Monday, January 30, 2012

CultureLab - Mathematics, looking for a good home

Jacob Aron, technology reporter
(Image: F1 Online/Rex Features)

Mathematicians have launched an ambitious campaign to raise the profile of their discipline, by opening a museum of maths in the UK. Geoff Wain, who is leading the initiative, points out that every other subject has a variety of cultural and educational hubs for people to visit, so why not maths? “Where would you go to find out about mathematics?” he says. “There’s absolutely nowhere in this country, it’s very sad.”
Last week, Wain and colleagues, as well as other interested fans of mathematics, gathered at King's College London to discuss their ideas for the museum, which is currently known as MathsWorldUK. So far, the plan is to have a number of zones covering topics such as numbers, shape and space, chance and infinity. The museum will also highlight the lives of historical mathematicians alongside those who use maths in their work today.
The museum will have a strong focus on interactivity, providing something for people of all ages to play and experiment with. “Mathematics as a theoretical thing with no concrete side to it is what can kill it off, I think,” says Wain. “Having things you can actually do is really important.” The museum gift shop could also sell shrunk-down versions of the exhibits, allowing people to take puzzles home with them.
Wain and colleagues are now looking to raise money to start the museum, with plans to approach a variety of companies and individuals. He says they are aiming high for funds of £50 million, with £10 million as the minimum needed to get the museum off the ground. Much of that money will go towards acquiring a building - so why not save on costs by integrating with the existing Science Museum in London?
“If you say maths is a part of science, the next thing is it never gets mentioned,” says Wain. He and others at the event last week also raised the point that maths is about more than just scientific number-crunching, as it also has cultural and entertainment value. “In a way it’s a game you play with logic, and amazingly it has these fantastic applications to almost every bit of the real world.”
Successful maths museums have already been established in other countries, such as the Mathematikum in Giessen, Germany, which first opened in 2002 and now attracts 150,000 visitors a year. This year will also see the opening of The Museum of Mathematics in New York, which began planning in 2008 and received funding from the likes of Google and some hedge funds.
Wain doesn’t know how long it might take to establish a similar museum in the UK, but he is enthusiastic about the demand from the public for more maths, having been involved in a mobile maths exhibit called the Pop Maths Roadshow during the 1990s. “It attracted a quarter of million people and enormous numbers of people wrote afterwards and asked 'when is it happening again?',” he says. Perhaps they will have an answer soon.

No comments:

Post a Comment