S&T students show how high they can count pi

March 14 (or 3.14) is Pi Day, an unofficial holiday celebrated by math lovers everywhere.

March 14 (or 3.14) is Pi Day, an unofficial holiday celebrated by math lovers everywhere.

Missouri University of Science and Technology student David Copeland knows his pi – all the way to 791 decimal places. And that knowledge recently landed him some tasty rewards.

Copeland, a senior computer science major at Missouri S&T from Creve Coeur, Mo., recited 791 decimal numbers of pi as part of Missouri S&T’s Pi Day contest. For his effort, he received a Raspberry Pi – a pocket-sized computer – courtesy of the Missouri S&T Bookstore, as well as gift certificates for dessert from A Slice of Pie, pizza from Chartwells Food Service at Missouri S&T, and pizza from the Rolla Papa John’s and Domino’s restaurants.

Pi represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Copeland’s recitation of 791 digits of pi earned him first place in the competition.

Pi Day is an unofficial holiday that celebrates the number. It is held every March 14 because the first three digits of pi (3.14) correspond to the date’s month/day format (3.14).

Pi is irrational number, which means that it cannot be represented as a simple fraction and its decimal representation never ends or repeats.

Watch Copeland and others recite pi into the triple digits in this Pi Day video

A love of numbers

“I’ve always liked numbers,” Copeland says, “and I’ve always had a good way of visualizing number values.” He started memorizing pi “about a year and a half ago” after learning that a friend had memorized 180 digits of the number.

“I thought I could do better,” he says. “I looked up 1,000 digits and began practicing the digits on my half-mile walk to class every day.”

Previously, Copeland has recited 1,000 digits of pi. “I don’t plan to continue learning more,” he says. “It’s not that I couldn’t learn more, it would just be at the expense of life experiences and more important things.”

Copeland hasn’t yet determined how he’ll use his Raspberry Pi. “Maybe I’ll keep it as a trophy,” he says. “It’s more likely that I’ll make it into a media server.”

A video about the Pi Day competition is available online and is featured in the March newsletter of Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader.

Copeland was not the only Missouri S&T student to participate, and to recite pi into the triple digits. Other participants in Missouri S&T’s Pi Day competition were:

  • Byron Erard of St. Louis, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, who recited pi to 381 decimals.
  • Kanakam Teja Maddala of Machilipatnam, Andhra Pradesh, India, a graduate student in electrical engineering, who recited pi to 280 decimals.
  • Steven Enke of St. Peters, Mo., a junior in computer engineering, who recited pi to 260 decimals.
  • Niroop Matta of Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, India, a graduate student in aerospace engineering, who recited pi to 214 decimals.
  • Chris Beusterien of Greenwood, Mo., a junior in electrical engineering, who recited pi to 203 decimals.
  • Greg Nelson of North Andover, Mass., a senior in information science and technology, who recited pi to 161 decimals.
  • Shelby McNeil of Republic, Mo., a senior in applied mathematics, who recited pi to 41 decimals.
  • Jon Silberhorn of Rolla, a senior in mechanical engineering, who recited pi to 20 decimals.

All participants received gift certificates for pizza, dessert or both.