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Local student heading for world rankings in ‘pi’ challenge

Caitlynn Langille can recite 500-plus digits above 3.14 from memory

  • March 15 2023
  • By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter    

NEW CHESTER – Caitlynn Langille — a Grade 7 student at St. Mary’s Education Centre/Academy, who likes to read, hang out with friends and draw detailed pictures of toadstools — may soon become only the 12th Canadian, officially, to recite by memory the transcendental number, known as pi, above 500 digits.

“It took me about four weeks to do,” she says matter-of-factly about the after-school project she began on a class dare from her math teacher, Jordan Vosman, in January.

Now, Vosman thinks her “outstanding feat” may, indeed, “put her up there in the all-time Canadian record book… I was expecting a few of my students to memorize 20 to 30… There is a world rankings website, which I am going to submit her name to.”

For countless years, philosophers and mathematicians have tried to understand pi —a mathematical constant, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, that starts 3.14159 and goes on randomly for… well… ever — by computing its value by the number of digits after its decimal point. Until the beginning of the 20th century, only a few had managed to reach 500. Fewer still could rattle them off by memory.

Says Caitlynn: “I wrote them down in a notebook. My own handwriting made it much easier. I am quite good at memorizing and I get pretty good grades in math.”

According to Vosman, the standing world record for reciting pi from memory is 70,030 digits (Suresh Kumar Sharma in 17 hours on Oct. 21, 2015). Canadians (all male) hold 41st, 47th, 48th, 67th, 136th, 146th, 175th, 209th, 262nd, 286th, 314th places for 500-plus performances. Langille’s achievement of 517, if officially confirmed, would rank her 330th in the world. The closest Canadian female comes in at 161 digits (743rd).

About the possibility of seeing her name on the international leaderboard, Langille says, “I think it’s really great. I’m going to be online.”

Her mom Lori is also pleased, but not entirely surprised.

“Caitlynn likes to do all kinds of things: read, paint and do crafts,” she says. “She can do anything she puts her mind to. She’s extremely smart.”

That said, she adds, “I was still amazed by this. She had her own little method. She would hand me her written notebook that she had the numbers on. She would recite to me, practising. And it was all I could do to keep up, making sure she was correct. She could do it in under five minutes. It’s pretty astounding.”

Lori also credits Vosman for his engaging approach to learning. “I think his [pi challenge] was a great incentive,” she says. “You know, Caitlynn is even talking about getting into the six hundreds now.”

As for her future, the pi wiz is clear.

“I just want to be a librarian when I grow up.”