Fun with Pi (Day)

We saw this picture on meeyauw, and thought it was a good way to open our own Pi Day offering. Pi Day, or π day is celebrated on March 14 (3/14) of every year.

π does turn up in some interesting places besides circles and standard trigonometry (and LOLcat photos). There is of course Euler's famous identity:

which unites π with four of the other most famous constants in mathematics: zero, 1, i (the imaginary root of -1) and e. But it also turns up in some more surprising places. Consider the well-known factorial function, where n! or “n factorial” is the product of all the integers between 1 and n. For example:

5! = 5×4×3×2×1 = 120.

Simple enough. But of course some troublemaker is eventually going to ask for the factorial of 1/2. Not so easy. Fortunately, there is a function, called the Gamma function, that provides a solution:

Not really as simple as the original integer-only factorial. Once calculus is involved, might as well forget about it. But if you go through the trouble of plugging in 1/2 to the formula, you get the following intriguing result:


So the factorial of one half is one half the square root of π. Who knew?