March 11, 2016  

Did You Know?: Purdue and Indiana's Pi Bill

Clarence Abiathar Waldo

Purdue mathematics professor Clarence Abiathar Waldo. (Photo provided by Purdue Archives and Special Collections)
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National Pi Day is celebrated each year on March 14, or 3-14,  in honor of the mathematical constant's common representation of 3.14. But if a little-remembered bill introduced to the Indiana General Assembly in the late 1800s had passed, it would have soured pi for Hoosier history.

Pi is a number defined as the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter and is commonly approximated as 3.14159. However, its decimal representation actually goes on forever, no one yet has found a place at which it turns into a repeating pattern.

In 1896, Indiana physician and amateur mathematician Edwin Goodwin believed he had a new mathematical recipe for pi and proposed a bill that would have legislated pi, incorrectly, as 3.2. Purdue mathematics professor Clarence Abiathar Waldo pointed out mistakes in Goodwin's calculations, and the Pi Bill was tabled by the Indiana Senate -- destined to become a nearly forgotten slice of pi history.

Edray Goins, a Purdue associate professor of mathematics, has detailed this history on his website at Pi Bill.html.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, 

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