Happy Pi Day 2017: Incredible facts about the enigmatic number that has fascinated mathematicians for generations

Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3.14 in the American calendar) around the world.

Pi (Greek letter π) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant – the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter – which is approximately 3.14159.

The diameter of a circle is the distance from edge to edge, measuring straight through the centre. The circumference of a circle is the distance around.

Devised by Ancient Greek mathematician and general polymath Archimedes (287-212 BC), pi is an irrational number, meaning it continues infinitely without repetition or pattern.

This Pi Day, we can write more digits of pi than ever before. An extra 9 trillion digits after the decimal point have been discovered, smashing the previous world record set back in 2013.

The extra digits were discovered by R&D scientist Peter Trueb, who used a computer to calculate pi to 22,459,157,718,361 digits.

“I was really surprised that it worked so smoothly, I was so happy,” Trueb told New Scientist .

Pi Day should not be confused with Pi Approximation Day, which falls on July 22 (22/7 for Americans). The fraction 22/7 is a common approximation of Pi.

The enigmatic number has captivated mathematicians for centuries

Mathematician Steven Strogatz, writing in the New Yorker , explains why pi continues to fascinate:

“The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random – except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle.

“Pi touches infinity in other ways. For example, there are astonishing formulas in which an endless procession of smaller and smaller numbers adds up to pi.

“One of the earliest such infinite series to be discovered says that pi equals four times the sum 1 – 1/3 + 1/5 – 1/7 + 1/9- 1/11 and so on.”

Pi has been calculated to over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point.

Here are some incredible facts about the ‘most important number in maths’:

  • The symbol (Greek letter “π”) was first used in 1706 by William Jones. A ‘p’ was chosen for ‘perimeter’ of circles, and the use of π became popular after it was adopted by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler in 1737.

  • If you type ‘pi’ into google the calculator will appear with 3.14159265359 already entered.

  • Want to see pi calculated to one million digits? Click here.

  • If you hold a mirror to a circle, it looks like a circle. If you hold a mirror up to 3.14, it spells PIE!

  • Only 39 digits past the decimal are needed to accurately calculate the spherical volume of our entire universe.

Solar eclipse
Pi (Greek letter π) is the symbol used in mathematics to represent a constant – the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter
(Photo: Getty)
  • The number pi is extremely useful when solving geometry problems involving circles, such as:
    The area of a circle: A = πr2
    Where ‘r’ is the radius (distance from the centre to the edge of the circle). Also, this formula is the origin of the joke “Pies aren’t square, they’re round!”
    The volume of a cylinder: V = πr2h
    To find the volume of a rectangular prism, you calculate length × width × height. In that case, length × width is the area of one side (the base), which is then multiplied by the height of the prism.
    Similarly, to find the volume of a cylinder, you calculate the area of the base (the area of the circle), then multiply that by the height (h) of the cylinder.

  • A sport based on pi has was invented in South Africa in 2008 – supposedly on Pi Day.
    It’s played on a circular court around a central circular ball strike area. It’s comparable to beach volleyball, but where two players on a team are separated by a net, pi-ball players instead stand diametrically opposite one another within the confines of a circular court.

  • Pi Day is officially recognised by Congress in the US.

3.14 pi day tshirt
Pi Day is a big deal in the United States, with memorabilia such as t-shirts on sale
(Photo: piday.org)
  • In the first 31 digits of Pi, there is not one zero.

  • 314159, the first six digits of Pi, appear in order at least six times among the first ten million decimals of Pi.

  • In the Star Trek original series ‘Wolf in the Fold’, Spock destroys a computer taken over by Jack the Ripper (yep, really) by commanding it to compute the last digit of Pi.

  • Indian man Rajveer Meena holds the world record for remembering the value of Pi to 70,000 at the VIT University, Vellore, India, on 21 March 2015.
    He wore a blindfold throughout the entire recall, which took nearly 10 hours.

  • The number 360 (as in degrees of a cricle) is the 359th digit position of Pi.

  • Pi is mentioned in the Bible , although slightly imprecisely.
    The relevant passage is 1 Kings 7:23, which states “Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference.” This verse describes a cylindrical vessel built at the order of Solomon.

  • Dividing the circumference (30 cubits) by the diameter (10 cubits), gives 3.

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