there came decisions as to what materials to use and what would make the cup look aesthetically pleasing.

The Euclid measuring cup. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
The Euclid measuring cup. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

“Trying to do this involved a lot of negative feedback or a lot of frustrations. People laughing at me," he said. "Yes, there have been difficult parts indeed."

Of course, the skeptics out there say that perhaps it’s not that important to have a wicked accurate measuring cup. Many of us have done OK in life by simply eyeballing liquids inside store-bought models.

Redstone seems to be aware of this fact, but he’s clearly not alone in his excitement for a more precise measuring cup. So far he's raised more than $100,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to start manufacturing Euclid, which he hopes to do by next spring.

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that the Euclid Kickstarter had raised close to $100,000. It has surpassed that figure. We regret the error.

This article was originally published on October 27, 2017.

This segment aired on October 20, 2017.

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