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* * *An irrational number (See also transcendental number), it has an approximate value of 3.14, but its exact value must be represented by a symbol, the Greek letter π. Pi is used in calculations involving lengths, areas, and volumes of circles, spheres, cylinders, and cones. It also arises frequently in problems dealing with certain periodic phenomena (e.g., motion of pendulums, alternating electric currents). By the end of the 20th century, computers had calculated pi to more than 200 billion decimal places.
* * *in mathematics, the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. The symbol π was popularized by the Swiss mathematician Leonhard Euler (Euler, Leonhard) in the early 18th century to represent this ratio. Because pi is irrational (not equal to the ratio of any two whole numbers), an approximation, such as 22/7, is often used for everyday calculations; to 31 decimal places pi is 3.1415926535897932384626433832795.The Babylonians (c. 2000 BC) used 3.125 to approximate pi, a value they obtained by calculating the perimeter of a hexagon inscribed within a circle. The Rhind papyrus (c. 1650 BC) indicates that ancient Egyptians used a value of 256/81 or about 3.16045. Archimedes (c. 250 BC) took a major step forward by devising a method to obtain pi to any desired accuracy, given enough patience. By inscribing and circumscribing regular polygons about a circle to obtain upper and lower bounds, he obtained 223/71 < π < 22/7, or an average value of about 3.1418. Archimedes also proved that the ratio of the area of a circle to the square of its radius is the same constant.Over the ensuing centuries, Chinese, Indian, and Arab mathematicians extended the number of decimal places known through tedious calculations, rather than improvements on Archimedes' method. By the end of the 17th century, however, new methods of mathematical analysis in Europe provided improved ways of calculating pi involving infinite series. For example, Sir Isaac Newton (Newton, Sir Isaac) used his binomial theorem to calculate 16 decimal places quickly. Early in the 20th century, the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Ramanujan, Srinivasa) developed exceptionally efficient ways of calculating pi that were later incorporated into computer algorithms. By the end of the 20th century, computers had calculated pi to more than 200,000,000,000 decimal places.Pi occurs in various mathematical problems involving the lengths of arcs or other curves, the areas of ellipses, sectors, and other curved surfaces, and the volumes of many solids. It is also used in various formulas of physics and engineering to describe such periodic phenomena as the motion of pendulums, the vibration of strings, and alternating electric currents.
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