Down and Dirty at the Museum of Math?


Friday, January 25, 2013

For a long time, just about the only serious math museum in America was in New Hyde Park, New York — a Long Island suburban town you’ve probably never heard of. Then it closed in 2006, leaving no serious math museum. Did we need one to begin with?

Glen Whitney thought so. Whitney, a math professor turned hedge fund algorithms manager, raised $23 million to bankroll the National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath), which just opened its doors in New York. Studio 360 sent its intrepid reporter Henry Alford to visit, after doing his breathing exercises. “The math you’re scared about is not the math that’s here,” Cindy Lawrence, the museum’s associate director, reassured him. There’s more than one math? “The math that you don’t like is one little area of math, where we’re showing a broad expanse. Math can be creative colorful, engaging, fun.”

After winning a contest against a three-year old and forcing Whitney, the museum’s executive director, into a crabwalk, Alford revealed his burning question. “I buy a salmon fillet that’s shaped like Massachusetts and I’ve got to cut it in half to get two even pieces,” he explained. Whitney didn’t bat a decimal point. “There is a theorem which says that any angle you put your knife at, if you slide it back and away from you, there is one location that will cut the salmon into two identically-sized pieces.”

Unfortunately, he says “the theorem didn’t say that there was a way to find it. It just said that it existed.”


Slideshow: Inside the Museum of Mathematics

The National Museum of Mathematics

The National Museum of Mathematics, which just opened in New York City, aims to explain math through interactive exhibits. “Harmony of the Spheres” helps visitors understand the math behind musical chords.

The National Museum of Mathematics

“Square-Wheeled Trike” shows that it’s possible to use a square wheel — on the right surface.

The National Museum of Mathematics

“String Product” is both a massive sculpture and interactive calculator.

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Henry Alford

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