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#1 2021-12-13 14:37:34

Registered: 2005-06-28
Posts: 35,550

The Transcendental Number Pi

1. Introduction

The number π (/paɪ/; spelled out as "pi") is a mathematical constant, approximately equal to 3.14159. It is defined in Euclidean geometry as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter, and also has various equivalent definitions. The number appears in many formulas in all areas of mathematics and physics. The earliest known use of the Greek letter π to represent the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter was by Welsh mathematician William Jones in 1706. It is also referred to as Archimedes' constant.

Being an irrational number, π cannot be expressed as a common fraction, although fractions such as 22/7 are commonly used to approximate it. Equivalently, its decimal representation never ends and never settles into a permanently repeating pattern. Its decimal (or other base) digits appear to be randomly distributed, and are conjectured to satisfy a specific kind of statistical randomness.

It is known that π is a transcendental number: it is not the root of any polynomial with rational coefficients. The transcendence of π implies that it is impossible to solve the ancient challenge of squaring the circle with a compass and straightedge.

Ancient civilizations, including the Egyptians and Babylonians, required fairly accurate approximations of π for practical computations. Around 250 BC, the Greek mathematician Archimedes created an algorithm to approximate π with arbitrary accuracy. In the 5th century AD, Chinese mathematics approximated π to seven digits, while Indian mathematics made a five-digit approximation, both using geometrical techniques. The first computational formula for π, based on infinite series, was discovered a millennium later, when the Madhava–Leibniz series was discovered by the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics, documented in the Yuktibhāṣā, written around 1530.

The invention of calculus soon led to the calculation of hundreds of digits of π, enough for all practical scientific computations. Nevertheless, in the 20th and 21st centuries, mathematicians and computer scientists have pursued new approaches that, when combined with increasing computational power, extended the decimal representation of π to many trillions of digits. The primary motivation for these computations is as a test case to develop efficient algorithms to calculate numeric series, as well as the quest to break records. The extensive calculations involved have also been used to test supercomputers and high-precision multiplication algorithms.

Because its most elementary definition relates to the circle, π is found in many formulae in trigonometry and geometry, especially those concerning circles, ellipses, and spheres. In more modern mathematical analysis, the number is instead defined using the spectral properties of the real number system, as an eigenvalue or a period, without any reference to geometry. It appears therefore in areas of mathematics and sciences having little to do with the geometry of circles, such as number theory and statistics, as well as in almost all areas of physics. The ubiquity of π makes it one of the most widely known mathematical constants—both inside and outside the scientific community. Several books devoted to π have been published, and record-setting calculations of the digits of π often result in news headlines.

What Is Pi, and How Did It Originate?

Succinctly, pi—which is written as the Greek letter for p, or π—is the ratio of the circumference of any circle to the diameter of that circle. Regardless of the circle's size, this ratio will always equal pi. In decimal form, the value of pi is approximately 3.14. But pi is an irrational number, meaning that its decimal form neither ends (like 1/4 = 0.25) nor becomes repetitive (like 1/6 = 0.166666...). (To only 18 decimal places, pi is 3.141592653589793238.) Hence, it is useful to have shorthand for this ratio of circumference to diameter. According to Petr Beckmann's A History of Pi, the Greek letter π was first used for this purpose by William Jones in 1706, probably as an abbreviation of periphery, and became standard mathematical notation roughly 30 years later.

Try a brief experiment: Using a compass, draw a circle. Take one piece of string and place it on top of the circle, exactly once around. Now straighten out the string; its length is called the circumference of the circle. Measure the circumference with a ruler. Next, measure the diameter of the circle, which is the length from any point on the circle straight through its center to another point on the opposite side. (The diameter is twice the radius, the length from any point on the circle to its center.) If you divide the circumference of the circle by the diameter, you will get approximately 3.14—no matter what size circle you drew! A larger circle will have a larger circumference and a larger radius, but the ratio will always be the same. If you could measure and divide perfectly, you would get 3.141592653589793238..., or pi.

Otherwise said, if you cut several pieces of string equal in length to the diameter, you will need a little more than three of them to cover the circumference of the circle.

Pi is most commonly used in certain computations regarding circles. Pi not only relates circumference and diameter. Amazingly, it also connects the diameter or radius of a circle with the area of that circle by the formula: the area is equal to pi times the radius squared. Additionally, pi shows up often unexpectedly in many mathematical situations. For example, the sum of the infinite series

The importance of pi has been recognized for at least 4,000 years. A History of Pi notes that by 2000 B.C., "the Babylonians and the Egyptians (at least) were aware of the existence and significance of the constant π," recognizing that every circle has the same ratio of circumference to diameter. Both the Babylonians and Egyptians had rough numerical approximations to the value of pi, and later mathematicians in ancient Greece, particularly Archimedes, improved on those approximations. By the start of the 20th century, about 500 digits of pi were known. With computation advances, thanks to computers, we now know more than the first six billion digits of pi.

The first 100 digits of pi are 3.1415926535 8979323846 2643383279 5028841971 6939937510 5820974944 5923078164 0628620899 8628034825 3421170679. The value of pi starts with a 3 followed by a decimal point.

It appears to me that if one wants to make progress in mathematics, one should study the masters and not the pupils. - Niels Henrik Abel.

Nothing is better than reading and gaining more and more knowledge - Stephen William Hawking.


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