Ludolph van Ceulen

Two thousand years ago, the ratio between the

circumference of a circle and its diameter was

taken to be "3". Although the value was close, as

time went on efforts were made to refine the ratio

to a more precise constant. Greek mathemetician,

Archimedes, correctly asserted that it fell between

3 10/70, and 3 10/71. In the computer age, the

number has been calculated to the one millionth

decimal place, and has been determined to be an

irrational number, without a finite definition.


Ludolph van Ceulen was born at Hildesheim, Germany,

28 January, 1540. Like many Germans during the

Catholic Inquisitions, he emmigrated to The

Netherlands. He taught Fencing and Mathematics in

Delft until 1594, when he moved to Leiden and

opened a Fencing School. In 1600 he was appointed

to the Engineering School at Leiden, where he spent

the remainder of his life teaching Mathematics,

Surveying, and Fortification. He wrote several

books, including one titled "On The Circle", in

which he published his geometric findings.

Ludolph's most famous student, Willebrord Snell,

translated his books into Latin, making them more

accessible to the literary world. Ludolph's most

notable accomplishment was the calculation of the

circumference/diameter ratio to the 35th decimal

place, which he accomplished by using polygons of 2

to the 62nd power sides.(number of sides equals 2

times 2, 62 times).


The number became known in mainland Europe as

the "Ludolphine" number. In 1706, the English

mathematician, William Jones, first referred to the

number as "pi", using the greek letter of the same

name as its symbol. Swiss Mathematician, Leonhard

Euler, popularized the use of "pi" as the official

symbol of the circle ratio, giving us the familiar

symbol we know today. Ludolph van Ceulen died 31

December, 1610, in Leiden, and the 35 places of "pi"

are carved into his tombstone as a tribute to the brilliant mind.

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