Math Department Celebrates Transcendental Ratio

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Vilsa E. Curto

For lovers of pi, their love knows no limits—transcending languages, flavors, and art forms.

Yesterday marked the Mathematics Department’s seventh annual Pi Day, and the afternoon’s festivities featured recitation competitions, eating contests, and a musical performance—all in the name of the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.

Serena J. Rezny ’07 successfully recited pi to its 1058th digit, beating out the four other contestants and surpassing the record of 866 digits that she set last year.

“Just like somebody likes to remember poetry, I like math, so I like to remember pi,” said Rezny, an applied math concentrator who has practised reciting pi for six years and is a three-time winner of the department’s pi-recitation contest.

While Yajun Zhou only recited pi to its 200th digit, he did it in 10 different languages.

After fluently reciting pi in Chinese and English, Zhou slowed down as he enumerated 20 digits in French, German, Italian, Japanese, Russian, Spain, Thai, and Turkish.

The master of ceremonies, Professor of Mathematics Noam D. Elkies, and Petschek Professor of Mathematics Clifford Taubes were on hand to check the recitations with their pi charts.

“Hai!” Elkies said, using the Japanese word for “yes” to confirm Zhou’s Japanese recitation.

“Pi in my mind is an image of digits,” said Zhou, a third-year graduate student in chemistry. “It’s neutral of languages.”

James R. Niles-Joyal, a music major from Boston College, attempted to recite pi to 3,141 places, in honor of the first four digits. His efforts were truncated after he made a mistake at the 612th digit.

The unofficial world record is held by Akira Haraguchi, who recited pi to 100,000 decimal places in Japan last fall, but did not register his feat with Guinness.

Pi also proved to be more than a mouthful for contenders in the pie-eating contest, which featured apple, blueberry, coconut, and custard flavored pies.

After three minutes and 14 seconds, only one out of the five contenders managed to consume more than one pie. And he wasn’t a math concentrator—biochemistry concentrator Ian D. Duff ’09 swallowed a total of 1.625 pounds of pie.

Originally a celebration exclusive to the math department, Pi Day has become an annual event attended by faculty and students of various fields.

During the celebration, Elkies performed a piano piece he had composed from notes corresponding to the digits of pi, embellishing the base melody with colorful variations.

Elkies said that the department would continue to commemorate pi next year, and invited the audience to return: “See you in 366 days!”