Purdue professor protected pi from half-baked bill in 1800s

March 14, 2014  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — 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 Legislature 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 and has not yet been found to ever turn 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 http://www.math.purdue.edu/~egoins/site/Indiana Pi Bill.html and is available to discuss the importance and history of pi.

"If not for Waldo's intervention, the state of Indiana and Hoosiers everywhere would be the laughingstock of the world for legislating pi as 3.2," Goins said. "This is a proud piece of Purdue history to remember on this year's National Pi Day." 

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu 

Source: Edray Goins, 765-494-1936, egoins@math.purdue.edu

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