I’m mathematically confused.
It’s my constant, and once a year, that’s okay.
Married to a math teacher, I’ve spent more than 20 years nodding my head, feigning I know terms she throws around. A result of her influence, I can claim some knowledge about three of them – tessellation, Fibonacci sequence, and Pi – or about 3.14159 of them.
Pi is a mathematical constant. An irrational number. Like me. (Just lost 90 percent of readers.)
March 14th (Pi Day) has been adopted among mathematicians and their students to celebrate Pi – the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet. They, and fat guys like me, mark Pi day with the eating of pie. The truncated form of 3.14 is the foundation to celebrate its value on 3-14, March 14th. The celebration is credited to physicist Larry Shaw who used it as an excuse for a staff party at the Exploratorium in San Francisco in 1988, complete with pie.
Shaw’s daughter pointed out to him March 14th is also the birthday of celebrated theoretical physicist Albert Einstein. His most well-known equation, E=mc2, is actually only one of 10 mathematical statements explaining his theory of relativity – some of which, yes, include pi. Double celebratory reasoning for math and Einstein enthusiasts.
Let’s get the math out of the way. As you will recall (just nod), pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. If ratio throws you, pi equals the circumference divided by its diameter. Pi is considered “irrational” because it is a real number which cannot be expressed as a simple fraction.
If circumference, diameter, fraction, and real numbers throw you, just run around in circles.
Very brief history
The Babylonians (think modern day Iraq) are credited with first discovering pi, their proof found on stone tablets on which they estimated it to be 3.125. Egyptians made pi’s value 3.16, and that bathtub-diving mathematician Archimedes placed between 3 1/7 and 3 10/71. The Greek symbol π came into use in 1706.
Its value has BIG value
Why can’t the significance of pi be discounted? Because it’s constant. (Insert mathematician groan here.) In all seriousness, pi is everywhere.
Throughout history, even today, students pester math teachers with the much-bandied about, “When are we EVER going to use this?” The simple answer is, anytime something involves a curve, sphere, or a circle. Usage crosses many disciplines, occupations, sciences, theories and real-life applications. The constant is found in everything from electronics and mechanics, to law enforcement and medicine.
In photography, pi is used to calculate the adjustable area(s) of the aperture of a lens – indicated by the seemingly nonsensical numbers on its exterior ring and interior screen. At L-Tron Corporation, we’re ALL about photography, particularly the spherical kind, and our OSCR360 solution for crime and crash scenes, so pi is near and dear to our engineers’ hearts. Did I mention OSCR360 includes our proprietary sensor tube which pulls GPS data? Pi again.
If you’re still awake, your eyes’ pupils and irises are measured to properly size contact lenses, and judge your health. If you’re told you’re “pie-eyed,” then you’re drunk, or under the influence of some other substance. Doctors and the police use the size and reaction of pupils to assess if something is amiss.
To mention a few, lesser-known applications, pi is used to track population, study DNA, analyze fluid ripples, design pendulums, assess radio waves, and navigate using GPS.
Beyond real world usage in other areas like design, engineering, architecture, construction, mathematics, crash reconstruction … Pi Day, 3.14 is a day for word play, specifically pie and pi:
Some pies for Pi Day
- Piebald – irregular patches of two colors
- Pizza pie – no explanation needed
- Apple pie – ditto
- Pie chart – graphic
- Sugar pie – term of affection
- Pie hole – one’s mouth
- Humble pie – a serving of humiliation
- In Ornithology – short for the bird Magpie
- In the retail world – PI stands for perpetual inventory
- For attorneys and cops – PI means private investigators
- The was the 1998 mathematician – Wall Street movie “π”
- There was the 2012 animated survival movie called “Life of Pi”
And expressions like:
- Pie in the sky
- A piece of the pie
- As American as apple pie
- A finger in every pie
- Easy as pie
- Sweet as pie
Ubiquitous references to one of the world’s favorite meal and dessert pastries can be confusing. Particularly in geometry and algebra. When required to calculate the area and circumference of a circle, there’s the mathematical expression “pi r squared.”
Pies are NOT square.
Bad humor. My other constant.
Sergeant Hank Kula (Ret.) from the Greece, NY Police Department
Hank Kula is a retired police sergeant with 26 years in law enforcement. A certified crime scene investigator, crash reconstructionist, and former journalist, Hank works as a police instructor with recruits, veteran officers, and supervisors. His instructional specialties are in crime scene management and investigation, photography, communications and public information. Click to view more articles written by Hank.
Questions? Interested in learning more about Pi Day & our company culture?
Get in touch with the L-Tron team.