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Come to the Math Side: We Have Pi

Mar 12, 2019

This coming Thursday is March 14th, or 3.14 as we write it in the US, which means, it’s Pi Day! Most of us are aware of the famous set of numbers (well, maybe not the entire set of numbers, unless you’re one of those people on YouTube who can recite 5,000+ numbers in pi) but most of us may not be aware of the bigger implications of pi and how it shows up every day to do its job for us. What does 3.14 mean? Why is so important? Why should we ALL be celebrating Pi Day? Read on to find out more about how pi is involved in our everyday lives. 

Sound Waves

We hear sounds all the time all day. Some we love, some we hate. Some sounds have to travel quite a distance to reach our ears, take, watching reruns of Friends on TV. Sound travels in waves and these waves are mathematically expressed in freqencies, or circles that just repeat themselves over and over again. Anything that has a circle in is involves pi, because pi is a ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. So, when you are watching television, you’re tuning in to a particular frequency, which is expressed as lots of repeating circles, thus, television uses pi. This same reasoning can also be applied to any situation where frequencies are used, say talking on the phone with a friend. The reason why their voice sounds distinctly like them through the phone is because of all the pi in those circles making up frequencies that help get original content (your friend’s voice) to you in a recognizable way. 

The Universe

If you look up at the night sky too see all the stars – all the potential solar systems outside of our galaxy – you will see pi everywhere! Planets are believed to be relatively spherical and their orbits are also very close to circular. The light that’s received from stars also appears in a sphere shape. Beyond actually shapes we can see, pi is used universal calculations. It can be used to determine how fast the Earth is spinning on its axis, it’s used to calculate distances from point to point in our galaxy and it’s in the equation that determines a star’s energy. That’s a lot of pi in the sky!

Engineering

Pi is used in many different professions on a daily basis, despite that one might not actually be using the calculation. Anytime you use a computer, you’re using pi or anytime you’re sitting in a building with an arch or round columns, you’re surrounded by pi. Engineers, however, often put practical use to pi in their designs. Think of all things circular and cylindrical that engineers have to design – tires, tubes, gaskets, cylinders, piping – all of these include using pi in their calculations for design. 

Nature

In nature, pi can be pretty obvious as there are lots of circles in nature. Crop circles, fairy circles (bare areas of earth surrounded by circular rings of grass that appear in various parts of Africa), eyeballs, spots on a leopard – they all have noticeably circular shapes and contain pi. Going deeper, are ways that pi is actually involved in formulas and patterns in nature outside of just circles. One of these examples: rivers. It has been found that is you take the length of the path a river carves out and divide it by the distance from the source of the river to the ocean, then divide that number by what distance the river would be if it were a straight line from its source to ocean, it averages to pi. This is the case with rivers all over the world! 

Genetics

Have you ever heard the phrase we are all made of pi? Well, it’s true. As much pie as some of us may eat, we aren’t talking about apple or lemon pie, or pizza. Pi, as in 3.14159…, is in every living species, because it’s a part of DNA. DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid (whew, that’s a mouthful!), is what gives every living thing genetic instruction for how it should turn out. DNA is wound around in the human body in strands. These strands are bonded together in what is called a double helix structure, which looks like a windy ladder with rungs between the two strands of DNA. What does this have to do with pi? Those rungs are actually made of pi. They’re  called Pi Bonds, so literally every organism on earth has pi in their genetic structure. We are all made of pi! 

Whether you knowingly use pi to make calculations in your everyday life or you’re simply just using it by, well, existing, perhaps you want to give this constant number a pat on the back by celebrating Pi Day this year. We can’t think of another number that deserves it more. 

Happy Pi Day (and week!) from Mathnasium of Littleton! Check out these fun activities to do in celebration of Pi Day.