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For week ended January 23, 2000 Posted 24 Feb 2001
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Summarized by Kent Larsen

LDS Mathematician's Algorithm Named One of 'Top Ten' of Century
Lawrence Berkeley Labs Research News 20Jan00 P2
By Paul Preuss

BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA -- An algorithm discovered by an LDS Mathematician has been chosen by "Computing in Science and Engineering" magazine as one of the top ten "Algorithms of the Century" announced in that magazine's January/February issue. The algorithm, discovered by former BYU professor and sculptor Helaman Ferguson, permits calculating pi and allows the calculation of any one digit of the infinitely long decimal without calculating the entire number.

Using Ferguson's formula and refinements that he and others have made since its discovery in 1977, mathematicians have calculated pi to more than a trillion digits. Ferguson's algorithm and various refinements were implemented in a computer program by Lawrence Berkeley Labs' David Bailey, also and LDS Church member, allowing even a personal computer to calculate pi's millionth digit in about 60 seconds.

Most personal computers are limited to numbers with 16 digits, because of the way their architecture was designed, so calculating pi beyond 16 digits on a personal computer is of little use, "Sixteen-digit arithmetic is sufficient for almost all scientific applications," says Bailey, "but a few crazy people need more. I'm one."

Ferguson is also known for his sculpture, abstract artworks in which he expresses mathematical concepts. He was an apprentice stone mason and studied painting and sculpture in college before getting his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Washington. His artwork is the subject of a book by his wife, Claire Ferguson, who is an artist and an Ada Comstock Scholar at Smith College.

Ferguson taught at BYU for 17 years, and his son, Helaman Ferguson, is currently on BYU's math faculty.


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