New Museum Will Strive to ‘Reveal the Wonders’ of Math

By Erik W. Robelen — April 26, 2011 2 min read
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New York City, already home to a wealth of cultural institutions, is adding another to the mix, with the opening next year of what organizers say will be the only math museum in the United States.

Plans for the Museum of Mathematics got a big boost earlier this month, when Google committed $2 million to the enterprise, part of a larger announcement by the search-engine company to support a handful of (mostly science) museums.

On its website, the math museum, dubbed MoMath for short (a play on the Museum of Modern Art acronym, MoMA) explains what’s in store.

“The Museum of Mathematics strives to enhance public understanding and perception of mathematics,” it says. “Its dynamic exhibits and programs will stimulate inquiry, spark curiosity, and reveal the wonders of mathematics. The museum’s activities will lead a broad and diverse audience to understand the evolving, creative, human, and aesthetic nature of mathematics.”

A recent Associated Press story profiles MoMath, explaining that it will “center on the wonders of mathematics and its connections with art, science, and finance.”

Glen Whitney, the museum’s founder and a former hedge fund quantitative analyst, told the AP that while there are many great math teachers across the nation, the subject’s joy of discovery is lost to the “tyranny of the curriculum and the almost treadmill of standardized testing.”

“That sensibility has sucked out the life of the subject,” Whitney said. “Math is evolving. It’s an act of human endeavor. There’s beauty” in its many patterns.

MoMath apparently was launched in response to the closing of a small math museum on Long Island, called the Goudreau Museum of Mathematics in Art and Science, the website explains. The mathematical collection at that facility was “well loved but well worn, and when the museum ran out of money, the entire collection was discarded.”

Although the museum isn’t open to the public yet, it already has developed a traveling exhibition, called Math Midway. The AP story says the exhibit has toured in seven cities, and will be featured at the World Science Festival street fair in New York City on June 5, and at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, N.J., starting in October.

By the way, I learned about a number of other math exhibits at museums. For example, with support from the National Science Foundation, several science centers and museums, including the Science Museum of Minnesota, developed what’s called Math Core for Museums, a collaborative effort to develop exhibits that use body motion to engage children and their families in learning experiences with ratio and proportion over multiple museum visits. Meanwhile, the Oregon Museum of Science & Industry, also with NSF support, developed a touring exhibit called Design Zone. This interactive exhibit explores the math and science behind creating video games, designing roller coasters, and producing music tracks at a DJ recording station.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.