The History of Pi

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  • Topic: Pi, Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, Egyptian mathematics
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The History of Pi
The History of Pi
Most individuals who have a general mathematical education that touches on the basics of geometry commonly know pi. The definition of pi is the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of the circle (Smoller, 2001). The majority of the population, however, does not realize the history associated with the symbol, which not only spans throughout the centuries but throughout the millenniums. The Babylonians, Egyptians, Archimedes of Syracuse, Leonardo of Pisa, Francois Viete, Leonhard Euler, Asian mathematicians such as Liu Hiu, Tsu Ch’ung-Chih, Arya Bhatta, Gottfried Leibniz, Isaac Newton, William Jones, John Machin. George Buffon and Srinivasa Ramanujan, have all played a role in the enriched past of this important mathematical symbol. The ancient Babylonians dates back to the 18th century BCE and reigned in Mesopotamia. The Babylonia, even though it declined drastically in the 17th century, existed until 539 when the Persians consumed Babylonia (Kjeilen, 2009). During this time, they made magnificentstructures with archways that held religious emphasis. The Babylonians used a developed mathematical system, which included six as the root number as opposed to 10 which are commonly used today (Kjeilen, 2009). Even though the Babylonians has a variation on their mathematical system, they calculated the area of a circle by taking three times the square of its radius. One old Babylonian tablet, from Babylonia’s more prosperous era, indicated that they had a value of pi, which was 3.125 (Smoller, 2001). Egyptians are renowned for their architectural skills including works such as the pyramids, obelisks, or even the sphinx. Without their mathematical prowess, the Egyptians would be unable to create such marvels. The Rhind Papyrus gives modern mathematicians a glimpse into the technique used to solve problems. The Rhind Papyrus received its name fromAlexander Henry Rhind (1833-1863) who was both a Scottish lawyer as well as an Egyptologist (PiDay International, 2008). Alexander Rhind was able to procure the papyrus in a market located in Luxor, Egypt. This document is sometimes referred to as the Ahmes Papyrus as well and takes its name from the Egyptian scribe who created it (PiDay International, 2008). The Rhind Papyrus contains over 80mathematical problems that shows the methods used to find the answer. Years after Rhind Papyrus was originally purchased, it was finally decoded.One of the problems contains the rule to finding the area of a circle. According to the decoded information, the Egyptians showed that the calculation for pi was 3.16 or for a more exact answer 256/81 (Dyer, 2008). The Bible is a compilation of various books. Unlike the previous two examples of ancient mathematics, this example has been read continuously all over the world and can be found in more than a few households. In I Kings 7:23-26, a large cauldron from the Temple of Solomon is described: “He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it. Below the rim, gourds encircled it - ten to a cubit. The gourds were cast in two rows in one piece with the Sea. The Sea stood on twelve bulls, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south and three facing east. The Sea rested on top of them, and their hindquarters were toward the center. It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths.” (NIV) (Dutch, 2002, ¶ 4). Phoenician artisans created this cauldron. This description includes information such as depth, volume, wall thickness, but an estimate of pi was also included. As the definition states, pi is a ratio. The ratio stated in this statement is 30/10. Theordore Rybka solved for pi using this biblical information and obtained the answer as three (Dutch, 2002). In China a mathematician by the name of Liu...
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