History of Pi from Silicon Valley: Never-Ending Fun with a Never-Ending Number

For math enthusiasts around the world, Pi is far more than a useful constant for equations that’s something close to 3.14. Pi, which never ends or repeats, continues to become more and more significant in advanced math and science, and embodies the simplicity and mystery that mathematicians strive for. Such lovers of Pi are abound in the high-tech firms of Silicon Valley and around Stanford University in Palo Alto, and as such, Mathnasium’s tutors attempt to convey enthusiasm about Pi when giving math help. However, great feats involving Pi have been accomplished across the world.

Taking Pi to the Extreme: World Records

Silicon Valley Pi

Mathematicians have become extremely competitive about pi, even from ancient history. In Ancient Greece, the creators of math worked to find more precise values of Pi using different methods. Archimedes used a method of circumscribed and inscribed polygons to eventually work out a value of 3.1418, an error of only .008%!

Originally posted to Flickr as Blue Gene/P From Argonne National Laboratory

Originally posted to Flickr as Blue Gene/P
From Argonne National Laboratory

Of course, the invention of calculators and computers (including those developed in Silicon Valley) and the study of calculus elevated the calculation of pi to a whole different level. The current record is 10 trillion digits (10,000,000,000,000), calculated by Shigeru Kondo of the University of Illinois.

The competition now has moved to memorization. While most normal Palo Alto high-school math student would be hard-pressed to name more than two decimals off the top of their head, the verified world record stands at 67,890 digits by Chao Lu of China. However, Ukranian neurosurgeon, mathematician, and hypnotist Andriy Slyusarchuk claims to have memorized 30 million digits, and has been consistently able to recite random sequences within this range at command.

Here at Mathnasium of Palo Alto-Menlo Park, we’re having our own Pi recitation contest for the students we tutor in math, as well as anyone else who is interested. Prizes will be awarded throughout Pi week for contestants!

> Learn more about Math Tutoring in Palo Alto / Menlo Park

An Irrational Idea: The Indiana Pi Bill

A record pi mishap occurred in 1897, when the Indiana State Assembly attempted to pass a bill that erroneously explains a method for finding the area of a circle. The bill, developed by teacher and amateur mathematician Edwin J. Goodman, stated that the ratio of a circle’s diameter to its circumference (Pi) was exactly equal to  4.2. The bill was almost passed, but thankfully math professor from Purdue University came to Indianapolis to fight the bill. Since then, the Indiana Pi Bill has been a symbol of the disconnect between government and technical education, as well as a source of good laughs for math lovers everywhere.

Thankfully, no such ridiculous legislation has ever been proposed in California or around the San Francisco Bay Area, but it never hurts to continue to educate others about the importance of mathematics, and there is no greater opportunity for this than on Pi Day, March 14!

~ Mathin’ Catherine, 3/5/2013