Peter B. Borwein Pure and Applied Mathematics

Internationally renowned mathematician who, with his brother Jonathan, calculated the value of pi to a new world record.

The Story

Borwein was born into a family of academicians. His father headed the math department at the University of Western Ontario and his mother, now associate dean of medicine at UWO, completed a PhD in anatomy. He and his two siblings all majored in mathematics. Borwein was hooked on number theory and classical analysis from his second undergraduate year. He obtained his doctorate at UBC, then joined the Department of Mathematics at Dalhousie. Later he moved to Simon Fraser University to join his brother Jonathan in setting up the internationally recognized Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics. The CECM has allowed the brothers to work with other researchers exploring the forefront of mathematical research using the power of computers.

While at Dalhousie, Peter Borwein, his brother Jon, and David Bailey of NASA co-wrote the 1989 paper demonstrating how to compute one billion digits of pi. This paper was awarded the 1993 Chauvenet (the Mathematical Association of America's principal prize for a paper) and Hasse prizes for expository writing. In 1995, the Borweins and Yasumasa Kanada of the University of Toyko took pi to over four billion digits.

The same year, working with David Bailey of NASA and Simon Plouffe, now at the University of Quebec, Peter Borwein developed an algorithm to calculate the individual hexadecimal digits of pi. In other words, they were able to arrive at the nth digit of pi without calculating all the preceding digits. Working with colleagues at SFU and NASA, Borwein then calculated the 40th billionth binary digit of pi, and more recently the quadrillionth binary digit of pi. These calculations go beyond novelty, instead pushing the application of computers to mathematical questions far beyond what was previously thought possible.

Borwein has co-authored several books, including Pi: A Source Book (1999), Polynomials and Polynomial Inequalities (1998), Pi and the AGM (1998) and A Dictionary of Real Numbers, now out of print.

With his brother Jonathan, Borwein co-edits the Canadian Mathematical Society/Springer-Verlag series of Books in Mathematics.

The quadrillionth binary digit of pi is 0.

Sources: Dr. Borwein's home page, CECM website, SFU press release Oct. 6, 1995, The Faculty of Applied Sciences (Previously known as The Centre for Systems Science); Image: Dr. Borwein's website.

Career ideas:

  • Mathematicians
  • Statisticians
  • Systems analysts
  • Computer programmers
  • Accountants
  • Actuarians
  • Financial auditors
  • Insurance analysts
  • Teachers
  • Investment analysts
  • Financial planners

The Person

St. Andrews, Scotland
Family Members
  • Father: Dr. David Borwein (Professor Emeritus, UWO)
  • Mother: Dr. Bessie Borwein, (Associate Dean for Research, Faculty of Medicine, UWO)
  • Brother: Professor Jonathan Borwein (SFU)
  • Wife: Jennifer, medical doctor
  • Daughters: Alexandra, Sophie and Theresa
Professor, Associate Director, Centre for Experimental & Constructive Mathematics
Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Simon Fraser University
  • BSc (mathematics) University of Western Ontario, 1974
  • MSC (mathematics) University of British Columbia, 1976
  • PhD (mathematics) University of British Columbia, 1979
  • Academic of the Year Award (BC Confederation of University Faculty Associations) shared with J. Borwein, 1996
Last Updated
September 25, 2015

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