By David Fong
TROY — What many high school students would have viewed as the equivalent of lumps of coal in their Christmas stockings actually made for a very merry Christmas for Jessica Bigley.
“I’ve always had a passion for math and I really like pi,” said Bigley, a junior at Troy High School. “Last Christmas I got a ‘pocket pi’ — it’s basically like a tape measure that you and pull out and it has pi out to 416 digits on it. I also got a calculator.”
The number pi is a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. In decimal form, pi is an infinite number, starting at 3.14 and stretching out infinitely. Each year on March 14 (National Pi Day, because it is the third month and 14th day of that month), the Troy High School Math Club holds a contest to see which student can memorize the most digits of pi correctly.
This year, Bigley was able to recite 334 digits of pi, breaking the school record of 267 previously set by Carole Ivan in 2009.
“When the Math Club held our February meeting, (Troy High School math teacher and club adviser) Mrs. Lehmkuhl gave us two and a half weeks to start memorizing pi,” Bigley said. “I started memorizing 10 digits a day. I kept memorizing groups of 10 and adding on a new group of 10 every day. I did see some patterns and I started looking for patterns within the groups of 10. I’ve always been pretty good at memorizing things.”
When Pi Day arrived, students were allowed to turn in as many written entries as they wanted for $1 apiece. Bigley only spent $1 that day.
“I got it perfect the first time,” she said. “It took me about 15 minutes. I was pretty confident — I had been reciting it twice a day.”
Bigley’s incredible act of memorization has made her something of a celebrity around Troy High School and beyond.
“A lot of people were really surprised that I was able to memorize that many digits,” Bigley said. “So many people have said things to me about it — even my grandparents.”
As impressive as Bigley’s feat was, she’s still well off the world record for memorizing pi — the current world record is 70,000 digits by Rajveer Meena over the course of more than nine hours on March 21, 2015. Bigley said she doesn’t have any intention of pursuing a world record.
“I think it would be a dream for me, but I don’t think it will ever be a reality,” she said.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Bigley doesn’t have lofty goals for her future. As one of the top students in Troy High School’s junior class, she’ll likely have her pick of colleges when she graduates next year — she plans on taking a visit to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the near future.
“I definitely want to pursue mathematics, mainly statistics,” Bigley said. “I’d like to be a statistician or an actuary for a large company when I grow up.”
Contact David Fong at [email protected]; follow him on Twitter @thefong