Pi in the Sky

Pi day is coming and I am excited. Math is rarely assigned its own holidays, so the idea of spending an entire 24 hours hailing the art and mystery of pi is certainly cause for celebration.

Yes, on March 14, which is pi rounded to the three first digits – 3.14, millions of little boys and girls will demonstrate their mathematical prowess by loudly proclaiming memorized speeches of pi calculations to the umpteenth digit. As in 3.14159265358979…etc, etc.

But are number recitals the best way to celebrate what pi is all about? Is the discussion of digits doing it justice?

Just what is so great about pi, anyway?

Take a Slice of Pi

Pi is defined as the ratio of a circumference of a circle to its diameter, no matter the circle’s size. It’s an easy concept to comprehend and observe – measurable with a piece of string – but a difficult one to calculate. In fact, it’s a never-ending irrational number – which means its exact value is pretty much unknowable. Although you could spend years of your life continuing to calculate pi to the next digit, you’d expire before discerning a pattern or an end. It goes on forever.

As such, there is a romantic relationship between pi and the infinite, although ancient mathematicians found the concept of irrational numbers an affront to the idea of divine omniscience. How could something be inherently unknowable – even to the almighty?

The Nature of Pi

Pi is logically tied to circles, but also relates to the cycles of nature. Pi appears as part of the Fourier series in mathematics, which represents periodic and wave-like oscillating functions. It’s the foundation of the physics that describes waves and ripples of light and sound.

Pi is also linked to the meandering ratio of a river, or the ratio of a river’s length to its source. Although that number varies depending on the direction and curves of a river, the average meandering ratio comes close to pi.

Pi was an essential element of NASA spacecraft trajectory calculations, as evidenced by the recent movie, “Hidden Figures.” Without it, perhaps John Glenn’s miraculous orbit would have fallen short of its objective.

It can also be found in Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which examines the characteristics of sub-atomic particles, thus revealing pi’s importance in understanding the very nature of the universe.

Can you understand why pi is such a fascinating concept and worthy of so much more than digital regurgitation? Let’s think of new ways to celebrate it – what do you think?

Visit the shop to purchase my plush “Pi” figure for children and other pi products!