With the world swirling about it, the House took a moment Thursday to honor pi, the Greek letter symbolizing that great constant in mathematics representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter.
An irrational number that has been calculated to more than 1 trillion digits, pi is a concept not totally foreign to today’s Washington. But in this case, the goal was to promote efforts by the National Science Foundation to improve math education in the United States, especially in the critical fourth to eighth grades.
Rounded off, pi equates to 3.14, hence the designation of March 14 as Pi Day under the resolution. Informal celebrations have been held around the country for at least 20 years, but Wednesday’s 391-10 vote is the first time Congress has joined the party.
“I’m kind of geeked up about it,” Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.) told POLITICO. “It’s crazy, but I’m a whole lot more excited about that than congratulating the winner of last year’s Rose Bowl.
“I’m not making this up. I have been fascinated by pi since I was a kid. It blows my mind. It’s lovely. The fact that it’s sort of this infinite number. I just think it’s this magical thing. ... There’s a real beauty to mathematics.”
Engineering and technology companies backed the effort, and like most things in the House, there’s a San Francisco angle. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has pressed hard for Congress to do more to promote science, and the San Francisco Exploratorium, in her home city, takes credit for the first Pi Day celebration in 1988, with staff and public marching around one of its circular spaces and then consuming fruit pies.
“I am asking our nation’s students and teachers, for all of our sake, to go out and have fun around Pi Day,” said Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) who managed the bill on the floor this week for the House Science Committee.
March 14 is also the birthday of Albert Einstein — adding to the convergence of big ideas.
“It makes you realize how consequential you really are,” Rep. Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) said with a smile.
But there’s always one: “We were never good at math in my family,” said Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.). “I thought I was voting for p-i-e.”