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Pi

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 02 September 2004

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the history of the most detailed number in nature. In the Bible's description of Solomon's temple it comes out as three, Archimedes calculated it to the equivalent of 14 decimal places and today's super computers have defined it with an extraordinary degree of accuracy to its first 1.4 trillion digits. It is the longest number in nature and we only need its first 32 figures to calculate the size of the known universe within the accuracy of one proton. 

We are talking about Pi, 3.14159 etc, the number which describes the ratio of a circle's diameter to its circumference. How has something so commonplace in nature been such a challenge for maths? And what does the oddly ubiquitous nature of Pi tell us about the hidden complexities of our world? 

With Robert Kaplan, co-founder of the Maths Circle at Harvard University, Eleanor Robson, Lecturer in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at Cambridge University; and Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Warwick.

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