Math Department Offers Activities and Pi(e) for Special Occasion

March 13, 2015
Wellesley's math department celebrates Pi Day

This Saturday, scientists, mathematicians, and number aficionados around the world will join in an exuberant celebration: March 14, or 3/14, is Pi Day. Because Pi Day falls on 3/14/15 this year, it is especially momentous. Wellesley pi enthusiasts are invited to mark the occasion by partaking in a range of pi-related activities hosted by the Mathematics Department at its Ultimate Pi Day Celebration. 

Regardless of discipline, most students have encountered π, the mathematical constant for the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Pi is an irrational number with a value that was recognized but not calculated to more than seven digits by ancient civilizations. New computational approaches of the 21st century combined with advanced technology have extended the decimal representation of π; recently, it reached a valuation of more than 13.3 trillion digits.

To honor the day, the math department has organized activities to engage students in understanding (and enjoying) the number, such as tossing discs (with a line drawn along a diameter) onto lined paper (where the lines of the paper are spaced so they are twice the diameter of the disc). Players will estimate pi by counting how many of the lines on the discs cross lines on the paper. 

That type of engagement embodies the math department’s philosophy. “We try to promote a culture in which students work collaboratively and are involved in a variety of Mathematics Department activities to complement their coursework,” says Ann Trenk, professor of mathematics and chair of the department. For example, each week, the department holds a seminar during which students present mathematics talks over lunch. In the fall, students can join the “Math Games” team competition and also participate in a problem-solving seminar that leads up to the national William Lowell Putnam Mathematical Competition. The department has cherished end-of-year traditions as well, including a dinner for seniors and the Ultimate Frisbee game played against members of the computer science department. 

While traditions are important to the department, so is branching out to include different topics. “The department is entering an exciting phase in which we are expanding our offerings into the applied [mathematics] area,” says Stanley Chang, Whitehead associate professor of critical thought and associate professor of mathematics, with new courses being offered in subjects such as cryptography and privacy. 

Join Wellesley’s math department Saturday in the Science Center starting at 9 a.m. for pi(e), pi-themed games, and a countdown to what is being billed as “the ultimate moment of the ultimate Pi Day”: 3/14/15, at 9:26 a.m. 53.5 seconds.

–Jocelyn Wong ’15 contributed to this story.