We are sad that the coronavirus forced us to cancel our annual Pi K run. Everyone’s health and safety is a priority for us, and we don’t want to put anyone at risk of sacrificing either. To make up for missing this yearly tradition as best we can, we collected some fun facts about pi(e) in all its forms. We hope you enjoy!

fun facts about pie
The Phonecian letter Pē
  • π, the 16th letter of the Greek alphabet, comes from the Phonecian letter Pē (right), which scholars think derived from a pictogram of a mouth. Pē gave rise not only to π, but also our own letter P.
  • The letter π was chosen to represent the ratio between the diameter and circumference of a circle (3.14) because it’s the letter that starts the Greek words for periphery and perimeter.
fun facts about pie
π (3.14) is the circumference of a circle divided by its diameter.
  • π is an irrational number, which means it doesn’t end. The world record for most digits memorized is 70,000 by Rajveer Meena. It took 10 hours to recite the number!
  • In January 2020, cyber security analyst Timothy Mullican calculated the 50 trillionth digit of pi. That’s 50,000,000,000,000 digits. Why calculate so many? Some say it’s to find a pattern, some say it’s important for testing calculations against, and some say it’s just to demonstrate computer power.
  • Mathematicians have been calculating pi for over four thousand years, since the time of the Pharaoh. Read the full story here.
  • Pie crust is made of three basic ingredients: flour, fat, and water. Mixing and kneading the dough releases gluten from the flour, which gives the crust its structure and holds all of the ingredients together, giving it strength. Fat gives the crust that warm, tender flavor and texture. The water steams up in the oven to make the dough light and airy, and it also helps form the gluten.
  • Gluten makes pie dough ‘doughy.’ Don’t mix your ingredients or knead your dough too much, or else you’ll get pie bread instead of pie crust.
  • The next time you make apple pie, think about which variety of apple you use: Apples that are more tart bake more firmly. You can thank a protein called pectin for this. This protein binds to itself in long chains to hold structures like apples together. When the apple is more acidic (that is, more tart), pectin binds more strongly to itself, making the filling more firm.
Pizza Pie:
fun facts about pie
S. Cerevisiae, a tried-and-true yeast used for everything from baking to brewing to winemaking.
  • The bubbles in pizza dough come from fermentation. The yeast in dough eats sugar and poops out carbon dioxide and alcohol. The alcohol evaporates in the oven and the carbon dioxide gas forms little bubbles in the dough, making it light and fluffy. Sorry, but this isn’t the easiest way to get drunk off of pizza.
  • Tomatoes are acidic, which is what gives pizza its bright, biting flavor. If pizza gives you acid reflux, put some baking soda in the sauce. Baking soda is basic, which balances out the acidity of the tomatoes.
  • The real flavor of a pizza comes from the Maillard reaction. It’s a flavor you get when you brown foods while cooking them. Read how the reaction works here.

Whether it’s pizza or pie, we hope these little factoids inspire you to stay inside and bake tonight. Or, feel free to calculate the 50 trillionth and one digit of pi! Staying away from other people and not touching your face is the best way to protect yourself from the coronavirus. Read the CDC’s tips on how to protect yourself here. Stay healthy, stay safe, and have a wonderful Pi Day. From all of us at the ISC.


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Total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024

Total Solar Eclipse on April 8, 2024

On April 8th, 2024, a total solar eclipse will sweep across North America, from Mexico to the Maine-Canadian border. For those who experienced the spectacular solar eclipse of 2017, this one will be similar, crossing the United States from west to east and passing through or near several major metropolitan areas. And while its path is quite different this time, Carbondale, Illinois, a reasonable destination for Chicago-area residents, will once again be on the line of totality.    

Just a little background on eclipses:  Lunar and solar eclipses are not uncommon – they each occur about twice a year when the moon is crossing the ecliptic, the path of the sun in the sky.

Two women representing the Illinois Science Council at an event.

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