In Praise of Pi Day: A Holiday With a Purpose
Tomorrow at 9:26 am, and again at 9:26 pm, we will achieve peak Pi Day, for the first and last time this century.
When the clock strikes 9:26, the digits of the date and time – 3/14/15, 9:26 – will match Pi to the seventh digit after the decimal. That won’t happen again until March 2115.
It may seem like an odd thing to celebrate, but since Congress officially recognized March 14th as Pi Day in 2009, it has emerged as an annual opportunity to honor the profound, world-changing contributions that mathematics and mathematicians have made to society. Even more important, it gives us the chance to highlight the critical importance of supporting science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) education around the world.
Pi also turns out to be pretty important in helping us deliver your television and Internet. The signals that carry video and data to your home over millions of miles of fiber optics and coaxial cable travel along periodic waves (think squiggles) which are mathematically calculated by using Pi.
As most of us learn (and many of us quickly forget) in school, Pi is a mathematical constant: the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It is also an irrational number that can be calculated to infinite decimal places (the current record is 12 trillion digits) but which shows no repeatable pattern, meaning that there’s no way to predict what the 12-trillion-and-first digit will be, until you do the math.
The quest to perform those calculations, and to learn more about the world’s most enigmatic number, has coincided closely with advances in math and computer science. Wikipedia has a fascinating rundown of the evolution of Pi computation, including D.F. Ferguson exceeding 600 decimal places for the first time in 1947 using a pocket calculator.
For engineers at Comcast and around the world, Pi Day serves as a reminder of their early exposure to math and the role it played in the journey to become computer scientists.
Their experiences — a sampling of which are captured in the video below – are a testament to the value of exposing students to math early and often in order to prepare them for the careers of the Digital Age.
To mark the occasion of Ultimate Pi Day, Comcast and NBCUniversal are offering a wide range of programing and video selections that honor math, science, and in a few cases, everyone’s favorite baked dessert.
We’re obviously excited about all of those activities, but the real value of Pi Day — and of the celebration of math and science that it represents — goes far beyond a few events or a good food pun.
Comcast is proud to be a longtime supporter of FIRST Robotics and partner of Boys and Girls Clubs of America, two national leaders in advancing STEM education and enrichment. Ultimate Pi Day provides the perfect opportunity to learn more about what these two organizations are doing to advance science and technology education, and to find out more about how you may be able to get involved.
So whether you celebrate Pi Day by watching a movie about an inventor, calling your best friend in St. Louis (area code 314), or ordering your favorite pizza, it might also be worthwhile to think about the role math and science plays in your world, and what you can do to get the students in your life excited about it.