Pi Day: Facts About Today's Math Holiday
Learn all about the day that marks the first three numbers of the mathematical constant, pi.
Happy Pi Day!
It's March 14, which means today's date matches the first three numbers of the constant ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter - 3.14, as noted by PiDay.org.
Math geeks mark the day at exactly 1:59 since the longer version of pi is 3.14159....and on and on and on.
As an irrational and transcendental number, pi continues infinitely without repetition or pattern. Some have calculated the number to an extreme - as far as over one trillion digits beyond its decimal point. (You can even locate your birthday in the infinitely long number here.)
Last year's date, 3/14/2015 was even more significant since the date, with the year, matched the first four digits of pi after the decimal point.
This year may not be as special but as a consolation, some are calling this year the "Rounded Up Pi Day," rounding up those four digits.
Pi Day was started at a San Francisco-based science museum, the Exploratorium, by staff physicist Larry Shaw in 1988. The day gained national recognition in 2009 when the House of Representatives officially noted the day through Resolution 224.
So what happens on Pi Day? San Francisco's Exploratorium throws its annual pi party, MIT sends out college acceptance notices on the day, and since 3/14 was also Albert Einstein's birthday, people in Princeton, N.J. throw a celebration both in honor Pi Day and the astrophysicist, who lived in the area.
Incidentally, some people eat pie in celebration of Pi Day, but pies (as in apple or banana cream) actually have a day of their own - National Pie Day - that was on January 23.
To most people,
means a warm chalet, hot drink, spa or dinner. To Simon Beck of Great Britain, it means creating intricate pictures in the snow. And not just snow angels: Beck’s snow art involves mathematical patterns and often stretches the length of several soccer fields. "There’s a frozen lake outside where I stay, and one day after skiing I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to make a pattern?" he said. "I didn’t have any snow shoes, just walking boots, but the snow wasn’t too deep and it worked perfectly well." He’s been doing it ever since, and recently collected 200 of his favorite images in the book
After Beck read New York Times reporter James Gleick’s book, "Chaos: Making a New Science," he started incorporating mathematical patterns into his work. "That’s part of my inspiration," he said. The Koch curve snowflake shown here is one of his favorite patterns.
Beck has been creating snow art seriously for about five years. One of his favorite patterns to stomp, shown here, is based on the Sierpinski triangle. "It’s quite easy to do, and it makes a good impact," he said. "I also use it as one element in larger works."
Pictured, a Sierpinski circle displayed, briefly, at a ski resort in 2014.
Beck also likes to make patterns that are variations on the
. He created this one, shown here after 26 hours, in a total of 32 hours over three days.
“The biggest was about 10 soccer fields,” he said. “It’s a bit hard to measure, but a decent-sized project is about three soccer fields. That takes one day if conditions are good.” Good conditions mean 6-inch deep snow, or 6 inches of powder on top of a firm base.
"Quite honestly, once I have good photos I don’t care how long they stay around for," he said. Beck does most of his work in a French ski resort where he spends his winters. Frozen lakes are ideal. In those kinds of conditions, he’ll make do about two projects per week, posting photos on Facebook.
Beck also occasionally works on commission, creating logos in different locations.
Beck, a map-maker by trade, says the designs come naturally. "It’s just like map making," he said. "It’s the same process, in reverse." Bonus: the walking keeps him in shape. "I don’t need to do any exercise apart from snow art," he said.