A Day for Pi and Pies

On Pi Day at HRL Labs in 2018, company executives served 50 pies to the staff. From 1:59 p.m. (get it?)  to 3 p.m., about 10 managers and directors were on hand to cut and serve strawberry pies.

March 14 was Pi Day—the day to celebrate the mathematical constant pi (π) and to eat lots of pie. It’s also the annual celebration of a never-ending infinite number, as well as Albert Einstein’s birthday (he was born March 14, 1879). Pi Day, which became a national holiday in 2009, is celebrated in countries that follow the month/day date format, because the digits in the date March 14 or 3/14 are the first three digits of π (3.14). 

Pi or π is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, also referred to as Archimedes’ constant. Fractions like 22/7 are commonly used to approximate it. The number of decimal places go to infinity, so pi is written as 3.1459 or 3.14 for mathematical purposes.

The first 10 digits of pi (π) are 3.1415926535, but the value of the number pi was calculated to a new world record length of 31 trillion digits by Emma Haruka Iwao, a Google employee from Japan, on March 14, 2019.

Pi Day was founded by Physicist Larry Shaw in 1988 while employed at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. He created and installed the “Pi Shrine” and led a parade around the museum with a boom box blasting the digits of π to the music of “Pomp and Circumstance.” The parade ended by circumnavigating the Pi Shrine 3.14 times while singing “Happy Birthday” to Albert Einstein.

HRL Laboratories (formerly Hughes Research Laboratories) is typically the largest and perhaps only place in Malibu that formally celebrates Pi Day, which is not surprising. HRL has over 500 employees, with 99 percent holding advanced degrees. Eighty-two percent have doctoral degrees in fields like physics, mathematics and engineering. They work in world-class physical science and engineering research laboratories, making contributions to national defense, the auto industry and many other fields. What bigger concentration of math nerds could there be?

HRL celebrates Pi Day by eating pie, although this year they decided to cancel the celebration due to COVID-19 precautions. However, we can assume that many employees, along with thousands of other number enthusiasts around the world, celebrated at home this year.

Pie not only sounds like pi, but a whole pie is a circle, and cutting the pie in half represents the diameter—the perfect representation of pi. And yes, pizza pie “counts.”