Mention mathematics, and many will instantly turn off, reminded of dreary afternoons in the classroom. However the Science Museum in London is aiming to do just the opposite.
Funded by a gift from the David and Claudia Harding Foundation of 5 million pounds (the largest private gift donation to date!), Mathematics: The David and Claudia Harding Gallery will vividly explore mathematics in a way that draws it close to our hearts. Mathematicians, as well as their tools and their ideas, will be exhibited in a fashion that tells the story of how such influences have come to shape our modern world since the 17th century.
What’s most intriguing about the gallery is the interior composition. Designed by none other than Zaha Hadid Architects, the gallery has an unmistakably unique flare. It centres around an aircraft suspended in mid-air that holds significance to the historical development of mathematics, particularly the modelling of aerodynamics and material stress. The plane was built in Britain by Handley Page and was specifically designed to be able to take off and land slowly and steeply without stalling. In a very stylish manner, the gallery follows the curvature of the imagined airflow from the plane. Thus the exhibition takes place upon contours and waves, crafted into lines representing the turbulence field from the plane’s flight.
Although the architectural thought behind the gallery’s design is scientific, it exists almost as a piece of art. This in itself encourages further curiosity into the subject matter. Director of the Science Museum, Ian Blatchford, hopes to provoke interest on the subject with this “sassy” display of mathematical information. Rather than the usual technical displays of maths, he hopes that this more personable display, focusing on the personalities involved in its history, will make the subject matter more endearing to visitors.
Zaha Hadid, who personally worked on this project, had a background in the subject herself. Achieving a degree in mathematics before she became an architect, she shared compassion for the subject. She also hoped to shake the negative cultural stereotypes that are attached to maths.
So whether or not you pride yourself on your maths skills, Mathematics: The David and Claudia Harding Gallery will immerse you in a mathematical experience. At the very least it will charm you with its architectural impressions.
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