Bringing Pi Digits to Life

Published on Thursday, February 21, 2013 in , , ,

Mehran Moghtadaei's Pi Digit GraphicIt's one thing to be able to memorize 400 digits of Pi. It's another thing altogether to be able to make the feat memorable and interesting for you audience.

Sure, 400 is an impressive number of Pi digits to memorize, but what do 400 digits really mean? What kind of detail are we talking about?

Numberphile, who has done numerous Pi videos already, has recently released a new video about Pi and the size of the universe, that starts to give you an idea of the sense of Pi's scale:

It almost seems strange that so few digits should be able to take us from the width of a hydrogen atom all the way up to the diameter of the universe. Each place in Pi (as in the tenths, the hundredths, the thousandths, and so on) represents a place that's smaller than the previous one by a factor of 10. There's a classic 1977 film called Powers of 10 that does a wonderful job of dramatizing just how few power of 10 are needed to cover the entire scale of the universe:

This film may look familiar, either because you may have seen it in school, or you've seen one of its parodies, such as in Men In Black, Contact, or The Simpsons.

A good way of keep thing in mind is Tim Rowett's poem, Space:

Seven steps each ten million to one
Describe the whole space dimension
The Atom, Cell’s girth
Our bodies, the Earth
Sun’s System, our Galaxy – done!

– Tim Rowett, Three Limericks – On Space, Time and Speed
BetterExplained.com's article on how the digits of Pi were determined in ancient times gives you a sense of scale in a different manner, and is done so with their usual startling clarity.

As I've mentioned before, memorization and understanding together give you a more complete picture than either could ever do separately.

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