With several associations as boosters, Pi Day became an official national holiday a decade ago, with March 14 dedicated to the mathematical constant 3.14 and promotion of math education.
You don’t have to be a math whiz to appreciate the story of National Pi Day, which earned its official holiday designation 10 years ago this week thanks to a congressional resolution supported by a variety of science and technology associations that wanted to celebrate the famous mathematical constant and promote the importance of math education.
It was a sincere wish driven by organizations like IEEE, TechAmerica, the American Chemical Society, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the Association for Competitive Technology, and TechNet. And with the official recognition of Pi Day, it evolved from a fun idea invented by a physicist into a full-fledged cultural phenomenon complete with hashtags and Google Doodles.
About that physicist: Larry Shaw, who worked at the San Francisco Exploratorium, a nonprofit science museum, came up with the idea in 1988, inspired by the fact that the date matched the first three digits of Pi, 3.14, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Shaw saw it as an opportunity to bring together museum staff. Over the years the occasion grew—especially after Shaw’s daughter realized it was also the birthday of Albert Einstein, which gave it an even stronger tie to science. The day even earned its own exhibit at the museum, the “Pi Shrine.”
Since then, other organizations have joined the celebration and are helping to keep it alive a decade later.
The American Pie Council, for one, has a National Pi Day activity packet [PDF] that ties together math practice and fruity pastry in a single place. (The packet helpfully points out that Linda Hoskins, the trade group’s executive director, was a math major in college.)
Meanwhile, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has a whole resource page handy with Pi-related lesson plans.
Local groups are getting their event on, too. The Downtown Seattle Association, for example, is holding multiple pie-eating contests on Thursday, with prizes for the winners.
And others see the occasion as a prime recruitment opportunity. The Tau Beta Pi Association, an engineering society, is running a membership and fundraising challenge this week—with values set in multiples of Pi, of course. (It’s just one such spring-season membership drive that’s taking place at the moment.)
To put it all another way, there’s a whole lot of Pi going on this week. Dig in.