The Math Museum: Where Integrals Meet Imagination

By Ahmed Abdelqader, Jason Nadboy, & Carolyne Ricardo

It’s too hard, it’s pointless, it’s irrelevant, and it’s useless. But try saying those things to any of the visitors you might have found roaming and interacting with the exhibits at MoMath – the first Museum of Mathematics in North America, which was celebrated with a grand ceremony on December 12th, 2012, and its first official public opening on Saturday December 15th, 2012. They’d just tell you phooey!

Even the floor of the entrance to the museum incorporates mathematics, using a pattern of white polygons and gray shading.
Even the floor of the entrance to the museum incorporates mathematics, using a pattern of white polygons and gray shading.

Pleasantly greeted by the clear glass doors and the pi symbol handle, visitors find themselves entering into a new side of mathematics, one visitors don’t normally see or understand in a classroom, nor from a textbook. It is overwhelming, the amount of applications of mathematics are seen. You first walk into a cubicle structure, its floor decorated with tessellations, which are repeated patterns of polygons. Visitors can even use a computer, upon entering, to create their own logos with familiar symbols from Mathematics.

Each exhibit is unique, and each employee of the MoMath carries you on a journey to discovering why each exhibit works the way it does. One exhibit, for example, was a sled that was not rolling on a level track, yet still moving smoothly. How is it so? The shapes beneath the sled have equal diameters, meaning that no matter how the shape is oriented, its highest point is always the same distance from the ground. So while the sled wasn’t on a level surface, it still was located on leveled points.

Jason Nadboy experiments with the unique sled, learning that tugging one rope will rotate the sled.
Jason Nadboy experiments with the unique sled, learning that tugging one rope will rotate the sled.

The wheel. The image everyone sees in their minds is a circle, but at MoMath, the surprise is a track made of cycloids, stretched out circles, and two different sized tricycles with square wheels. And the ride wasn’t bumpy at all! Of course there were minor irregularities because of the imperfect world in which we live, but overall the tricycles moved as if they were normal ones on a flat road. A perfect combination of riding a bike and learning mathematics; both ideas that converge towards our present from our humble childhoods.

Ahmed Abdelqader experiences square wheels for the first time, like other visitors of the museum.
Ahmed Abdelqader experiences square wheels for the first time, like other visitors of the museum.

A recent graduate of the Math Major, Troy Singletary now studies Mechanical Engineering at Cooper Union. His heavy course load did not stop him from traveling to this two story museum. The math enthusiast inside of him had to view a museum dedicated to his earliest of passions.

“The puzzle cube of course,” Singletary responded when asked about his favorite exhibit at the museum. “But the Galileo curve is a close second.”

Even taking the elevator is an adventure, noticing that the ground level is labeled as ‘0’ and the floor below as ‘-1.’

Connecting the first and “zeroth” floor, the String Product exhibit has illuminating iron cords that criss cross in a parabolic solid manner. Pick any two integers between zero and nine then watch as the cord with their corresponding product lights up! You can walk along the parabolic helix and watch as children explore the basics of multiplication through unique and concrete real life examples.

The string Product Exhibit accompanies the staircase to Floor -1.
The string Product Exhibit accompanies the staircase to Floor -1.

Take a step onto the Math Square with some friends, and it will create the shortest distance between every person standing on it at that very moment. Labeling each person with a pink dot, where they stand, and bright green lines make the connections. This is Graph Theory, the study of mathematical structures (graphs) that model pairwise relations between objects.

Walk even further and visitors will find a wall, with cameras, that’ll allow them to wave their arms and make an intricate tree like pattern of themselves. Putting their hands up makes the computer replace their arms with mini versions of themselves and so on. As you move your arms up, more miniature versions of yourself are added to the pattern, creating an even greater tree. This is an example of fractals, which are commonly found in nature and other instances in Mathematics. When you are done, you can have the exhibit take a snapshot of your tree body and have it sent to your email.

“There was a dinner, a nice presentation, but I wanted to come over here and see the museum! So finally we got to come and see all the effort put into this, all the fun, it’s really amazing.” said Chaim Goodman-Strauss, Chair of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Arkansas, and one of the Mathematicians contacted to work on various exhibits related to geometry in the MoMath.

Goodman-Strauss shows us one of his creations from an interactive exhibit at the museum.
Goodman-Strauss shows us one of his creations from an interactive exhibit at the museum.

Goodman-Strauss also has a podcast online called The Math Factor, mathfactor.uark.edu, and has been involved in the making of mathematics into something more fun and hands-on.

“Mathematics education doesn’t really do a great job of showing the richness and creativity, and different directions it can go, it’s about beauty, nature and reality, and the museum is trying to share and promote that,” said Goodman-Strauss.

A day after the Saturday Grand Opening, the Math Museum held another breathtaking event – a mathematical scavenger hunt. In The Dimensions scavenger hunt, teams of four people competed to solve a dozen puzzles, and then they completed a meta puzzle in search of a missing number.

David Kurkovskiy, a senior at Stuyvansent High School, volunteered to help at this event.

“My favorite part was the thrilling finish when the first team finished the meta puzzle 10 minutes before the end of the hunt,” he said. “The final puzzle involved two holographic images and once they figured out the answer to the hunt, the looks of awes on the team’s faces was inspiring. It’s that level of appreciation for problem-solving and creative thinking that the Museum of Math strives to represent.

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