How would you calculate the distance around a circle?

One strategy, of course, is to just wrap a measuring tape around the thing. Good for lamps and mason jars, a little more difficult, however, for planets, spinning propellers or the pupil of your eye! It’s when we need to measure these kinds of things that we realize just how useful and fascinating Math (particularly c=πd) actually is.

This March 14, the math-inclined around the world will celebrate Pi Day, for none other than the simple reason that this infinite little ratio starts with 3.14. The year being 2015, however, makes this Pi Day a once-in-a-century event, allowing us to add a few more digits to the celebration—3.1415—and if you’re watching the clock, 9:26:53 a.m. will be the most mathematically marvelous moment of all.

Trying for pi

The earliest known use of the Greek letter π was by mathematician William Jones in 1706, possibly because it was the first letter in the Greek word for “periphery.” The effort to actually calculate pi, however, goes a bit further back.

It’s believed the ancient Babylonians (ca. 1900-1680 BC) were the first to conceptualize pi, by measuring a circle’s radius, squaring it, and multiplying that by about 3.125 to get the area (that is, πr2). Around 1650 BC, ancient Egyptians found a ratio closer to 3.1605. Many centuries later, both Achimedes of Syracuse (287-212 BC) and Chinese mathematician Zu Chongzhi (429-501) used some ingenious geometric drawings to measure pi, finding it to be between 3 1/7 and 3 10/71. It wasn’t until the 19th century, however, that a formula was developed to achieve the number we use today.

A reason to party

So why the festivities? Well, the first large-scale celebration of Pi Day was in 1988 at the San Francisco Exploratorium. The idea caught on quickly, and by 2009, the US House of Representatives formally declared March 14 National Pi Day, with the purpose of encouraging “schools and educators to… generally engage students in the study of mathematics.”

“I think pi is fascinating because it is both knowable and unknowable at the same time,” says Deanna Baxter, Capilano U’s Mathematics & Statistics Coordinator. “It is exactly the circumference of a circle with a diameter of one unit, and at the same time, we can never know its digits exactly. In a world where we know so much and everything is as easy as typing into a search engine, pi reminds us that there are still mysteries out there!”

How do you like your pi?

Capilano University is celebrating the Pi Day of the century! Stop by the Math Learning Centre (Birch building, room BR289) on Friday, March 13 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. for complimentary pie (the kind you eat), games and a pi reciting contest. Everyone is welcome!

Submitted by Marketing & Communications