History and Oddities of Pi

History and Oddities of Pi

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Daisuke Takahashi and Yasumasa Kanada of the University of Tokyo computed pi to over 51 billion places of decimals. The Egyptians knew 3.16, but implicit in their Great Pyramid is the even better value 3.14. The early Hindus and Chinese were content with 3. Many ancient civilizations recognized the unique relationship between pi and circles. For example, the Babylonians approximated the value of pi as 3 (as did the Old Testament), based on the relationship between the area and radius of a circle. Thus, ancient Babylonians could celebrate an entire “Pi Month” since they assigned pi the value of 3. Later, the Greek mathematician Archimedes formulated a geometrical algorithm to estimate pi by comparing the perimeters of polygons and circles. The Romans rolled all over the world in chariots whose wheels they believed to be exactly 3.125 times as far around as they were across. In the 1690s, Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz bridged the gap between algebra and geometry and used calculus to figure out pi’s first 15 digits. The 20th century athematician Srinivasa Ramanujan used even more powerful tools like number theory and elliptic integrals to find new ways to compute pi further.

Pi, an abstract notion, is defined as the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle. It’s an irrational number that cannot be expressed as a fraction and runs into infinity and is generally rounded up at 3.14. Every year on 14th March International Pi Day is celebrated, but this year is particularly special, one that occurs once in a century. On 3/14/15 at 9.26 and 53 seconds, the date and time spelled the first 10 digits of pi. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) celebrated the intersection between the quantitative and biomedical sciences that included lectures as well as brainstorming mathematical problems that can be applied to real-world situations.