The calculation of pi has reached a new record

The calculation of pi has reached a new record

In Switzerland in 108 days 62,800 billion digits of pi after the comma were obtained, entering the Guinness Book of Records both for quantity and speed of calculation

A mosaic of pi at the Technical University of Berlin (photo: By Holger Motzkau (Self-photographed) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( -sa / 3.0 /)], via Wikimedia Commons) Seven, eight, one, seven, nine, two, four, two, six, four. These are the ten digits of the "rightmost" pi that we know, placed approximately 62 thousand billion positions after the decimal point. To define them, along with another 12 trillion new figures never obtained before - and for now kept top secret - was the Davis research team of the University of Applied Sciences of Graubünden (Fhgr), Switzerland, which announced this week to have broken the previous world record obtained in 2020.

What makes the news, in addition to the number of decimals itself, is also the speed with which the result was achieved. A calculation that lasted just (so to speak) 108 days and 9 hours, 3.5 times faster than the previous one and twice as fast as the calculation made by Google in March 2019 for the one before that. Then Big G, thanks above all to the work of the Japanese Emma Haruka Iwao, had reached 31 trillion decimal places while Timothy Mullican on 29 January 2020 had completed a 50 trillion-digit computation. And now, a year and a half later, the bar has been raised to the accuracy of an additional 12,800,000,000,000 decimals.

A historical step, like many others

The computation of pi is a work that humanity has been carrying on for about 4 thousand years, from ancient Greece onwards. Until the fourteenth century after Christ no one had ever even reached 10 decimal digits, and not infrequently the proposed versions of pi turned out to be wrong, always guessing the units digit and first decimal (3.1) but already hesitating starting from next 4. Until the middle of the twentieth century the methods gradually improved, but without obtaining a really significant acceleration and without ever reaching the milestone of one thousand digits after the decimal point.

But then, naturally thanks to the use of computers electronics, since 1949 the surge has been insane. The milestone of 10 thousand figures arrived in 1958, 100 thousand in 1961, one million in 1973, 10 million in 1983, 100 million in 1987, 1 billion in 1989, 50 billion in 1997 and one thousand billion in 2002. And the cavalcade also continued. in the last twenty years, with the prospect that soon even the new record will be broken once again.

What makes the difference are both the software and the hardware. For this record, in particular, a supercomputer based on two 32-core Amd Epyc 7542 processors, 1 terabyte of Ram and 510 terabytes of mass memory was used, organized in 38 hard disks (4 of which for backup). While the software used is y-cruncher, the same in use since 2010 and gradually improved.

Guinness strategies

As anticipated, at the moment the many new digits of pi have been announced (by the Swiss news agency Keystone-Ats) but not disclosed, with the exception of the last ten. The reason is purely tactical: no one, apart from the researchers of the Swiss group, knows these figures to date and there is a promise to disclose them only after the new world record has been formalized and the registration in the Guinness Book of Records arrives. br>
Scientists have however ensured that all necessary checks have already been made to ensure that the figures are not only new and numerous, but also correct. Even if - with a little patience - whoever is called to certify the record will also have to carry out all the necessary counter-checks.

Not exactly useless work

For those who have some doubt about it, the authors of the work themselves have pointed out that knowing so many digits of pi is - in practice - completely insignificant. Obviously we will never get to know all the digits of the most famous of mathematical constants, since the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle is an irrational number, that is, made up of infinite non-periodic digits after the comma. And on the other hand, there is no application in which a level of precision of trillions of decimal digits has a concrete impact.

However, there is not only the beauty of discovery itself and love for knowledge to move this kind of research. The computational techniques developed, which in English are called number-crunching, are very promising and can be applied to the most varied fields, from the analysis of genetic codes (DNA and RNA) to the processing of texts, from the study of organic molecules to 'identification of new possible drugs, from fluid dynamics to many types of simulations.

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