Nearly everyone has trouble making sense of big numbers in the millions, billions and trillions — but it doesn’t have to be that way, writes Steven Strogatz, the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Applied Mathematics in a New York Times op-ed co-authored with Aiyana Green, an undergraduate majoring in policy analysis and management in the College of Human Ecology, if you relate big numbers to something familiar.

“Consider how long it would take for a million seconds to tick by," Strogatz and Green write in the piece. "Do the math, and you’ll find that a million seconds is about 12 days. And a billion seconds? That’s about 32 years. Suddenly the vastness of the gulf between a million and a billion becomes obvious.”