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An Ode To National Pi Day

March 14, 2013

Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Nerds, Rejoice! Today is National Pi Day, a day set aside to celebrate mathematics, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter and, perhaps best of all, baked goods that prominently display the greek letter “Ï€.”

Every March 14, (or 3/14 “¦ get it?) math enthusiasts celebrate the never-ending number as well as Albert Einstein´s birthday.

Many use pi as a shibboleth, casually dropping it in conversations or creative works in hopes of finding others who also appreciate the infinite number sequence. The ever nerd-friendly Google once used the number pi as a bid on a stack of patents, but only after bidding the distance between the Earth and the sun. These are the kinds of fun things you can do with Pi.

It´s the infinite mystery which attracts math enthusiasts to pi. It´s been around for almost 4,000 years, but it has never been fully calculated.

In it´s approximated form, pi is listed as 3.14159, but the digits appear to march on forever into the infinite unknown and unrepeating. According to PiDay.org, this ratio was used as early as the Bible days, when mathematicians and scholars discovered that they could find the area of a circle by multiplying the square of its radius by three. Early representations of pi put the number at 3.125.

Archimedes is credited as the first person to try and fully calculate pi by approximating the area of a circle using the Pythagorean Theorem to find the areas of two regular polygons. Archimedes knew that he hadn´t fully calculated pi but instead narrowed down the value between 3 1/7 and 3 10/71. Since these early days, many have tried — and failed — to fully calculate pi.

With only the first 39 digits past the decimal, a mathematician can accurately calculate the entire spherical volume of the entire universe. However, this hasn´t stopped die-hard enthusiasts from uncovering as many digits as they can.

Once computers began appearing in universities across the world, scientists used their new high-powered calculators to churn out as many digits as they could in the infinite procession. So far, computers have been able to find over 10 trillion digits past the decimal points — and they´re still going.

Other math heads take it as a personal challenge to memorize as many of these digits as possible.

Daniel Tammet is one such individual who in 2004 broke the European record for reciting the first 22,514 digits past the decimal from memory. He was only 25 years old when he accomplished this feat, the mathematic equivalent of winning the Heisman or the World Series.

“What my brain was doing was inventing a meaning, like a story,” Tammet said, speaking to CNN.

“What I did was make a poem or a novel out of pi, and took those colors and those emotions and used them to perceive patterns, or at least to perceive patterns in my mind that were memorable, that were meaningful to me.”

Though several thousand digits off, Marc Umile has also developed the habit of memorizing the digits of Pi, using the repeating numbers as a way to meditate. In 2007, Umile successfully typed 15,314 digits from memory. He said the trick to memorizing these numbers is to put them to a rhythm. Apparently, if you get the first thousand down, the rest is easy as, well “¦ pie.

“There are many things that could not be built without implementing the constant pi,” said Umile, speaking to CNN in 2010.

“The great engineering marvels like the arch or suspension bridges we cross over, the tunnels spanning within mountains or even under the water that we drive through. … Without it, everything would be incomplete or in danger of collapse.”

Go forth, and celebrate National Pi day in style. Perhaps bake yourself a pie with π cut out in the crust.

Watch the film “The Joy of Pi” or “The Life of Pi,” or even Aronofsky´s surrealistic psycho-thriller “Pi.”

Maybe try Umile´s method of meditation and recite the digits of Pi to yourself this evening. Whatever you do, make sure you leave a little time to appreciate the wonderful world of mathematics and its role in our world.


Source: Michael Harper for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online