(copied from AOL, I think they can afford it)
Fast Facts About the History of Pi
Have Some Pie and Celebrate This Unique Number
By JUSTIN CLEARY, AOL RESEARCH AND LEARN
The Greek letter Pi became the number's symbol when Welsh mathematician William Jones introduced the notation in 1706.
(March 14) - Certain scientific and mathematical principles are irreplaceable cornerstones of modern discovery. One of the most fundamental of these is a number commonly called “Pi”. This number, defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its radius, is universally applicable and ranks among math and science’s most important concepts – after all, how many other non-integers have their own button on many calculators? Each March 14, scholars celebrate Pi Day in recognition of the number's first three digits: 3.14. Read on to learn about the history of Pi’s discovery, a legislative attempt to fudge its value and how mystics hijacked its significance.
3.14159265358979323846…: The first 20 decimal places of Pi were not always known. The ancient Chinese recognized the number’s concept and estimated its value to be approximately three. The most accurate ancient estimates came from Archimedes (around 250 B.C.) and Ptolemy (around 150 B.C.), who used geometric methods to determine Pi. These brilliant tactics led to an approximation of Pi equal to 3.1416. Given the comparatively crude measuring equipment available to these scholars, this 99.999% accurate estimate is astounding.
Nerds Struggle to Get Digits: As technology became more advanced, the quest for more accurate estimate for Pi escalated. Ludolph van Ceulen, a 16th century mathematician, computed 35 correct digits of Pi after decades of work. While many worked on the task over the years, the project gained steam with the invention of computers. Researchers at the University of Tokyo announced that they had discovered 1.24 trillion digits as of Oct. 2002.
We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Just as the battle over evolution in Kansas is today's major effort to legislate appropriate book learnin’, Indiana once had a fierce dispute over the value of Pi. In 1897, Dr. Edwin Goodwin introduced a bill to the Indiana legislature that officially pegged the value of Pi at 3.2, reverting to a 2500 year old estimate of the real number. As scholars cringed, the bill was unanimously passed in the house. Luckily, the intervention of a Purdue University professor killed the bill in the Senate. Although not defined in the bill, one has to wonder: what would be the punishment for breaking the Pi = 3.2 law in Indiana?
The Nostradamus of Numbers: Numerology has not missed the significance of Pi. This practice involves studying numerical patterns in letters and interpreting their mathematical significance. One popular numerological analysis is of a Bible passage describing the dimensions of a circle. Such analysis adds the letters of certain phrases in a system similar to A=1, B=2, etc. In short, the Biblical phrase “a line of thirty cubits encircled it” divided by the phrase “ten cubits” yields 3.16. The proximity of this number to the actual value of Pi has been used as evidence to prove that the Bible contains secret codes. These codes can allegedly be used to predict future events including WWII and the invention of the Internet.
Uses of Pi: Just about every high school graduate has used Pi at one time or another. When it comes to circles, Pi is all important. The number in many calculations including the area of a circle and the volume of a cylinder or a sphere. Although these are useful formulas, the practical applications of extended values Pi are limited. Do a tire’s dimensions have to correspond to the 10,000th digit to make its design effective? Certainly not. As with many scientific pursuits, however, the search for Pi’s digits result in the development of new research techniques and methods. In short, discovery begets discovery.
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