AskDefine | Define pi

Dictionary Definition



1 the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle [syn: 3.14159265358979323846...]
2 someone who can be employed as a detective to collect information [syn: private detective, private eye, private investigator, operative, shamus, sherlock]
3 the scientist in charge of an experiment or research project [syn: principal investigator]
4 the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet
5 an antiviral drug used against HIV; interrupts HIV replication by binding and blocking HIV protease; often used in combination with other drugs [syn: protease inhibitor]

Extensive Definition

Pi or π is one of the most important mathematical constants, approximately equal to 3.14159. It represents the ratio of any circle's circumference to its diameter in Euclidean geometry, which is the same as the ratio of a circle's area to the square of its radius. Many formulae from mathematics, science, and engineering involve π.
It is an irrational number, which means that it cannot be expressed as a fraction m/n, where m and n are integers. Consequently its decimal representation never ends or repeats. Beyond being irrational, it is a transcendental number, which means that no finite sequence of algebraic operations on integers (powers, roots, sums, etc.) could ever produce it. Throughout the history of mathematics, much effort has been made to determine π more accurately and understand its nature; fascination with the number has even carried over into culture at large.
The Greek letter π, often spelled out pi in text, was adopted for the number from the Greek word for perimeter "περίμετρος", probably by William Jones in 1706, and popularized by Leonhard Euler some years later. The constant is occasionally also referred to as the circular constant, Archimedes' constant (not to be confused with an Archimedes number), or Ludolph's number.


The letter π

The name of the Greek letter π is pi, and this spelling is used in typographical contexts where the Greek letter is not available or where its usage could be problematic. When referring to this constant, the symbol π is always pronounced like "pie" in English, the conventional English pronunciation of the letter. In Greek, the name of this letter is pronounced /pi/.
The constant is named "π" because "π" is the first letter of the Greek words περιφέρεια (periphery) and περίμετρος (perimeter), probably referring to its use in the formula to find the circumference, or perimeter, of a circle. π is Unicode character U+03C0 ("Greek small letter pi").


In Euclidean plane geometry, π is defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter:
\pi = \frac.
The constant π may be defined in other ways that avoid the concepts of arc length and area, for example, as twice the smallest positive x for which cos(x) = 0. The formulas below illustrate other (equivalent) definitions.

Irrationality and transcendence

The constant π is an irrational number; that is, it cannot be written as the ratio of two integers. This was proven in 1761 by Johann Heinrich Lambert. A somewhat earlier similar proof is by Mary Cartwright.
Furthermore, π is also transcendental, as was proven by Ferdinand von Lindemann in 1882. This means that there is no polynomial with rational coefficients of which π is a root. An important consequence of the transcendence of π is the fact that it is not constructible. Because the coordinates of all points that can be constructed with compass and straightedge are constructible numbers, it is impossible to square the circle: that is, it is impossible to construct, using compass and straightedge alone, a square whose area is equal to the area of a given circle.

Numerical value

The numerical value of π truncated to 50 decimal places is:
3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510
See the links below and those at sequence A000796 in OEIS for more digits.
While the value of pi has been computed to more than a trillion (1012) digits, elementary applications, such as calculating the circumference of a circle, will rarely require more than a dozen decimal places. For example, a value truncated to 11 decimal places is accurate enough to calculate the circumference of the earth with a precision of a millimeter, and one truncated to 39 decimal places is sufficient to compute the circumference of any circle that fits in the observable universe to a precision comparable to the size of a hydrogen atom.
Because π is an irrational number, its decimal expansion never ends and does not repeat. This infinite sequence of digits has fascinated mathematicians and laymen alike, and much effort over the last few centuries has been put into computing more digits and investigating the number's properties. Despite much analytical work, and supercomputer calculations that have determined over 1 trillion digits of π, no simple pattern in the digits has ever been found. Digits of π are available on many web pages, and there is software for calculating π to billions of digits on any personal computer.

Calculating π

π can be empirically estimated by drawing a large circle, then measuring its diameter and circumference and dividing the circumference by the diameter. Another geometry-based approach, due to Archimedes, is to calculate the perimeter, Pn , of a regular polygon with n sides circumscribed around a circle with diameter d. Then
\pi = \lim_\frac
i.e., the more sides the polygon has, the closer the approximation.
Archimedes determined the accuracy of this approach by comparing the perimeter of the circumscribed polygon with the perimeter of a regular polygon with the same number of sides inscribed inside the circle.
π can also be calculated using purely mathematical methods. Most formulas used for calculating the value of π have desirable mathematical properties, but are difficult to understand without a background in trigonometry and calculus. However, some are quite simple, such as this form of the Gregory-Leibniz series:
\pi = \frac-\frac+\frac-\frac+\frac-\frac\cdots\! .
While that series is easy to write and calculate, it is not immediately obvious why it yields π. In addition, this series converges so slowly that 300 terms are not sufficient to calculate π correctly to 2 decimal places. However, by computing this series in a somewhat more clever way by taking the midpoints of partial sums, it can be made to converge much faster. Let
\pi_ = \frac, \pi_ =\frac-\frac, \pi_ =\frac-\frac+\frac, \pi_ =\frac-\frac+\frac-\frac, \cdots\!
and then define
\pi_ = \frac for all i,j\ge 1
then computing \pi_ will take similar computation time to computing 150 terms of the original series in a brute force manner, and \pi_=3.141592653\cdots, correct to 9 decimal places. This computation is an example of the Van Wijngaarden transformation.


The history of π parallels the development of mathematics as a whole. Some authors divide progress into three periods: the ancient period during which π was studied geometrically, the classical era following the development of calculus in Europe around the 17th century, and the age of digital computers.

Geometrical period

That the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle is the same for all circles, and that it is slightly more than 3, was known to ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Indian and Greek geometers. The earliest known approximations date from around 1900 BC; they are 25/8 (Babylonia) and 256/81 (Egypt), both within 1% of the true value. as some believe the ratio of 3:1 is of an exterior circumference to an interior diameter of a thinly walled basin, which could indeed be an accurate ratio, depending on the thickness of the walls. See: Biblical value of Pi.
Archimedes (287-212 BC) was the first to estimate π rigorously. He realized that its magnitude can be bounded from below and above by inscribing circles in regular polygons and calculating the outer and inner polygons' respective perimeters:
Around the same time, the methods of calculus and determination of infinite series and products for geometrical quantities began to emerge in Europe. The first such representation was the Viète's formula,
\frac2\pi = \frac2 \cdot \frac2 \cdot \frac2 \cdot \cdots\!
found by François Viète in 1593. Another famous result is Wallis' product,
\frac = \frac \cdot \frac \cdot \frac \cdot \frac \cdot \frac \cdot \frac \cdot \frac \cdot \frac \cdots\!
written down by John Wallis in 1655. Isaac Newton himself derived a series for π and calculated 15 digits, although he later confessed: "I am ashamed to tell you to how many figures I carried these computations, having no other business at the time."
In 1706 John Machin was the first to compute 100 decimals of π, using the formula
\frac = 4 \, \arctan \frac - \arctan \frac\!
\arctan \, x = x - \frac + \frac - \frac + \cdots\!
Formulas of this type, now known as Machin-like formulas, were used to set several successive records and remained the best known method for calculating π well into the age of computers. A remarkable record was set by the calculating prodigy Zacharias Dase, who in 1844 employed a Machin-like formula to calculate 200 decimals of π in his head. The best value at the end of the 19th century was due to William Shanks, who took 15 years to calculate π with 707 digits, although due to a mistake only the first 527 were correct. (To avoid such errors, modern record calculations of any kind are often performed twice, with two different formulas. If the results are the same, they are likely to be correct.)
Theoretical advances in the 18th century led to insights about π's nature that could not be achieved through numerical calculation alone. Johann Heinrich Lambert proved the irrationality of π in 1761, and Adrien-Marie Legendre proved in 1794 that also π2 is irrational. When Leonhard Euler in 1735 solved the famous Basel problem – finding the exact value of
\frac + \frac + \frac + \frac + \cdots\!
which is π2/6, he established a deep connection between π and the prime numbers. Both Legendre and Leonhard Euler speculated that π might be transcendental, a fact that was proved in 1882 by Ferdinand von Lindemann.
William Jones' book A New Introduction to Mathematics from 1706 is cited as the first text where the Greek letter π was used for this constant, but this notation became particularly popular after Leonhard Euler adopted it in 1737. He wrote:

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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