Math enthusiasts on Western Carolina University’s campus will get a chance to show their love for pi during a monthlong celebration being held to honor the famous ratio 3.1415 that has fascinated the great minds of the world for thousands of years.
Activities planned during a series of three March events include the formation of a human pi sculpture, a pi recitation contest and the use of history, music, art and poetry to explain pi so that even non-enthusiasts can do the math. The Department of Mathematics and Computer Science is the sponsor of Pi Month. All events are open to the public.
“The whole idea is to celebrate math and have fun,” said Sloan Despeaux, associate professor of mathematics and one of the Pi Month organizers. “People sometimes don’t have great positive associations with math and keep it in a narrow little corner. If we can change this by showing that math stretches across all disciplines, that will be a really good thing.”
Pi, denoted by the Greek letter π, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, or the number of times that the diameter will fit around the circle. The ratio is always approximately 3.1415, no matter how large or small the circle is.
Mathematicians have been trying to determine the exact calculation of pi for thousands of years. It is an irrational number with a decimal extension has been worked out by computers to trillions of digits, but never ends. “Pi goes on forever. The last digit will never be calculated. It’s something that we can only imagine,” said Despeaux.
The campus observance of Pi Month gets underway with a kickoff celebration starting at 3:14 p.m. Monday, March 2, on the lawn in front of A.K. Hinds University Center. Free pie will be served, volunteers wearing purple will stand together to form a huge human pi sculpture, and there will be a “pie-in-the-face” party.
Math and computer science students and faculty members will host a party from 6 until 8 p.m. Thursday, March 19, featuring a pi recitation contest. The infinite nature of pi makes it a challenge to remember as much of its decimal extension as possible.
During the party in rooms 437 and 448 of Stillwell Building, contestants will recite some pi, possibly as much as 3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751 or more.
A gala event set for 5 until 8 p.m. Monday, March 30, in the University Center theater will feature displays and presentations. Highlights will include historic information, artistic creations, short poems (or “pi-ku,” based on a pi syllable structure) and musical compositions inspired by pi applications to the keyboard or other instruments.
Each year, Pi Day is celebrated around the world on March 14 (3-14). In 2009, the U.S. Congress formally adopted a resolution recognizing Pi Day and emphasizing the need for the nation’s students to develop stronger math skills. This year, Pi Day occurs on the Saturday immediately following WCU’s spring break, so no pi events were scheduled that day and organizers opted to observe Pi Month instead.
For more information about pi, Despeaux recommends www.piday.org and http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/approximating-pi.html. For information about Pi Month at WCU, call 828-227-7245.