Moving Picture: Libertyville computer whiz has big plans

Andy Merrill is a huge pi fan.

The 13-year-old from Libertyville wore a pi shirt every day during Pi Month, March 2014, aka 3.14.

He can recite the digits of pi — the mathematical constant that states the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter — so fast it will make your hard drive spin. He teaches adults and friends how to use a Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer he says is the best computer for kids to experiment with.

Andy's appreciation for pi pairs with his love for computer programming and coding. He has mastered several coding languages — Python, HTML, JavaScript, Ruby, Alice and Scratch — but says he's just scratching the surface.

“Compared to everything that's out there I technically know nothing,” he says.

A self-taught computer and technology whiz, Andy is a member of Curiosity Hacked Guild of Glenview. Unlike the shady characters breaking into the systems of banks, corporations and government agencies that most people imagine when they think of hackers, the guild is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) education, skill building and community engagement.

When Andy opens his laptop during the group's weekly meetings, both kids and adults gather around him as he explains the coding he is doing. He recently took his laptop completely apart the reassembled it.

“It's major problem solving, but I got it back together, besides the speakers, in just two nights,” he said.

Andy also attends the “Teen Tinkers and Minecraft” program meetings at Cook Park Library in Libertyville.

“Tinkers is a place I can hangout with friends that know the same things I do,” he says.

During the club's first meeting, Andy taught librarians Ellen Jennings and Rob Eckmann how a Raspberry Pi works.

“He made it work and was able to communicate it to us clearly,” said Eckmann. “Andy is a young engineer — he has a future”.

His mother, Jenny, who home-schools Andy, said her son “sees in 3-D,” which is fitting, given his long-term plans.

Andy, who vows to never drive a gas-powered car, plans to start his own company to design inventions, including a giant 3-D printer to create a house for his family.

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  Sam Jaffe, 13, left, of Glenview, left, is surprised to see Andy Merrill remove a small electrical board from his laptop during a Curiosity Hacked Guild meeting at Central United Methodist Church in Skokie. George LeClaire/
  Andy Merrill studies geography with his mother, Jenny, during a home-school session in Libertyville. George LeClaire/
  Andy Merrill, 13, of Libertyville, wearing his favorite T-shirt, pi, discusses a new programing language he is using on his laptop with Asher Hoeveler, 11, of Evanston, left, during a Curiosity Hacked Guild meeting. George LeClaire/
  Andy Merrill opens a program on his laptop at his Makerspace workstation that his mom, Jenny, created for him to work on projects. George LeClaire/
  Andy Merrill, 13, of Libertyville, connects a monitor and keyboard to a Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized computer, during a teen program called "Teen Tinkers and Minecraft" at Cook Park Library. With him, left to right standing, are Russ Cerqua, the library's business manager, Ellen Jennings, teen librarian, and Heather Beverley, assistant manager in the children's department, along with members of the teen group. photos by George LeClaire/
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