British Association for the Advancement of Science: Home-made computer cuts bigger slice of pi
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Saturday 29 August 1992
David and Gregory Chudnovsky have worked out the value of the mathematical constant pi - the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter - to 2.16 billion decimal places, a number long enough to fill 20 encyclopaedias.
Their computer, built at a cost of dollars 70,000 with the help of money from their wives and a grant from Columbia University, has 25 fans to prevent it melting when number crunching.
Although it is a world record for computing the value of pi, mathematicians believe that it is not the end of the story that began 2,000 years ago in Babylonia. Peter Webster, a mathematician at the University of Sheffield, told the British Association's annual meeting yesterday that the exact value of pi, which is about 3.14, will be the subject of intrigue for years to come.
For thousands of years, mathematicians came gradually closer to calculating the precise value of pi, Archimedes setting the standard in 240BC.
The constant did not have a universally recognised name until a Welshman, William Jones, wrote a mathematical treatise and referred to the number as pi. 'The book was on the top-selling list for year after year. Jones was like Stephen Hawking in his popularity,' Dr Webster said.
In 1840, a German boy, Johann Dase, calculated pi to 200 decimal places in his head. Dr Webster said his computing genius earned him a considerable reputation. 'He was a human calculator.'
Other attempts at mentally calculating the exact value of pi were quickly superseded by the first electronic attempt on the ENIAC computer in 1949.
Two French mathematicians calculated it to a million decimal places in the early Seventies. In 1989, a Japanese managed to break through the billion decimal place barrier.
Dr Webster is adamant that the latest attempt will not be the end of the matter. The continuing saga of calculating pi 'is to be continued'.
- 1 The truth about 'girl things': Three cheers for Heather Watson's honesty
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 5 Men behaving badly: Urinating while standing, 'manspreading' and the gendering of selfishness
Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign
Ellen DeGeneres leads Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow and Paul Bettany in revealing game of Never Have I Ever
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...
Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...
£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...