On Thursday, March 14, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) held events to celebrate the holiday known as Pi Day. The reason for this nomenclature is that, in the United States’s date-writing system, March 14 is written as "3/14," which are the first three digits of the irrational mathematical number, pi. Not only is Pi Day a noteworthy day for Illinois Tech as a STEM-centric community, but it holds a particularly special place for AWM and the applied mathematics department given its mathematical origins and significance.
In the days leading up to Pi Day, the AWM Facebook page had a countdown to Pi Day, and each day, the page would post a picture of an AWM executive board member holding up a whiteboard with a pi-related mathematical equation on it. Additionally, a week before, President Jolie Pirner and treasurer Emily Piszczek, with assistance from member Hannah Aagaard, painted a window on the MTCC Bridge not only to promote AWM’s activities but also to be a commemoration and tribute to the holiday of Pi Day itself.
On the day of Pi Day, Murphy’s Law was out in-full-force: the store we had ordered the pies from had run out of pies, which we as math majors probably should have been able to build a predictive model to have seen coming. However, that did not set AWM back, because our president went out to purchase the pies herself, ensuring the continued smooth operations of our events. The morning’s pie crisis resolved, AWM set up our table on the MTCC Bridge and the festivities began. We had a pi reciting competition: people who could recite more than 25 digits of pi got to pie President Pirner or member Rena Haswah in the face (fun fact: whipped cream on a paper plate, given a sufficient initial velocity, has a surprisingly wide blast radius). The winner of that competition was Will Roller, who was able to recite 169 digits of pi!
We also had a circle drawing competition to see who could free-hand draw the best circle. When Haswah and I had first instantiated that idea, I thought it would be simple to look up a pre-existing algorithm that would numerically calculate the eccentricity of a hand-drawn circle; contrary to my supposition, none such algorithm exists. Because of that, Haswah and myself have spent the past several weeks speaking to both math and computer science professors about how to go about writing an algorithm to determine how close a hand-drawn circle is to being a perfect circle. On the day of Pi Day, we used a circular regression model put together by Haswah and Michael Elnajami.
I would like to give special thanks to Professor Sara Zelenberg for sitting down with us to provide advice on not only the code writing but also some of the ideas that were implemented. I’d additionally like to thank Professors Michael Pelsmajer, Robert Ellis, Fred Hickernell, Lulu Kang, Aleksey Zelenberg, Jawahar Panchal, Paul Musial, and Matthew Bauer for allowing us to consult them on some of the mathematical and computer science concepts and behind this entire pursuit. It was extremely interesting and intriguing to hear the different ideas and methods through which each of those professors approached the problem, especially since they represent a wide cross-section of research fields.
Amidst all of these events, AWM was handing out free pie and free buttons. I personally was extremely happy with how all of our Pi Day events turned out, and I hope the same holds true for all those who partook in our events. Nerdy events like Pi Day are what I believe capture the essence and spirit of what I love not just about the culture of the math department, but about the culture of Illinois Tech as a community.