Saturday 3 July 2010

Who has Pi On His Tombstone?

My family know I'm a math history nut, so I'm fair game for "Do you know..?" questions.

While waiting for the Blue Angels airshow performance at the 2010 Cherry Festival in Traverse City and picnicking with my family, my sister-in-law, Kerry Sue, popped up with "Who has the first fifteen (she obviously meant 35) digits of Pi on their tombstone?"

Fortunately, I guessed right, but realized I had never written anything (wasn't even sure I had seen a picture of the tombstone) about this memorial. With a little prompting I found this site at the AMS that has a picture of the memorial in Leiden (which I took part of above).

It seems that Kerry's question came almost exactly ten years after the memorial had been replaced. On July 5, 2000 a very special ceremony took place in the St.Pieterskerk (St.Peter's Church) at Leiden, the Netherlands . On that date a replica of the original tombstone of Ludolph van Ceulen was placed into the Church to replace the one which had disappeared. Van Ceulen bound the circumference of a circle with a diameter of one between two rational fractions, The smaller, expressed as a decimal is 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288, and the larger is the same up to the last digit.

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