Math Lovers Celebrate Pi Day

Three-Point-One-Four
Zorigoo Tugsbayar

The Department of Mathematics celebrated Pi day with cake and refreshments for the community. Pi is used to represent the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, which is approximately 3.14159.

Amidst rowdy campus-wide Housing Day celebrations, a group of math-loving students and professors held a party of their own in the Science Center math common room Thursday to mark Pi Day, the March 14 holiday that represents the first three digits of the mathematical constant pi.

The event, organized by the Harvard Undergraduate Mathematics Association, gave students and faculty an opportunity to discuss math while celebrating the study of numbers in a lighthearted atmosphere.

The event began with a recitation contest in which students recalled as many digits of pi from memory as possible while impressed onlookers gorged on five flavors of pie and ice cream. Attendees’ memories varied vastly—one person remembered only one digit, while others recited more than 200.

David J. Liu ’15 said he began memorizing pi in eighth grade after his math teacher promised him that he could throw a pie at his teacher’s face if he memorized 100 digits of pi. On Thursday, Liu belted out 205 digits of the mathematical constant.

Defending champion Samantha J. Whitmore ’13, who successfully recalled pi to 224 digits, once again took the top spot in Thursday’s competition. Whitmore has attended and won three pi-reciting contests this year alone.

Shifting gears, the room hushed when mathematics professor Noam D. Elkies began performing a piano composition he wrote eight years ago that encodes the first 244 digits of pi.

At 3:14 p.m., the pie-eating contest began. Participants employed various strategies to consume as much pie as possible in 3 minutes and 14 seconds. Some chowed down on their pies like pizzas while others daintily used forks and knives.

William H. Marks ’12-’13, an inactive Crimson business editor, was declared the winner after eating 1 and 1/16 of a pie. When asked how he felt about winning the pie-eating contest, Marks responded “really full,” and said that he was representing Mather House in the contest.

Visiting mathematics professor William W. Dunham concluded the nerdy festivities with a talk called “A Celebration of Pi,” in which he sketched the story of mathematicians who hunted for the digits of pi as well as Leonhard Euler’s solutions to the Basel Problem, in which pi plays a critical role.

Attendees said they enjoyed the opportunity to meet others interested in math at the event—and also remarked on the excellent free dessert.

Isabel M. Vogt ’14 said the food was “delicious” and noted the “impressive spread of pies ranging from blueberry to pumpkin.”

William Z. Chen ’14 enjoyed the “fantastic” talk about the history of math, which allowed him to see “how historical figures in math interacted with each other.”

For Chen, the coupling of Housing Day and Pi Day made this the best Pi Day of his life. “There is so much awesomeness and cheering and food. I skipped classes today to do Housing day and Pi Day, and I don’t regret it,” Chen said.

—Staff writer Melody Y. Guan can be reached at yguan@college.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @MelodyGuan.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: March 18, 2013

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the class year of William Z. Chen ’14.

Tags