Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
So today is the fourteenth of March. For most people it is just another day, but for math geeks everywhere today is something special. And for one genius, 3-14 would have been the most special day of the year for perhaps two reasons.
Albert Einstein, born on March 14, 1879, would have been 135 years old this year. Interestingly enough, he was also born on a day that is widely commemorated nowadays as National Pi Day, since the date 3-14 is the same as the mathematical formula 3.14, or Pi (π).
However, is it more interesting that Einstein, a mathematical genius, was born on the day that marks the most widely known mathematical constant, or rather that Pi just happened to be 3.14?
To be honest, the Pi formula has been around much longer than Einstein. It has been known since the days of the Old Testament that any circular object is about three times its width around. An early mathematician by the name of Archimedes further determined that Pi was approximately 22/7, which is also celebrated on July 22 as Pi Approximation Day.
The term Pi was first coined in 1706, when Welsh mathematician William Jones used the Greek symbol “π” in his equations. The use of the Pi symbol became popularized after it was adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737.
While Pi is a never-ending mathematical constant, experts have determined that the spherical volume of the universe can be calculated using only the first 39 digits after the decimal point — 3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197. Even so, Pi has recently been calculated to over one trillion digits past the decimal. And perhaps more astonishing, one individual broke a European record for reciting the first 22,514 digits past the decimal from memory.
Daniel Tammet, who broke the record in 2004 at the age of 25, explained to CNN in a 2013 interview that “What my brain was doing was inventing a meaning, like a story.”
“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,” he told Elizabeth Landau of CNN.
PI DAY ORIGINS
While the mathematical constant has been around for ages, a day to celebrate Pi has only been around about a quarter of a century. The day was said to be “invented” by Larry Shaw, who worked in an electronics group at the San Francisco Exploratorium. Beginning as a small gathering by museum staff in 1988, the day has gone on to become so popular that the US House of Representatives passed a bill naming Pi Day as an officially recognized holiday in 2009.
Now, the museum’s small gatherings have turned into a widespread public affair, with participants lining up in a ‘Pi procession,” with attendees receiving a number – 0 to 9 – and lining up in the order of pi’s digits. The parade ends at the “pi shrine” – a pi symbol with digits spiraling out around it embedded in the sidewalk. The shrine was revealed during last year’s celebratory events.
But you don’t have to go to San Francisco to celebrate Pi Day. On the east coast celebrations are not lacking by any means.
In the university town of Princeton, New Jersey, where Albert Einstein spent the last 22 years of his life, a community-wide celebration kicked off last night with a reading by physicist Charles Adler.
Today, the pi celebrations continue with a full day of activities, including a walking tour of Einstein’s neighborhood at 11:00 am. The day continues with a “Walk a Pi Event” and “Pizza Pi Competition,” both beginning at 3:14 pm.
The day will culminate with a “Princeton Light Up The Night Event,” in which the town will try to recreate the famous 1,000 fireflies experiment, offering LED lights to the first 159 Princeton residents who show up with their bikes.
“Princetonians will ride 3.14 miles on the circular track, the lights will synchronize to create an artificial system of blinking lights that mutually synchronize to create a scientific mystery and magical display!,” reads a statement on the PiDayPrinceton website.
Princeton’s Pi Day celebrations will continue into the weekend with more pie eating contests, Einstein look-alike contests and more.
Perhaps the coolest event will be the Pi digit memorizing contest, where the winner among 7- to 13-year-olds can take home a pi-hundred ($314.15).
“[Princeton residents] love this event because it’s a way for them to celebrate how quirky they are,” Mimi Omiecinski, owner of the Princeton Tour Company, who started Princeton Pi Day in 2009, told CNN. “A lot of them get super into it.” She said that last year’s event drew in around 9,000 people.
Omiecinski told Landau that she was inspired to launch the town-wide Pi Day after hearing that Princeton University’s math department held pie-eating and pi-reciting contests each March 14.
So you cannot make it to San Francisco or Princeton this year. That’s okay, TIME compiled a list of places that are celebrating National Pi Day by offering drinks, baseball tickets, pizza and even pie to their customers for, you guessed it, $3.14.
In Boston, customers of the Beacon Hill Hotel will be able to enjoy a $3.14 slice of pie, while Salvatore’s offers its customers $3.14 flatbread pizza.
In Maine and New Hampshire, Portland Pie Company is offering pizza deals and a $3.14 pint special during lunch and happy hour.
Your Pie, a restaurant chain with many locations throughout the Southeast, is celebrating its fifth Pi Day anniversary by offering custom pizza deals for $3.14.
In Chicago, a host of restaurants and bakeries are also getting into the pi business and offering Pi Day specials to their customers.
‘PI IN THE SKY’
Not everything to do with Pi is happening on the ground.
In Austin, Texas, locals may have noticed an interesting display in the sky yesterday as skywriting airplanes took to the air to attempt to spell out the infinite pi sequence across 100 miles of sky.
The challenge was part of a public art project put on by AirSign and ISHKY, a California artist, to celebrate the “universal language of pi and the limitless potential it represents,” an AirSign spokesperson told CNET.
The hundreds of numbers written across the afternoon sky were done by five synchronized AirSign airplanes flying at 10,000 feet using dot-matrix technology, CNET reports.
Each number measured about 1,300 feet in height and were written out in a spiral that eventual became several miles wide.
“Pi In The Sky explores the boundaries of scale, public space, impermanence, and the relationship between Earth and the physical universe,” AirSign said in a statement.
While this year’s Pi Day celebrations are widespread, next year’s annual Pi Day celebrations will be historic.
Math geeks everywhere will likely be tied to their clocks, calendars and computers awaiting for the two moments in time when it will be 3-14-15 and 9:26:53 (am and pm) — 3.141592653. Once the moment passes, it will be another hundred years before the phenomenon occurs again.