Glen Whitney, a mathematician and former hedge fund manager, was disappointed when Long Island's Goudreau Museum, a small space devoted to math, closed a few years ago. His response: think much bigger. In December his Museum of Mathematics is scheduled to open near Manhattan's Flatiron District.
“From the moment you walk in, you will be surrounded by math, whether you know it or not,” Whitney says. The museum is designed to be fun, but it also has a serious purpose. Cindy Lawrence, the museum's associate director, says the U.S. is not producing enough mathematically competent workers. That can be a national security concern because the National Security Agency is the country's leading employer of mathematicians and relies on them to analyze intelligence data. Part of the museum's mission, Lawrence says, is to educate kids about the range of mathematical careers available.
The museum will feature a wide range of interactive exhibits, from a square-wheeled tricycle that visitors can ride smoothly on a bumpy surface to a video camera that will allow users to “become” fractals. In the “Hyper Hyperboloid,” a visitor can sit inside a mathematical surface and transform it with the twist of a dial.
Whitney and Lawrence hope that the museum will appeal to people across the spectrum of mathematical knowledge. As visitors enter the building, they select their mathematical comfort level on a computer, which encodes their ticket. Computers at exhibits will then display the appropriate explanation. Those who want to learn more can manually scroll through all the text.
The museum will also help support teachers. Its Rosenthal Prize for math teachers in grades four through 12 offers a cash prize and makes the winner's instructional materials available for others to use.
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