Pi Day has now become a popular annual celebration nationwide, marked by special shopping events and quirky contests. But the date, which falls next Wednesday, also provides an opportunity to brush up on middle school math and celebrate a number that has intrigued scientists for thousands of years.
Ravi Ramakrishna, professor of mathematics at Cornell University, says that although mathematicians have solved the riddle of pi, a race remains to find its ever longer decimal expansion.
“The number pi (3.14159265...) has intrigued scientists and mathematicians for thousands of years. It is defined as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter (the same amount, no matter how big or small the circle!) but has eluded easy computation.
“Up through the 19th century people computed more and more decimal places in the hope of finding a pattern that would help us better understand this number. It was only in the late 1800s that it was shown that pi is not the solution of any standard algebraic equation - it's a new number!
“Nonetheless, because of the importance of pi and the long history of ‘computing’ pi, there is still a race to find ever longer decimal expansions. Recently, building on theoretical methods of Srinivasa Ramanujan (subject of ‘The man who knew infinity’ film) pi has been computed to over 10 trillion digits.”