Celebrating Einstein’s birthday on Pi Day

Besides today being World Kidney Day, which I incorrectly listed on the blog for yesterday, the 14th of March is also the celebration of Pi Day, commemorating the mathematical constant π (pi), which, to two decimal points, equals 3.14.

Enjoying 3.14 pies on Pi Day.(© All Rights Reserved)
Enjoying 3.14 pies on Pi Day.
(© All Rights Reserved)

OK, we’ve already celebrated Pi Approximation Day on the 22nd of July (22/7 is also used to approximate π), but surely this amazing number deserves another mention.

So bake yourself 3.14 pies and share in the celebrations!

Making today extra special, we also celebrate the birthday of Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955), the greatest scientist of the 20th century. What makes Einstein such an endearing figure is that, besides his numerous groundbreaking contributions to science (thermodynamics, relativity, quantum theory, wave-particle duality, statistics, cosmology, nuclear physics and much more), he has also made deeply profound contributions to secular subjects as diverse as war and peace, religion, human rights, economics and government.

The ideas and opinions of the great Albert Einstein - a continuous source of insight and inspiration. (© All Rights Reserved)
The ideas and opinions of the great Albert Einstein – a continuous source of insight and inspiration.
(© All Rights Reserved)

Many volumes have been written about the great man, so rather than trying (and no doubt failing) to adequately capture his contributions in a single blog post, I will rather leave you with one of his many, many wonderful quotes:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
The important thing is not to stop questioning.”

You can have your pi and eat it, on Pi Approximation Day (22/7)!

Today is 22/7. No prizes for guessing what that means – yes, its Pi Approximation Day! March 14th (3.14) is also celebrated as Pi Day, but I kind of prefer the 22/7 version.

Pi, that curious little number that seems to pop up every time we start going in circles. A number so important that it even got its own name – not many numbers can claim that distinction!

Instead of going in circles trying to figure out what to give the kids for lunch, take your cue from the date and bake them a pi!
(© All Rights Reserved)

Pi, or π, is a mathematical constant that represents the ratio between a circle’s circumference and its diameter, or π = C/d. It is what’s known as an irrational number – a number that cannot be expressed as a ratio between two integers. Being irrational, it has an infinite number of digits in its decimal representation, and it does not end with a repeating sequence of digits. It is also a trancendental number – a number that cannot be expressed with a finite sequence of algebraic operations.

In addition to its application in geometry and trigonometry, the constant π is found in many formulae, in a variety of sciences, including physics, number theory, thermodynamics, statistics, electromagnetism and mechanics.

The value of π (to 5 decimal places) is 3.14159, which is also approximately the value of 22 divided by 7. Calculating the value of π to higher and higher degrees of accuracy have been a challenge to mathematicians and computer scientists through the ages. Utilising the latest computing technology, the digital representation of π has now been calculated to more than 10 trillion digits. Memorising π to a large number of digits (a practice called piphology) is another challenge taken up by many pi-fanatics, and the current record stands at an astounding 67 890 digits, recited in 2005 in China by Lu Chao over a period of more than 24 hours. (Wow, he probably doesn’t get out much!)

A nice trick to remember the first few digits of pi is to use a poem or sentence where the lengths of the words correspond to the digits in pi. A well-known example, courtesy of English scientist James Jeans, is “How I want a drink, alcoholic of course, after the heavy lectures involving quantum mechanics”, cleverly representing pi’s first 15 digits.

Such is the pervasiveness of the number π that it can even boast numerous appearances in modern popular culture, from TV series (Simpsons, Twin Peaks) to novels (Carl Sagan’s “Contact”) to pop music (Kate Bush’s “Pi“).