Museums

National Museum of Mathematics is antidote to math phobia

By
10:00am, May 17, 2014

ON A ROLL  Square wheels roll with ease on a geometrically designed track at the National Museum of Mathematics.

Few equations confront a visitor to the National Museum of Mathematics on Manhattan’s East 26th Street. Instead, museumgoers find children — and adults — riding the Coaster Roller (below), a small platform that offers a surprisingly smooth ride over acorn-shaped balls. (The trick lies in the objects’ diameter, which is the same in every direction.)

This physical, tactile, even rambunctious presentation of math is intentional, says museum cofounder Glen Whitney. Too many people think math is “boring, useless, too hard, irrelevant, stifling, something that people don’t use,” says Whitney, a former math professor and hedge fund analyst. He wants to show people “the breadth and the beauty and the creativity that are inherent in mathematics.”

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