Mar 14, 2012


'[…] this mysterious 3.14159…, which comes in at every door and window, and down every chimney.' English mathematician Augustus de Morgan (1806-1871).

International Pi Day is a holiday commemorating the constant π (3.141592…), and celebrated on 14 March (or 3/14 in month/day format), since these three digits are the first three of this mathematical constant. Another interesting fact is that Albert Einstein, the physicist who developed the theory of relativity and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922, was born on this very same day in 1879, or 133 years ago.

The π symbol is actually a letter from the Greek alphabet which stands for ‘perimeter’ or ‘periphery’. Indeed, π is a constant which describes the relation between a given circumference and its associated diameter, and is also an infinite number—supercomputers are still calculating its billions of decimal digits.

Archimedes of Syracuse (287 BC - 212 BC) was the first to calculate an approximate value for π. Among his advances in mathematics is his development of fundamental concepts in geometry such as the area, volume and surface area of a body. The Science Museum’s ‘Profiles of Science' exhibit features one of his most famous quotes: ‘Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth’.

Stories of π

There are many interesting facts surrounding the constant π; for instance, the celebrated physicist Richard Feynman saw, that among the infinite digits in its decimal representation there was a sequence of six 9s occurring at the 762nd decimal place, which was named the ‘Feynman Point’ after the physicist himself. This is an intriguing anomaly because for a number such as π, whose decimals are random, the probability of any chosen number sequence of six digits occurring is very low, only 0.08%. Another curious fact is that the epitaph engraved on the tombstone of mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen contains pi to 35 decimal places—a calculation that had taken him a lifetime to complete.

π is a special number too for being the object of fascination for legions of fans from all over the world, unleashing a veritable 'pi-mania'. The international day dedicated to this number, created by American physicist Larry Shaw, is a day for Pi enthusiasts to enjoy foods such as a ‘Pizza Pi’ or an ‘Apple Pi’. It also inspired Darren Aronofsky’s 1988 cult film entitled 'π', and even works of art such as that produced by Arlen Stamp for the vestibule of the Downsview subway station in Toronto—a giant mosaic made up of overlapping rectangles of different widths, whose pattern is based on the decimal digits of π.

Mathematics Conference to be held on 28 June 2012

Do you love all numbers—and not just pi? If you do, the Science Museum invites you to attend a talk on 28 June given by Marcus du Sautoy, a leading scientist widely known for his work popularising mathematics and as presenter of the successful BBC series The Story of Maths. He will be giving a talk entitled: The Number Mysteries: A Mathematical Odyssey through Everyday Life’, as part of the ‘A ciencia cierta’ series of conferences.

With du Sautoy as our guide we will be taken on a veritable mathematical adventure throughout an ordinary day. Professor of mathematics at Oxford University, du Sautoy was awarded the Berwick Prize in 2001 by the London Mathematical Society for the publication of outstanding mathematical research by a mathematician under the age of forty. He is a regular contributor to The Times and The Guardian and has presented numerous television programmes on mathematics.
More information on International Pi Day