Happy Pi Day! The importance of 3.14 in nature

Pi pie (Photo by Wikimedia Commons, Paul Smith)

Pi pie (Photo by Wikimedia Commons, Paul Smith)

March 14, 2014 | by Christine Beevis Trickett

March 14: it has many of us sharing photos of pies, Π and pies with Π on them.

But our fascination with the number 3.14 goes beyond a good exuse to eat baked goods. The mystery and wonder of pi is evident everywhere around us, including in nature — which is perhaps why some of us get so excited about it.

Pi is everywhere in nature, if you know where to look for it. This article notes that:

“Physicists have noted the ubiquity of pi in nature. Pi is obvious in the disks of the moon and the sun. The double helix of DNA revolves around pi. Pi hides in the rainbow, and sits in the pupil of the eye, and when a raindrop falls into water pi emerges in the spreading rings.”

"Pi is everywhere in nature, if you know where to look for it." (Tweet this!)

And the wonders don’t stop there. According to this article, pi is evident in the shapes and currents of rivers:

“A river's windiness is determined by its ‘meandering ratio,’ or the ratio of the river's actual length to the distance from its source to its mouth as the crow flies. Rivers that flow straight from source to mouth have small meandering ratios, while ones that lollygag along the way have high ones. Turns out, the average meandering ratio of rivers approaches — you guessed it — pi.

"Einstein showed that a river`s windiness is determined by pi." (Tweet this!)

“Albert Einstein was the first to explain this fascinating fact. He used fluid dynamics and chaos theory to show that rivers tend to bend into loops. The slightest curve in a river will generate faster currents on the outer side of the curve, which will cause erosion and a sharper bend. This process will gradually tighten the loop, until chaos causes the river to suddenly double back on itself, at which point it will begin forming a loop in the other direction.”

Check out this slideshow by National Geographic, which includes the rings of Saturn, the stem of a plant, brown-eyed Susans and ripples in water.

So the next time you paddle along a meandering river,  wander through a field of wildflowers or spot a rainbow after a storm, take a moment to marvel in the wonders of our natural world. And then enjoy a slice of pie.

Christine Beevis Trickett

About the Author

Christine Beevis Trickett is the director of editorial services for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Read more about Christine Beevis Trickett.

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