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Pi day: Caltech students string paper chain across campus

March 14, 2013 | 10:42 am

Caltech students celebrate Pi day with late night pie party. Credit: Joseph Serna / Los Angeles Times

They have met in secret for months.

Using a basement in Caltech student housing, they have gathered supplies and tried to recruit more to help. Everything they have done has been kept under wraps (literally), stuffed in cages buried under butcher paper no one would look at twice.

But Thursday morning, under the cover of darkness at 4 a.m., they unleashed their plan.

In the latest manifestation of self-proclaimed Caltech nerd-dom, a group of undergrads strung a chain of 15,000 colored paper loops across the campus in honor of Pi day. There are nine colors, each one representing a number.

The multicolor chain should be in order, representing the digits of Pi going 15,000 digits deep.

For the uninitiated, Pi is the digit that’s mostly often simplified to 3.14 (hence, March 14) and is used to calculate the circumference of a circle. The decimal can go out forever and mathematicians have figured it out to the 10 trillionth number so far.

“People appreciate it here,” said Margaret Lee, a first-year physics student at Caltech who led the chain gang. “Pi is a really important constant in physics and math. We’ve told a couple of visitors about it and they got really excited. This is why I wanted to go to Caltech.”

As a devoted science and math fan, Lee said she thought about what to do for Pi day months ago.

She said she thought it would be “so cool” to do a chain, so she started asking her friends. She managed to wrangle five accomplices who met in their spare time in a student housing basement. For months they cut the strips of paper from 10 reams they bought. When they weren’t working, they hid the colorful loops in cages under paper so no one would find it.

“We’re kind of nerdy,” she said with pride.

Lee estimated the chain stretches half a mile. She said it should be up through next week, when students are taking their finals.

The chain wasn’t the only Pi day celebration Thursday at Caltech. Just before 2 a.m., students enjoyed a Pi party outside their buildings.


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-- Joseph Serna

Photo: Caltech students celebrate Pi day with late night pie party. Credit: Joseph Serna / Los Angeles Times