To infinity and beyond: Math fans celebrate Pi Day
By Karen Eckert
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, March 14, 2019
Looking for a strong, secret personal identification number? How about the last four digits of the mathematical constant number “pi?”
Unlike its sweet pastry counterpart, which can disappear rather quickly, the mathematical version of pi never ends.
“If you write (pi) as a decimal, it goes on forever,” said Dr. Gail Ratcliff, professor of math at ECU.
The infinity of pi — which starts with 3.14159 and continues in an endless string of decimals with no repeating pattern — long has fascinated mathematicians, Ratcliff said.
That fascination has led to an entire day devoted to the number —March 14 (3.14) — which is celebrated around the world, according to www.piday.org.
The ECU Math Department will celebrate Pi Day with a gathering at 3 p.m. in Austin 223 for math faculty and students. The event will include humor, puzzles and the kind of pie that you eat, Ratcliff said.
Another ECU event will be hosted by Tau Beta Pi, ECU’s engineering honor society. At this organization’s second annual Pi Day, for each dollar participants donate, they will vote for a professor of their choosing to get a pie in the puss and also will have a chance to pie them.
Cookies and pies will be sold at the event, which will be held in the Mendenhall brickyard from 10 a.m. to 3:14 p.m.
Pitt Community College will also celebrate Pi Day at its Math Center, part of the Tutorial Academic and Success Center, said Stephanie Woodley, Math and Physics Department chairwoman.
That event will be from 11 a.m. to 1:59 p.m. The concluding time of 1:59 was selected in honor of the third, fourth and fifth decimal numbers of pi, said Kali Jenkins, Math Center coordinator. Games involving the measurement of round objects, including pizza, will be part of the festivities along with snacks and water, she said.
While Pi Day events may be about fun and games, the number pi serves a very serious role in the fields of math, design and construction, Ratcliff said.
“Pi is the ratio between the circumference of a circle and the diameter,” Ratcliff said. “It doesn’t matter how big the circle is, you always get that same number (and) so people have been interested in this, obviously, since we started trying to build circular objects. If you wanted a circular ring or a meeting room you had to know, given the diameter, ‘How many bricks do I need to make my circle?’”
Non-mathematicians like to celebrate Pi Day as well, and many local businesses are joining in the fun.
Gwendy Yiznitsky of Gwendy’s Goodies, a bakery in Ayden, will sell a variety of whole pies for $3.14 off the regular price. Pies also will be sold by the slice at 31 cents off, she said.
Mathematicians are happy that even non-math people can get excited about Pi Day.
“(Pi Day) creates a little bit of excitement that may not normally be there,” Woodley said. “We like to see others who either hate math or say ‘I can’t do math’ or ‘Math doesn’t like me’ (catch) a little glimpse of (the) excitement that we have all the time.
“And I think any time you have a name for something and promote it, it’s a nice way to drum up some interest,” Woodley said.
Karen Eckert can be reached at 252-329-9565 or at email@example.com. For more information about Pi Day visit www.piday.org.