Pi Day is almost here! Although my memory is a bit foggy, I first learned about Pi Day when I lived in California. Although I was not sure why we were celebrating, I knew the significance of Pi in my math and engineering calculations. Besides, how else could I have justified enjoying a slice of lemon meringue pie with lunch that day.
Pi Day was founded by the Prince of Pi, physicist Larry Shaw, at the Exploratorium Museum and Learning Center in San Francisco. [Ref 1] Shaw a retired Exploratorium employee decided to hold a Pi Day event at his former work place in 1988 on 03.14. What began as a single event at one museum is observed all over the world on 03.14 each year. Shaw’s intent was to have fun with numbers, and included in his celebration was the first Pi Day Parade.
However, no Pi Day celebration would be complete without remembering the birthday of Albert Einstein. [Ref 1] Einstein, the son of a Jewish electrical engineer, was born on March 14, 1879 in Ulm, Germany. He was a theoretical physicist with many accomplishments including the development of the theory of relativity, creation of the mass-energy equivalence formula E = mc2, and a winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics.
The concept of the number Pi or π or 3.1415… has been around for about 4,000 years. It is used in math to calculate a number of geometrical equations including the area of a circle, A = πr2, and the circumference of a circle, C = 2πr.
According to the Exploratorium [Ref 1], the use of Pi dates back to the ancient Babylonians who calculated the area of a circle by taking 3 times the square of the radius. Their value of Pi was 3. However, additional data from this period shows the value of Pi to be 3.125 (1900 – 1680 BC) and closer to the approximation that we use today!
The first calculation of Pi is traced to the Greek mathematician, Archimedes (287-212 BC). He gave us the Pythagorean Theorem, and showed that Pi is between 3 1/7 and 3 10/71. Mathematicians began using the Greek letter π in the 1700s. Introduced by William Jones in 1706, use of the symbol was popularized by Leonhard Euler, who adopted it in 1727.
Here are some additional Pi facts [Ref 2]:
- In the Star Trek episode “Wolf in the Fold,” Spock foils the evil computer by commanding it to “compute to the last digit the value of Pi.”
- Comedian John Evans once quipped: “What do you get if you divide the circumference of a jack-o’-lantern by its diameter? Answer: pumpkin π.”
- Scientists in Carl Sagan’s novel Contact are able to unravel enough of Pi to find hidden messages from the creators of the human race, allowing humans to access deeper levels of universal awareness.
- During the famed O.J. Simpson trial, there were arguments between defense attorney Robert Blasier and an FBI agent about the actual value of Pi, seemingly to reveal flaws in the FBI agent’s intellectual acumen.
- A Givenchy men’s cologne named Pi is marketed as highlighting the sexual appeal of intelligent and visionary men.
Happy Pi Day!
- A Brief History of Pi, The Exploratorium, http://www.exploratorium.edu/pi/index.html, last viewed on March 13, 2014.
- 50 Interesting Facts About Pi, in Random Facts, http://facts.randomhistory.com/2009/07/03_pi.html, last viewed on March 13, 2014.