Pi Day Celebrations Reveal the Fun Side of Math

On 3-14-15 at precisely 9.26 a.m., a point in time that approximates pi all the way to 7 decimal places, Pi Day celebrations began at IISER Pune.

pui day 2015 logo

Pi day 2015 logo

Pi Day is the annual event organized by math department to celebrate the fun side of math which, as the logo of the event suggests, is the only side there is! The new home of the math department, third floor of the main building on IISER Pune campus was inaugurated by Prof. Raghuram, a beginning which he said, ‘gives us new energy’. Prof. L S Shashidhara commenced the day’s events by cutting apple pies at 9.26 a.m. sharp. The 2015 Math Book, which is a glimpse into what comprises the department, was also released on the occasion.

The Lecture Hall Complex (LHC), where all the events of the day were held, was bustling all day with the kind of energy usually seen at carnivals. It was difficult to tell a student from a faculty as all participated in the event with equal relish. The giant rectangle outside LHC was a chaotic sight in the morning. Participants of the Math Relay Race, in which answers to math puzzles changed hands instead of batons, were either seen thinking hard or egging their team-mates to hurry up. A lot of people, including faculty and school kids (who went on to win the second prize in the finale) participated in the event.

Palaces with pentagonal doors, magical hammers hungry for rational points, triangular cakes and Ninja masters made an appearance on the board.

Palaces with pentagonal doors, magical hammers hungry for rational points, triangular cakes and Ninja masters made an appearance on the board.

The other place which had a lot of mental action happening was the notice board at the reception area of LHC. This is where beautifully painted posters of mathematical tricklers woven into fantastic stories were being put every 30 minutes. All but one of the four puzzles were solved by the participants and each by a student not from IISER. Pi-thon, the programming competition proved to be very tough (or was it too simple?) with no one turning in a correct solution. Palaces with pentagonal doors, magical hammers hungry for rational points, triangular cakes and Ninja masters made an appearance on the board.

After the morning events ended at 10.30 am, the entire LHC started rollicking with festive energy as the Math Carnival began. Posters of math super-heroes Srinivasa Ramanujan, Ada Lovelace, Emmy Noether and Evariste Galois were displayed in the quadrangle. The poster of each hero had on it his/her super-powers and the major victories. Also on display was a skilfully made pencil sketch of the mystical math super-hero of modern times, Alexander Grothendieck. Among the events happening in parallel was a sapecial Rubrik’s cube workshop called ‘Plato meets Rubik’. The deeper math involved in the algorithm was also hinted at to indicate the presence of math in the most unassuming things. In another room, the enigma of codes was being marvelled at. The code-breaking event had 35 to 40 teams of people living their secret dream of being a hotshot undercover spy as they tried to decrypt clues in the treasure hunt styled game. All the five puzzles were solved by students of IISER at the end.

Not everyone enjoys just sitting at the desk while solving puzzles. The ‘not-so-dumb’ charades was the event for the ones who like to act it out. This was the noisiest room with bursts of guffaws being heard outside. But could the audience help when a faculty drew the ‘vanar-sena’ on the ‘Ram-setu’ to hint to his team members, a colleague and the colloquium speaker of the day, the name of the mathematician Ramanujan?!

The ‘Crafty Math’ stalls used arts and crafts to illustrate mathematical concepts. The stall with Zome Tools was bursting with younger kids. Euler’s characteristic was explained, sometimes even to clueless 9 year olds. The uninitiated were at their wit’s end in trying to solve the Konigsberg Bridge Problem, which was later explained to them to be unsolvable. Soap bubbles were used to explain optimum road networks, a computationally expensive problem, that surface tension solves for free in the case of small point geometries.


‘If we look for the things we believe in, they will come looking for us’

After lunch, which was much needed to recharge after the festivity of the morning, people assembled in C V Raman auditorium for a short skit enacted by members of the drama club. It told, via the story of Cantor trying to find the correspondence between a plane and a line, a thing which Dedekind didn’t believe exist, that ‘if we look for the things we believe in, they will come looking for us’ and that ‘the way we got the results is as important as the results’.

Prof. Nitsure

Prof. Nitsure told the fascinating story of the origins and history of set theory

The skit was followed by an inspiring talk by Prof. Nitin Nitsure, an eminent mathematician from TIFR Mumbai who addressed a packed hall of audience. He talked about the notion of set and what the ancients couldn’t do without it. He then explained the success of Dedekind in introducing set theory and making such constructions as real numbers purely in terms of sets. The fate of set theory after Cantor found problems in it, Hilbert’s program of formalism and the drawback it faced when Godel proved the incompleteness theorem were explained by Prof. Nitsure in a very captivating manner. He concluded the talk after talking about the frontiers of math in this direction, namely category theory and homotopy theory.

The talk was followed by the Math Quiz, the final teams for which were selected in a pre-lunch written session. The four teams which made it to the finals sweated it out in the three rounds, viz. Direct, Buzzer and Trivia rounds. The audience participated enthusiastically in a bid for the chocolates which were waiting to be won. After more than an hour of quizzing the team comprising two BS-MS Math 5th year students, a BS-MS physics 5th year students and a physics project assistant were declared the winners.

With all the battles having been fought, it was time for the victorious to be awarded. Prizes were given to the winners of the essay writing competition all of whom chose to write on the topic ‘Life on a planet whose surface is a Mobius Strip’. The winners of the photography contest were also awarded for their pictures of math found on campus. Makarand Sarnobat was chosen the Graduate Student of the Year while his advisor, Prof. Raghuram won the award of the Coolest Math Prof, which was decided on an institute wide poll.

The celebration of math and its ubiquity is incomplete without a mention of its deep connections with music, which were demonstrated by the talented musicians among the students and staff of IISER Pune. The performance was preceded by a short introduction on the appearance of and the dependence of math in the study of western and Indian classical music. The mathematics connected to it was explained before each mesmerizing piece in the performance.


Some of the volunteers for the event

The long and exciting day ended with some laid-back fun post-dinner. An animation movie, Flatland was screened in LHC. This was a story of living circles, triangles, squares and other polygons living in a 2-dimensional universe and how the life of a square takes a weird turn when it is revealed to him that there is a third dimension. This movie, which was a great way to see the connections between the flat plane and the 3d world was also subtly philosophical and satirical.

The event, a result of the great efforts put in by the various student-clubs of IISER and the faculty coordinators Dr. Ronnie Sebastian and Dr. Tejas Kalelkar was a great success. This was evident from the tired and happy faces of the students at the end of day.

-Reported by Ayesha Fatima, Mathematics PhD student, IISER Pune
Photos by Anisa Chorwadwala and Makarand Sarnobat, both from IISER Pune

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