It’s that time of the year again to celebrate what is likely one of every mathemetician’s favorite holidays, and maybe even a few confused pastry enthusiasts too - Pi day!
On this day, March 14th, we celebrate the infinitely sequential string of numbers that is generally estimated to the much simpler 3.14 number. As one of nature’s few universal constants, the number derives from the ratio of a perfect circle’s circumference to its diameter. News headlines on this day often contain record-setting calculations of pi’s never-ending number sequence that have reached up to trillions of digits of digits.
Today, however, Marcus du Sautoy of the University of Oxford is running a Pi Day Live event encouraging onlookers to participate in an online experiment that will attempt to calculate the revered mathematical constant using a 200-year old method.
The method, known as Buffon’s needle, requires experimenters to drop an assortment of needles onto a sheet of paper marked with evenly-spaced, parallel lines. The space between each parallel line must be greater than the length of the needle in order for the experiment to work. This technique takes a probabilistic approach to solving for pi: the ratio of the total number of needles dropped to the number of needles that cross a line after landing is calculated and compared to the known pi value.
The Pi Day Live team has estimated that 10s of thousands of needles will need to be dropped to reach a fair estimate of the pi value. After only a hundred drops, their estimate was a meager value of 2.63. The hope is that by reaching out to a larger, interested online crowd, that number will grow closer and closer to the expected 3.14 number as people submit their experimental results.
Head on over to the Pi Day Live event page to join in on the massive online experiment. Several other techniques of varying difficulties will also be available for people to try out which include using marbles and maps to calculate pi.
Have a safe and happy Pi Day.