The circumference of a circle is 2π times its radius. This is a bit confusing, having to stare at a factor TWO in an expression that is supposed to produce the circumference of ONE whole circle. Also, if you rotate the circle radius ONE full turn (360 degrees), your radian expression will contain an irrelevant factor TWO. Inelegant, clumsy, unnerving.

But these (and plenty more) annoyances can be resolved, if you care to define a different circle constant, τ (Greek letter tau):

τ= circumference/radius

Now, using this new circle constant τ , one full rotation (360 degrees) of a unit radius becomes simply 1 x τ = τ radians. Similarly, turning the radius 60 degrees means turning it one sixth (1/6) of a full turn and hence τ/6 radians, turning it 90 degrees is equivalent to ¼ of a full turn and hence τ/4 radians, and so on. Immensely more intuitive and straightforward, when there is no fooling around with an inexplicable factor 2, isn’t it?

The inspiration of using the circumference/radius definition as the proper (and the one-and-only) circle constant first occurred to mathematician Bob Palais (in the article “Pi is wrong!”), but the idea of using the Greek letter τ (Tau) to denote it is due to physicist Michael Hartl. Hartl declared June 28 2010 “Tau Day”, and he will probably celebrate the first Tau Day anniversary on June 28, 2011.

2π occurs in a large number of important mathematical expressions (Gaussian probability distribution, Fourier transform, Cauchy’s integral formula, etc.), so replacing 2π by τ makes things easier and simpler.

The price of this simplicity is that the expression for the area of a circle becomes A = ½τr2, which contains an inconvenient factor ½. But Michael Hartl maintains that there are a lot of quadratic forms of this type in mathematics and physics (distance fallen: ½gt2, spring energy: ½kx2, kinetic energy: ½mv2, etc.), so the area formula for a circle will be easy to remember.

So τ = 6.283185 ... is the only circle constant worth remembering. Forget all others – there can only be one winner! But victory may take some time, I guess.