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Kopp's Weekly - Celebrate Pi Day on Spring Break

Kopp's Weekly - Celebrate Pi Day on Spring Break

A mathematician walks in to a bakery...

Dear students,

Many of you are away this week, and hopefully all of you are enjoying a breather from the semester's fast pace. Our family will be home in Austin for the first time in a long while, and I'm hoping to take in some of the fine weather and SXSW.

This is also the week of Pi Day — 3/14 in honor of the most famous irrational number. Begun as a celebration at the San Francisco Exploratorium, today it is celebrated internationally. Many celebrations consist of pie baking (and eating) contests. It is said that MIT mails out its admissions letters on 3/14. I, for one, will be wearing my nerdy pi tee shirt. A lesser known fact is that Albert Einstein was born on Pi Day, March 14, 1879.

Pi is an irrational number in mathematics relating the circumference of a circle to its diameter. While many of us know it as 3.14, it of course is a never-ending, never repeating number. The world record for calculating pi goes to Japanese man Shigeru Kondo, who specially built a computer in his home to accomplish the feat of calculating pi to over 5 trillion digits. The calculation took over 90 days and several attempts because of computer crashes and power outages. Kondo's wife was said to be happy the calculation was over, as the special computer had to be cooled and caused very high utility bills.

Worst pi joke I know: A mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer are all given identical rubber balls and told to find the volume. They are given anything they want to measure it, and have all the time they need. The mathematician pulls out a measuring tape and records the circumference. She then divides by two times pi to get the radius, cubes that, multiplies by pi again, and then multiplies by four-thirds and thereby calculates the volume. The physicist gets a bucket of water, places 1.00000 gallons of water in the bucket, drops in the ball, and measures the displacement to six significant figures. The engineer writes down the serial number of the ball, and looks it up.

Or worse still: A mathematician walks in to a bakery and says "Pi r squared?" The baker replies "No, pies are round, cakes are square." (All I can say is that such are the hazards of hanging around 3rd graders....)

I hope the week is a good one for all of you,

Sacha Kopp
Associate Dean, College of Natural Sciences
Professor, Department of Physics
Will C. Hogg Building, 2.222
Assistant: Maggie Wilhite maggie.wilhite@austin.utexas.edu
Telephone: (512) 232-0677

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Tuesday, 19 October 2021

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