Most of us are familiar with the pi. Why wouldn’t we be when it is a staple of the basic math education that we get in high school? But it is safe to assume that most of us are not aware of some important facts about the pi. Familiar as the pi may be to us, questions such as ‘who discovered pi’, ‘how was the value acquired’, ‘why is it a constant’, will leave most of us dumbfounded. Knowing these facts may not be that essential for our everyday living but it won’t hurt as well especially given the fact that the pi is one of the elements that constitute the foundations of mathematics, and therefore of the modern world as well.
Before we go into answering who discovered pi, let’s first tackle a little bit of historical background relevant to its discovery. As early as 1900 BC, geometers from ancient civilizations such as Babylon, India, and Egypt, are already aware of one fundamental property of the circle: that a circle’s circumference is always a little over three times that of its diameter. A more precise value was not available however as each of the civilizations computed pi only within 1% of its actual value.
The individual who can then be said as the one who discovered pi is Archimedes since he is the first one to compute the value of the pi quite accurately. The man who discovered pi did so by comparing the perimeters of two polygons inscribed in a single circle; one is outside the circle and the other inside. The ratio of the bigger polygon’s perimeter with the smaller one’s will then be equivalent to the one between a circle’s circumference and its diameter. Archimedes did this technique to a total of 96 polygons and he got the average ratio, which is 3.14185. The value may not be spot on and only correct up to two decimal places but it is an improvement nonetheless over the computed values that the civilizations before him came up with.
Several individuals followed after Archimedes’ efforts to come up with the value of pi. Mathematicians such as Madhava, Al Kashi, and Ceulen, can be credited as much as Archimedes as people who discovered pi. With each of the said mathematicians computing pi up to tens of decimal places, great strides were made in the quest for the value of the pi.
The men who discovered pi did not only help in pioneering the quest to come up with the correct value of the pi, they contributed greatly to the development of mathematics, whose centrality in modern life will be impossible without the pi.