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Question Your World: What Makes Pi So Special?

Science and math fans around the world have been celebrating Pi day for a while now. Pi is the 3.14 number that helps us understand circles, so what better day to celebrate than March 14So the question is, what makes Pi so special? Listen to this week’s Question Your World Radio Report from the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more about Pi.

From the wheels on your car to the orbit of distant stars in the cosmos are all put to paper using our old friend, Pi. These practical applications help determine the size, shape, volume, area, and circumference of circles. Imagine the Spalding basketball factory without Pi, we’d have some weirdly shaped basketballs…or whatever they’d be called. Pi’s use in our day to day lives surrounds these circular concepts, but wait, there’s so much more.

One of the amazing things about Pi is that it is an irrational number. Meaning, it goes on forever. The digits that comprise Pi take up more digits than some of the largest numbers we have, like the massive googolplex for example. In fact, in 2011 Pi was calculated out to over 10 trillion numbers! Mathematician Shigeru Kondo took 371 days to calculate Pi to 10,000,000,000,050 decimal places. Big stuff!

Here’s the kicker, when calculating all those trillions of digits for Pi, it was noticed that there are no repeating patterns in there. A truly random set of numbers strung together in an endless chain. What does one do with these large, endless, non-repeating numeric patterns? Those big computational issues come in handy for testing today’s supercomputers and their programming speeds.

So, from putting satellites in geosynchronous orbit, to testing super computers, to helping make that perfect pumpkin pie, Pi is an extremely well rounded number.

Article by Prabir Mehta, Science Museum of Virginia

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