Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Happy Tau Day

Happy Tau Day!

Happy what day? Tau is a mathematical constant, whose value is 6.28... . Is that ringing any bells? Correct:

OK, so tau being 6.28 explains why 28th June is Tau Day (blame the Americans - they write their dates backwards). But why do we need a new mathematical constant, especially one that is simply double another one?

Some maths teachers and academics have been in favour of using tau instead of pi in maths teaching, particularly in early years. It's because 2 pi seems to crop up a lot, probably more often than a single pi, particularly in geometry and trigonometry. For example, the circumference of a circle is given by:

If tau were widely adopted, this would be replaced by:

Personally, I'm not convinced. Tau would certainly be useful in a number of formulae and mathematical solutions. But I think students would end up using a half of tau just as often as they currently use 2 pi.

And if we went to a system where both constants were in use, would this not just add to the confusion, rather than alleviate it?

Finally there are thousands of years of pi tradition. The ancient Greeks obsessed over pi, just as much as modern mathematicians do.

What do you think of tau?

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