The IMU wants to make π Day the International Day of Mathematics

The International Mathematical Union is trying to get UNESCO to make March 14, commonly known as π Day, the International Day of Mathematics.

This is a slight distraction, but couldn’t the International Mathematical Union find someone to type the actual letter π instead of p into a computer? If not, I can perform this service for a small fee.

March 14, often written 3/14, is already celebrated in many countries as Pi Day, since
p = 3.141 592 653 589 793 238 462 643 383 279…
Moreover, the date is convenient for all countries around the world.

The major goals of an International Day of Mathematics, with expected benefits for students, for teachers, for women and girls and for society at large are to:

1.    Improve understanding among the general public, decision makers and in schools, of the importance of mathematics in education;
2.    Contribute to capacity building in mathematical and scientific education, with special focus on girls and children from developing countries (SDG4);
3.    Achieve gender equality and empower women and girls in mathematics (SDG5);
4.     Improve understanding among the general public, with decision makers and in schools of the importance of mathematics as a tool for developments which lead to more prosperous economy circumstances (SDG9);
5.    Emphasize the importance of basic research in mathematical sciences as the seed to breakthroughs in technology and the management of society (SDG8);
6.    Highlight the role of mathematics in the organization of modern society, including economic, financial, health and transport systems, telecommunications in the quest for human well-being, etc. (SDG3);
7.    Raise awareness of the role of mathematics in fighting disasters, epidemics, emerging diseases, invasive species (SDG11);
8.    Highlight the role of mathematics in moving to a circular economy of sustainability compatible with preservation of biodiversity (SDG14 and 15);
9.    Equip the general public and young people with tools for understanding the planetary challenges and the capacity to respond as knowledgeable citizens;
10.    Increase international networking and collaborations in public awareness of mathematics;
11.    Increase the access to information, providing a simple way to give citizens a choice in all aspects of their daily life.

If that sounds like a good idea to you, you can help make it a reality by entering the competition to make a logo for the day. Rather than put all the information on one page, the IMU has put the compo details in a separate PDF, so I’ll reproduce them here:

Now the IMU is inviting bids for the logo of the IDM. Ideally, the logo must be available in different formats for use on the web and for printing on posters. An editable version of the
logo will be needed for use in high quality work. If this is not feasible, the IMU is entitled to engage a professional graphic designer for this purpose.

Logos together with artist information (full name, date of birth, career or profession, personal webpage if any, and email) must be sent by email at idm@mathunion.org. Only electronic bids are eligible. An email confirming receipt of submissions will be sent. In case of not receiving a confirmation within 48 hours, please resend the work.

They’re also looking for bids to host a website for the day, with details on that in another letter. Don’t be shy – you’re probably better at websites than the IMU.

By the way, there’s already a World Maths Day, run by a company called 3P Learning in partnership with UNICEF. It’s on March 7, a week before the proposed IDM. It’s unclear to me if the IMU is aware of this, or if UNICEF and UNESCO know what each other are doing.

Personally, I’m quite happy calling it π Day.

• Christian Lawson-Perfect

Mathematician, koala fan, Aperiodical editor. Usually found paddling in the North Sea, or fiddling with computers.

15 Responses to “The IMU wants to make π Day the International Day of Mathematics”

1. Paul Coombes

I one accepts that ‘often’ means more than half, then I think I have to disagree with the first statement that March 14 is often written 3/14. Using the ever reliable Wikipedia as my data source, I think that 2,397,000,000 people write the date with the month before the year whereas 3,879,000,000 people write the day before the month. If a premise is false…

2. Zeno Rogue

I think the International Day of Mathematics should occur on a day with a real mathematical significance.

The decimal digits of Pi (after 3) do not have any real mathematical significance. Even less when they are cut off after the second digit, or interpreted as a date. Numerology is not mathematics. The Pi Day as it is seems to celebrate “the magic of numbers” rather than serious.

If it happened every 1/$\pi$ of a year, or $1/\pi$ of year after the start of a year, or on the birth date of some great mathematician or of some great discovery, it would make more sense.

• Katie

I think that would reduce the popular appeal. For 90% of people, the start and end of their interaction with π is that it’s 3.14, and even if that’s all they know about it, they can engage with it on that level. It may just be numbers, but to many that’s what maths is (a shame, but true) and they are evocative, especially with something as ubiquitous and well-loved as π.

• Katie

I suspect the organisers of an International Day of something would disagree with you there. In what way is it “the wrong message” if it gets people interested and talking about π?

• Zeno Rogue

By the wrong message, I meant things like:
– that it is fine to make transformations without accordance to any formal system (or at least a system that makes intuitive sense) — for example, 3.14 = March 14, or $\sin x/n = six = 6$, or $N=1$ therefore $P=NP$
– that mathematics is about numbers rather than about the beauty of reasoning and understanding — the fact that $\pi \approx 3.14$ is rarely accompanied with any kind of proof or reasoning, and such proofs would be boring rather than beautiful or insightful anyway; some people consider June 17 to be the World Tesselation Day, and I would say that looking at tesselations is a more mathematical activity than looking at the digits of $\pi$, you can discover and analyze patterns
– that the digits of $\pi$ are very important and/or magical (all the quoted goals of organizing the International Days of Mathematics are great, but the digits of $\pi$ are not important for any of them — reminds me of the famous movie $\pi$ by Darren Aronofsky, which did not make any sense to me and I do not think it does any good job at showing what mathematics is about)
– talking about $\pi$ without understanding the whole system sometimes leads people to believe weird things, like that $\pi$ is infinite, or that it has different values in non-Euclidean geometries

• Ben Orlin

I think Katie’s right on the branding issue (people loooove decimal expansions for some reason), but I quite like Zeno Rogue’s idea of the year as a circle with circumference 365, and thus a radius of approximately 58 days. (That’s about 1 radian in degrees, which of course makes perfect sense – the Babylonian choice of 360 for degrees probably echoed the length of the year!)