To celebrate this day of mathematics, I want to share my favourite equation involving Pi, the Bailey–Borwein–Plouffe (BBP) formula:

This is my favourite for a number of reasons. Firstly, Simon Plouffe and the late Peter Borwein (two of the authors that this formula is named after) are Canadian! While I personally have nothing to do with this formula, the fact that fellow Canadians contributed to such an elegant equation is something that I like to brag about.

Secondly, I find it fascinating how Plouffe first discovered this formula using a computer program. It can often be debated whether mathematics is discovered or invented, but there’s no doubt here since Plouffe found this formula by doing an extensive search with the PSLQ integer relation algorithm (interfaced with Maple). This is an example of how, with ingenuity and creativity, one can effectively use algorithms and programs as powerful tools to obtain mathematical results.

And finally (most importantly), with some clever rearranging, it can be used to compute arbitrary digits of Pi!

Digit 2024 is 8
Digit 31415 is 5
Digit 123456 is 4
Digit 314159 is also 4
Digit 355556 is… F?

That last digit might look strange… and that’s because they’re all in hexadecimal (base-16, where A-F represent 10-15). As it turns out, this type of formula only exists for Pi in bases that are powers of 2. Nevertheless, with the help of a Maple script and an implementation of the BBP formula by Carl Love, you can check out this Learn document to calculate some arbitrary digits of Pi in base-16 and learn a little bit about how it works.

After further developments, this formula led to project PiHex, a combined effort to calculate as many digits of Pi in binary as possible; it turns out that the quadrillionth bit of Pi is zero! This also led to a class of BBP-type formulas that can calculate the digits of other constants like (log2)*(π^2) and (log2)^5.

Part of what makes this formula so interesting is human curiosity: it’s fun to know these random digits. Another part is what makes mathematics so beautiful: you never know what discoveries this might lead to in the future. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a slice of lemon meringue pie with my name on it 😋


BBP Formula (Wikipedia)
A Compendium of BBP-Type Formulas
The BBP Algorithm for Pi

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