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Three GIFs That Make Pi Instantly Understandable

Three GIFs That Make Pi Instantly Understandable

You know the name and you know at least some of the number. Pi, a never-ending value a little more than three, is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. It’s also irrational, meaning that pi — denoted with the Greek symbol π since the mid 1700s — cannot be expressed as a common fraction like 1/2 or 3/5. The number never ends, and in the intervening centuries we’ve figured out a few trillion digits behind the 3.

But what is π? Maybe the best way to understand this crucial mathematical constant is to see where it comes from.

PiGIF_1

If π is the ratio between a circle’s circumference — the distance around the circle — and its diameter, then seeing both laid out should show us what π is. Make a circle’s diameter 1 and then lay out the circumference. How many diameters is that? A little over 3, or 3.14159…!

PiGIF_2

Another way to think of π is to in radians, the standard unit of angular measurement. 1 rad is equal to the angle that an arc the same length as the circle’s radius makes. A circle’s radius is one-half its diameter, so you should be able to fit π radians into half a circle. The math works out — you can fit three radians and some change (0.14159…to be precise) in a half-circle!

PiGIF_3

Another way to think of the ratio of a circle’s circumference and diameter is to imagine the classic “sine wave.” You’ve probably seen these waves blinking and flowing on sci-fi gadgets or in your trigonometry class. A sine wave is the 2D graph of the sine function, which describes the ratio of the length of a side that is opposite a right triangle’s angle to the length of the longest side of that triangle.

The sine wave can be traced out by tracking the coordinates of a point running along a circle with a radius of one. And like the GIF above, when half the circle has been traced, exactly π distance has been covered! See? GIFs are always a bit easier to digest than high school trig.

Remember, it’s OK to be irrational sometimes.

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Comments

  1. Dustin says:

    “Three GIFs that make Pi instantly understandable (if GIFs on our site would animate properly on iOS)”

  2. mr. square says:

    still dont get it, and its not that i can’t see the completion of a circle on a 2d plane.. its just hard for me to see the circle completed on an adjusted 3d plane.. the ends just don’t meet up!

  3. Well now, that clears a few things up!! Thanks “guys!!”

  4. George says:

    Well now, that clears a few things up!!  Thanks “guys!!”