Imagine, if you will, a very long piece of ropethat loops around the Earth, fitting it tightly around the equator like a belt. If you wanted to raise this rope off the surface by one metre all around, how much more rope will you need?
The length of rope is the same as the circumference of the Earth which is 40,075km (24,901 miles). Ergo, it is easy to think that you would need kilometres of rope to extend it enough to float a metre off the Earth’s surface. However, in reality you need a mere 6.28m of extra rope to achieve this.
The reason is extremely simple, mathematically speaking. The circumference of any given circle is given by the equation 2πr, where r is the radius of the circle. Therefore, if you increase r by 1 unit (e.g. 1m), then the circumference increases by 2π x 1 = 2π = 6.28. No matter how large the circle may be, this rule does not change.
(This is a famous maths riddle, but here’s a much more interesting application of the concept in this What If? article. God I love that blog! http://what-if.xkcd.com/67/)
Pi (π) a mathematical constant that is defined as the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It is approximately equal to 3.14159, but since it is an irrational number (cannot be expressed as a ratio), the decimal places go on and on with no repeating segments. The history of pi extends back to almost 5000 years ago, as it plays such a crucial role in geometry, such as finding the area of a circle (A = π ²). It is not an understatement to say that pi is among the top five most important numbers discovered in history (0, 1, i and e being the others).
The interesting thing about pi is that it is an irrational number. As mentioned above, this means that pi has an infinite number of non-repeating decimal places, with numbers appearing in random sequence. For example, pi to a 30 decimal places is 3.141592653589793238462643383279… Because of this feature, pi contains all possible sequences and combinations of numbers at a certain point. The corollary to this fact is, if pi is converted into binary code (a number system of only 0 and 1, used by computers to encode information), somewhere in that infinite string of digits is every combination of digits, letters and symbols imaginable. The name of every person you will ever love. The date, time and manner of your death. Answers to all the great questions of the universe. All of this is encoded in one letter: π.
What is the most “beautiful” mathematical equation? For millenia, many mathematical formulas and concepts have been described as beautiful (and some defining beauty, as the golden ratio does). In the mathematical world, the adjective “beautiful” is used in the sense that certain mathematical concepts, despite the fact they are rational and objective, are so pure, simple and elegant that they can only be described as art.
One such formula is Euler’s identity:
Renowned physicist Richard Feynman described it as “the most remarkable formula in mathematics”. What makes this array of symbols and numbers so beautiful? Firstly, it contains the three basic arithmetic operations exactly once each: addition, multiplication and exponentiation. It also connects five fundamental mathematical constants with nothing other than themselves and the arithmetic operations.
0 is the additive identity, as adding it to another number results in the original number. 1 is the multiplicative identity for the same reason as 0. Pi(π) is one of the most important mathematical constants in the history of mathematics that is ubiquitous in Euclidean geometry and trigonometry. Euler’s number(e) is the base of natural logarithms and is used widely in mathematical and scientific analysis. i(√-1) is the imaginary unit of complex numbers, a field of imaginary numbers that are not “real”, allowing for the calculation of all roots of polynomials. Euler’s identity neatly sums up the relation between these five numbers that are so crucial in the field of mathematics. It is also interesting to note that these five numbers were discovered at different points in history spanning over 3000 years.
Some people describe mathematics as a distinct language in itself. Not only that, but mathematics is considered the universal language as it is both universal and ubiquitous. If that is the case, than Euler’s identity can be considered an extremely pithy literary masterpiece.