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Museum to boost math by adding fun, subtracting bore
NEW YORK (AP) | Mathematics. It’s a subject that can elicit groans and exclamations of “boring.”
But Glen Whitney, a former hedge-fund quantitative analyst, is betting he can change that with a formula that looks like this: math (equals) discovery (equals) beauty (equals) fun.
Mr. Whitney is planning to open the only museum in the United States dedicated to mathematics. MoMath, which will center on the wonders of mathematics and its connections with art, science and finance, is scheduled to open in New York City sometime next year with the help of a $2 million grant from Google.
There are many great math teachers in the United States, but the subject’s joy of discovery is lost to the “tyranny of the curriculum and the almost treadmill of standardized testing,” Mr. Whitney said.
“That sensibility has sucked out the life of the subject,” he said. “Math is evolving. It’s an act of human endeavor. There’s beauty” in its many patterns.
The museum will provide the element of surprise and excitement that textbooks cannot, said Cindy Lawrence, the museum’s chief of operations who directs an extracurricular mathematics program for gifted students through a joint venture with Brookhaven National Laboratory.
The $30 million museum will occupy the ground floor and lower level of a 20-story building on East 26th Street in Chelsea; $22 million already has been raised.
The two executives have been testing the waters of creating a museum of mathematics for nearly two years with Math Midway, a traveling exhibit that has been shown in seven cities, and counting.
It will be at the World Science Festival street fair in New York on June 5, and at the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey from Oct. 7 to Jan. 22, 2012.
It is currently at the Museum of Nature & Science in Dallas, where schoolchildren recently scampered through the kind of carnival-themed, brightly colored exhibits planned for MoMath.
Tents along one wall offered a variety of activities including a depiction of a ship on a moving circle that can be “righted” only by placing equal amounts of weight on each side; a roller coaster track that children can adjust to test out what angle gets the fastest time; and a harmonograph, which uses pendulums to draw a geometric image.
“It’s just a very hands-on, exciting exhibit” that appeals to many ages, said Jason Treadway, an educator at the Dallas museum. “I think one of the great things about it is you’re basically learning about math without knowing you’re learning about math.”
Another activity, “Pedal on the Petals,” lets visitors ride square-wheeled tricycles on a track with a series of curves shaped like a huge sunflower.
A nearby sign that proclaims “There’s a road for every wheel” also asks “Do you dare to ride on a square?” The sign poses the question: “Why is the ride so smooth?”
The concept is based on a mathematical theorem that there’s a way to contour a road surface so that wheels of that shape will roll smoothly.
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