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Claiming His Piece of the Pi

Using just one home computer outfitted with four NVIDIA graphics cards, Ed Karrels, computer engineering master’s student, has beaten the 2010 record for computing the furthest digits of pi set by a team from Yahoo using 1000 machines!

piIt was in Dr. Maria Pantoja’s CUDA programming class that Karrels first decided to try to beat the record using NVIDIA’s parallel computing platform and programming model to go beyond the 500 trillionth digit. “CUDA is a new form of programming that allows you to tap into the power of the graphics processing unit. It’s been quite a challenge—a programming and math challenge as well as a stress test for the computing system,” said Karrels, who periodically checked his results against Yahoo’s numbers using the School of Engineering’s 48 Linux machines.

Applying the Bailey Borwein Plouffe (BBP) formula for computing the nth digit, he was able to start his computations just beyond the 500 trillionth digit, eliminating the need to manage huge numbers. With his run overlapping the last eight digits of Yahoo’s data, the first eight of his matched theirs while extending beyond—producing new, never-computed results. “It was very exciting to get a successful run, and to see my program work. Once I’ve cleaned up the code a bit, I will post my program and findings online as open source so that others may take it to the next level,” he said.

Karrels is a real Silicon Valley success story. After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science in Wisconsin in 1997 and working at Silicon Graphics for 2 years, he was hired as employee number 56 at Google, retiring 5 years later at age 30 when the company went public.

“Ed is an exceptional student,” said Professor Pantoja; “his work is extraordinary and he is an inspiration for our students.” An avid pilot, bicyclist, traveler, musician, and programmer, Karrels adds, “Nobody needs more than 30 digits of pi, but it was a challenge and it’s been fun; it’s a nerd thing.”