UNO Drums Up New Interest in Pi Day

Last Wednesday, March 14, various UNO organizations commemorated Pi Day with events full of pi – or pie – puns, games and food.

The number pi is about 3.1459265358, and its symbol is π, the Greek letter for p. It comes from dividing the length of a circle’s edge by the width of that circle, but its digits continue infinitely. That is, there is no “last digit” of pi. So the date 3/14 is the closest date to the actual number, and that’s the day people celebrate its existence.

In 1989, a physicist named Larry Shaw was the first to celebrate the day at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, inviting guests to walk around a circular plaque – the “Pi Shrine” – pi times and sing “Happy Birthday” to Albert Einstein, whose birthday also falls on that day.

Says Australian Professor Jon Borwein, “At first Pi Day was a gimmick and a bit of a joke, but now it is a big deal.” Across North America, schools are creating pi-related activities to interest students in mathematics.

UNO’s version of the annual celebration involved events throughout the day and all over campus. Many activities were open to the general public, as well as students and faculty. Privateer Place housing staff offered free pieces of pie to its residents. The UNO Orientation Leaders held a pieing event in the quad in front of the library.

But the star of the show was the American Mathematical Society’s (AMS) all-day celebration. The UNO chapter of the AMS teamed up with library administration to offer a variety of diversions, beginning with a “walk-a-thon” at 9 a.m. Guests met in front of the library to walk 3.14 kilometers on a path that wrapped around the music building, followed Leon C. Simon Drive down to Founders Avenue, approached Privateer Place and then looped back to the library.

At 10 a.m., students took the “Olympiad Test,” a competition that involved challenging problems focused around the special number. At noon, a Haydel’s Bakery pie-eating contest took place in the library breezeway, and from 12:45 to 2:15, students watched the 1998 psychological thriller “Pi” in the Privateer Pride room on the first floor of the library, where the AMS provided snacks.

Simultaneously, everyone was invited to join a couple rounds of “Jeo-pi-rdy Quiz Bowl” with AMS President Raphael Mariano as host. The questions were categorized and scored like a traditional game of “Jeopardy!” and they ranged from mathematical topics to Pokémon trivia and nursery rhymes.

Afterwards, Dr. Joel Webb from the department of mathematics lectured on the history of the famous number, and the festivities closed with an awards ceremony that ended at exactly 3:14 p.m.

A collaboration between the math department and key members of the library’s faculty, including Lora Amsberryaugier, the event was made possible through support by Haydel’s Bakery, the UNO Federal Credit Union, and UNO Athletics.