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AU student serves up a giant slice of pi
4/06/11

Most people who have taken basic levels of mathematics know that pi – p – is a constant that’s used to compute the area of a circle, as in A=pr2

If pressed, most people could probably dredge from their memories that the numerical value of the constant p is 3.14…. And some – engineers and mathematicians and the like – can probably go out off a few more places, say 3.14159.

But Sam Lamphier, a senior ceramic engineering major at Alfred University, reeled out pi to 681 places without making an error during the annual Pi Day (held March 14, 3/14, get it?) celebration sponsored by the Alfred University Math Club and officially called the “Alfredian Pi-dol.”

“Sam recited 681 decimal places, and then made an error. We gave him a chance to recover, and he stopped at 703 decimal places,” said Joseph Petrillo, associate professor of mathematics in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and advisor to the Math Club.

In doing so, Lamphier shattered the previous record of 609 digits, set by P.J. DiCesare in 2010. Mathematics and education major Michaela Stone took second place, with a “notable” 157 digits, said Petrillo.

“I entered the competition because I enjoy memorizing things and I wanted to see if I could beat PJ’s record without any mistakes,” said Lamphier. “I prepared by block memorizing the digits, 50 at a time. Five rows of 10 numbers. The numbers are not dependent on any ‘tricks,’ i.e. 428 would not be remembered as 4 times 2 is 8. Just straight number after number.”

As for his strategy, Lamphier said, “I think focus was a major factor. I just concentrated. I was going to memorize more but I went to South Carolina for spring break and it rained so much the only sheet I had digits on disintegrated. I decided the first 100 should be memorized and recited quickly, without hesitation. When I hesitated on a sequence of numbers, I put more focus into memorizing that section.”

Addison Frey, professor of mathematics and chair of the division, also delivered a short talk at the celebration.

Lamphier, son of Brenda Lamphier of Wellsville, NY, is a graduate of Wellsville High School.
Stone is resident of Hornell, NY.