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Caltech students get a piece of the pie on Pi Day

On 3/14 at 1:59 a.m., students at the Pasadena school dug into 26 each of five kinds of pie. The first digits of pi are 3.14159265. 'It's a celebration of nerdiness,' says the math club president.

March 14, 2013|By Joseph Serna, Los Angeles Times
  • Daniel Gomez, 18, left, and Elliot Simon, 18, freshmen at Caltech in Pasadena, string colored paper loops across the campus. The 15,000 links were one of nine colors, each representing the numbers of pi in order, from 3.14 to the next 14,997 digits.
Daniel Gomez, 18, left, and Elliot Simon, 18, freshmen at Caltech in Pasadena,… (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)

For most people, March 14 is just another day.

But for math fans and self-proclaimed nerds out there, the day — or, more specifically, the fact that it is 3/14 — is a day to celebrate one of the most important numbers in all of mathematics: pi.

So what better way for pi fans to celebrate Pi Day than with … pie?

A minute before 2 a.m. on Thursday, students at Caltech in Pasadena dug into 130 pies laid out for them outside student housing. There were 26 each of five different kinds of pie. Follow that? So on 3/14 at 1:59 a.m., there were 26 each of five kinds of pie. None is by chance. The first digits of pi are 3.14159265.

"It's a celebration of nerdiness," said Christopher Perez, president of Caltech's math club. "Pi literally shows up everywhere — in science, in math and nature. A circle is such a fundamental concept."

Pi is that Greek symbol that roughly looks like a lowercase "n" that math teachers told students to just punch into the calculator as 3.14. But actually, the numbers carry on much farther than that. Pi, which is used to calculate the circumference of a circle, has no end to its decimal places.

But supercomputers have so far calculated the number out to 10 trillion. That's 10,000,000,000,000.

"This was perfect because Caltech students never sleep," said Jeffrey Sherman, a junior whose hair was still soggy from having cherry pie mashed into it.

Freshman Margaret Lee would agree with that statement. In her first year at the university, the physics student wanted to see how she could link Pi Day to the campus. She succeeded with flying colors.

At 4 a.m., Lee and a group of friends began hanging a chain of 15,000 colored paper loops across the campus. The paper links were one of nine colors, each representing the numbers of pi in order, from 3.14 to the next 14,997 digits.

"People appreciate it here," she said. "We're kind of nerdy and we like science and math."

Lee estimated the chain stretches half a mile. She said it should be up through next week, when students are taking their finals.

joseph.serna@latimes.com

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