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Jun. 28, 2011

Happy Tau Day!

by Ian Chant

It may be INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY elsewhere on the Internet. Here, though, we’re celebrating Tau Day – because every number that helps us determine the circumference of things is due its fifteen minutes of fame.

Mathematically speaking, tau (τ) represents the number 6.28 and then a bunch of other numbers out into infinity – hence Tau Day falling on June 28. If that sounds familiar, it should. Tau is equivalent to 2π, which is the most common use of pi for equations like the circumference of a circle – 2πr, where r is the radius of the circle.

Tau is more obscure than pi; most of us don’t get drilled on 6.28 the way we do on 3.14159 etc. in seventh grade math. It’s also a relative newcomer to the math scene, but it’s gaining traction among people who understand math better than we do. They find it saves a (brief) step and looks more elegant than 2π, even though they are pretty much the same thing. It’s worth pointing out that there are also a lot of people who understand math better than we do who don’t see any point in messing with a good thing. The takeaway here is there are quite a lot of people who understand math better than we do.

Tau also suffers from not having a delicious dessert to act as a mascot for it on its day of days. What it does have is a pretty sweet music video, courtesy of impartial musician Michael John Blake (who composed what pi sounds like earlier this year).


So, according to our scorecard: tau sounds pretty and simplifies notation, but pi also sounds pretty – and makes us think of our grandmother chopping up strawberries and rhubarb in the kitchen.

Advantage – pi. For now.

Frankly, we may not be able to settle this with anything short of a Sharks and Jets style mathematician street fight. Which, come to think of it, we would really, really like to see.

HT to Geekosystem

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About Ian Chant

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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