A classic exhibition by Charles and Ray Eames: October 6, 2001 - May 5, 2002.


Mobius Strip
Möbius strip
Multiplication Cube
See a panorama of the exhibition.
Ray and Charles Eames
Ray and Charles with a model of Mathematica.

by Pearl Tesler
Exploratorium staff writer

W here math is concerned, people seem to fall into one of two camps: the fanatics and the phobics. The fanatics have bumper stickers on their cars that say things like, "Lottery: a tax on math illiteracy" and "2 + 2 = 5 for extremely large values of 2." The phobics break into a sweat at just the thought of balancing their checkbooks.

Fanatics and phobics alike stand to be inspired by the exhibition opening at the Exploratorium on October 6th. Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond is a collection of all that is wild and wonderful in mathematics, from age-old paradoxes like the Möbius strip to the more modern subfield of topology. Visually rich and lauded as a classic of exhibition design, Mathematica helps dispel the pervasive myth of math as an abstract morass of numbers.

For example, many embittered students have suffered through grading on a bell curve, a mystical statistical entity that, when applied to the classroom setting, decrees that there will be mainly C students, fewer B and D students, and just a sprinkling of A and F students. But the bell curve isn't just some evil plot; it's a real and ubiquitous natural phenomenon. In Mathematica, you can witness spontaneous formations of an in-the-flesh bell curve, as 30,000 plastic balls fall through a maze of 200 pegs into a series of slots, invariably forming the same pattern.

Other features of the exhibition: an Image Wall of mathematical visualizations, a History Wall that documents the evolution of mathematics (mainly Western) since a.d. 1100, and interactive exhibits on minimal surfaces, multiplication, reflection and projection geometry, and celestial mechanics.

Ray and Charles Eames While it showcases compelling artifacts of mathematical exploration, the exhibition is an artifact unto itself, created in 1961 by famed modernist designers, Charles and Ray Eames. This husband-and-wife team is best known for their revolutionary architectural and industrial design, including a legendary and much-copied 1946 bent plywood chair that has come to represent an inspired, humanized approach to mass production. The Eames's delight in mathematics is evoked in one reviewer's description of the iconic chair: "The back panel might be described as a rectangle about to turn into an oval, the transformation being arrested at a point midway between the two shapes." ( next page )

All images © Eames Office

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The Eames Mathematica: A World of Numbers and Beyond traveling exhibit
and the Mathematica(tm) software sold by Wolfram Research , Inc are completely unrelated.
The similar names are purely coincidental.

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