Infinitely Irrational: A Slice of Pi

Coloured circles of different sizes make up the symbol pi against a purple background
Adam Goriparthi

Amidst the chaos, it’s time to appreciate everyone’s favourite mathematical constant: pi. Apt for Pi-sces month, March 14th (3/14, in the US date format) marks another Pi Day—named for the first 3 digits of the number (sadly not in the British calendar format). Pi is something non-mathematicians love to use to feign some mathematical understanding, but what is it? Why should we care about a number?

A mathematical constant that is familiar both within and outside the scientific community, Pi refers to the ratio of the circumference (length around) to the diameter (length through) of a circle. In mathematical terms: Pi = c/d

The resultant number is endless but is normally approximated to be 3.14. No matter the size of a circle, the ratio will always result in this number. Consequently, this number can be used to understand circles and spheres. However, it is not quite pointless.

Why should we care about Pi? If science is not a compelling enough reason, Pi is a tangible way to grasp infinity in our hands. Literally. While there is mathematical proof to the number, there is an element of utter randomness to numbers that follow the decimal point. This infinite chaos highlights the beauty of science in general.

Pi is weaved into our humanity and the foundations of the Universe

Moreover, the role Pi plays in circles and cycles can be used to describe features of the natural world. Namely, studies can attribute it to the tides of the ocean and the electromagnetic waves around us. Its role in the Cosinor series essentially suggests that our Circadian Sleep-Wake cycles are governed by mathematics. It may lead to easy marks at GCSE, but Pi is also weaved into our humanity and the foundations of the Universe. It is a versatile number.

It is clear now why there is a day to celebrate Pi—aside from the inherent human desire to give almost anything a day in the calendar. Despite being a timeless number, the first reported Pi Day celebrations occurred in 1988, which involved physicists at the San Francisco Exploratorium. The subsequent popularity of Pi Day has increased globally, and UNESCO have even named it as the International Day of Mathematics; this is satisfying since March 14th was also Albert Einstein’s birthday. Recently, the day has featured various activities—relating to Pi, general maths and a lot of pie-baking (some of which are listed below).

To have a slice of the action, here are some sweet Pi/Pie activities to try instead of having a traditional Mother’s Day:

  • Google have included a fun little Easter Egg – searching ‘Pi’ or ‘Pi Day’ will open a calculator; by clicking the Pi at the top, you will open a memory game. Increasing in one-digit increments, you can test just how well you can remember Pi to. I got up to 11 digits before I remembered why I don’t study Maths.
  • Bake or enjoy some pie (definitely a more popular activity in the US but I guess we can enjoy some pizza here right?)
  • Embrace your inner Einstein and have (yet another) Zoom quiz based on maths and sciences (a COVID-friendly option for this year)

Bonus Fun Fact: If Pi Day isn’t enough, it is important to highlight the less popular Pi Approximation Day that will occur on July 22nd. 22/7 is a rational fraction commonly used to approximate Pi (like usage of 3.14). Given what an irrational year we’ve had, perhaps we need another celebration this summer. Here’s hoping for an excellent Pi day and may your interest in Pi never end.

Adam Goriparthi

Featured Photo by ?ormullion from Flickr. Image is in the Public domain. No changes were made to this image.

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