Mathematics. This word has probably triggered fear, panic and anxiety in too many students all over the world. Yet, luckily for us, the negative aura around it has been lifted in the last few decades through programs, events and exhibitions supporting this subject and making it less scary and more friendly to us all.
A mathematician is a creative mind, just like an artist or a poet: mathematicians make patterns with numbers; writers and poets use words, while artists employ shapes, colours, and assorted materials. Mathematics can therefore be appreciated also from an aesthetic point of view, since a perfect equation could be considered as a beautiful work of art.
Besides, mathematical ideas have proved very inspiring for many contemporary artists, architects, and fashion designers: in the last few years we have seen for example designers creating clever examples of "Math couture", at times based on mathematical or geometrical concepts such as the Fibonacci series or the Navier Stokes equations, or moving from mathematical tools like the cuisenaire rods.
In a nutshell, mathematics has started being embraced as something strictly linked with the future and with technology, and therefore as a discipline that can help us transforming for the better what surrounds us. Still skeptical? Well, you can now dispel the last doubts you may have at the Mathematics Gallery at London's Science Museum, designed by the late Zaha Hadid, and opening to the public from today (free to visit).
As announced in a previous post, Mathematics: The Winton Gallery is set to reveal the importance of mathematics in our everyday life through remarkable historical artefacts, stories and design from the Science Museum's science, technology, engineering and mathematics collections.
The displays include a 17th century Islamic astrolabe that uses ancient mathematical techniques to map the night sky and an early example of the famous Enigma machine used by code breaker Alan Turing during the Second World War.
Further unusual pieces include a box of glass eyes used by Francis Galton in his 1884 Anthropometric Laboratory to help measure the physical characteristics of the British public and develop statistics to support a wider social and political movement he termed "eugenics" and the Wisard pattern-recognition machine built in 1981 to attempt to re-create the "neural networks" of the brain, plus archive photography and film.
Curator Dr David Rooney, author of the volume Mathematics: How It Shaped Our World and curator of the Mathematics Gallery at the Science Museum stated in a press release: "At its heart this gallery reveals a rich cultural story of human endeavour that has helped transform the world over the last four hundred years. Mathematical practice underpins so many aspects of our lives and work, and we hope that bringing together these remarkable stories, people and exhibits will inspire visitors to think about the role of mathematics in a new light."
The main inspiration for the gallery design, the Handley Page "Gugnunc" aeroplane - built in 1929 for the Guggenheim competition - hangs from the ceiling and looks as if it were enveloped by the sinuously weaving and fluidly flowing panels and curved surfaces surrounding it.
The latter - inspired by equations of airflow used in the aviation industry - represent indeed the air that would have flowed around this historic aircraft in flight. In the same way, the arch-like benches produced using robotic manufacture, embody the mathematical spirit of the brief.
Early drawings of the project and a video help understanding these concepts better showing the air flows and their effects manipulated using computational tools based on the mathematics of flight.
Zaha Hadid Architects significantly started working on the Mathematics Gallery in the bicentennial year of the birth of Ada Lovelace, so she represented an inspiring influence on the project.
The late Zaha Hadid first became interested in geometry while studying mathematics at university. Mathematics and geometry have a strong connection with architecture and she took her passion for mathematics further via her computer aided architectures.
And if you can not see any connections with fashion, stop and admire the fabric pod structure hoovering above the gallery from a distance: you will realise it looks a bit like a gigantic ribbed knitted piece. And well, isn't kntwear another discipline in which there is a lot of counting and therefore a lot of maths in progress?