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Who Ate All The π

Who Ate All The π

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Why is March 14th National Pi Day? And do we need a π Day at all?


National days of this, that and the other clutter the calendar from beginning to end, muscling in on dates that used to be quite happy just being a number and a month. Now every charity and cause has claimed a date as its own. So, I guess it’s no surprise that the geeks have got in on the act.


Image source: Pinterest.

Image source: Pinterest.


There can’t be that many dates left and it makes you wonder how these groups choose their National Day date. Are recently established charities left scrabbling around in the dirt picking up the dregs and cast offs of failed causes? Is there a Keeper of Dates somewhere with a grand, leather bound volume charged with sanctioning the National Days?


Whatever the process, being clever, crafty, swotty sorts, the Mathematicians chose the 14th March as π day. An insider’s joke that will ensure you remember at least a few digits of π for as long as you live.


What’s the Big Deal with π

π is the ratio of circle’s diameter to its circumference. It’s a constant number. Meaning that no matter how large or small a circle is the value of pi will always stay the same.


Pi is also an infinite number. To date pi has been calculated up to 12.1 trillion digits. Given that we can’t calculate with a finite number we can only approximate the exact circumference of a circle, or express it as a formula.


Despite this it’s a profoundly helpful formula that’s given us extraordinary insights and knowledge. Using pi to only 9 digits past the decimal tells us the circumference of the earth with only a tiny margin for error – ¼ of an inch for every 25,000 miles. Using pi to 39 digits past the decimal allowed us to calculate the spherical volume of the universe.


Given the importance of π in helping us answer the big questions it seems to us that π is deserving of a National Day. Especially as the choice of date, if the US expression is used, is such an elegant tribute itself  – 3.14


10 Interesting Facts about π



Pi is the most recognized mathematical constant in the world. Scholars often consider Pi the most important and intriguing number in all of mathematics



The symbol for pi (π) has been used regularly in its mathematical sense only for the past 250 years.



Egyptologists and followers of mysticism have been fascinated for centuries by the fact that the Great Pyramid at Giza seems to approximate pi. The vertical height of the pyramid has the same relationship to the perimeter of its base as the radius of a circle has to its circumference.



In the Greek alphabet, π (piwas) is the sixteenth letter. In the English alphabet, p is also the sixteenth letter.



The letter π is the first letter of the Greek word “periphery” and “perimeter.” The symbol π in mathematics represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. In other words, π is the number of times a circle’s diameter will fit around its circumference.



Since there are 360 degrees in a circle and pi is intimately connected with the circle, some mathematicians were delighted to discover that the number 360 is at the 359th digit position of pi.



Pi has been studied by the human race for almost 4,000 years. By 2000 B.C., Babylonians established the constant circle ratio as 3-1/8 or 3.125. The ancient Egyptians arrived at a slightly different value of 3-1/7 or 3.143.



One of the earliest known records of pi was written by an Egyptian scribe named Ahmes (c. 1650 B.C.) on what is now known as the Rhind Papyrus. He was off by less than 1% of the modern approximation of pi (3.141592).



The Rhind Papyrus (c. 1650 B.C.) was the first attempt to calculate pi by “squaring the circle,” which is to measure the diameter of a circle by building a square inside the circle.



The “squaring the circle” method of understanding pi has fascinated mathematicians because traditionally the circle represents the infinite, immeasurable, and even spiritual world while the square represents the manifest, measurable, and comprehensive world.


(Taken from 50 Interesting Facts About Pi)

For more on pi see PiDay.


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