The Museum of Math, Shapes That Roll, and Mime-matics

Welcome to this week’s Math Munch!  We have so many exciting things to share with you this week – so let’s get started!

Something very exciting to math lovers all over the world happened on Saturday.  The Museum of Mathematics opened its doors to the public!

MoMath entranceThe Museum of Mathematics (affectionately called MoMath – and that’s certainly what you’ll get if you go there) is in the Math Munch team’s hometown, New York City.

human treeThere are so many awesome exhibits that I hardly know where to start.  But if you go, be sure to check out one of my favorite exhibits, Twist ‘n Roll.  In this exhibit, you roll some very interestingly shaped objects along a slanted table – and investigate the twisty paths that they take.  And you can’t leave without seeing the Human Tree, where you turn yourself into a fractal tree.

coaster rollersOr going for a ride on Coaster Rollers, one of the most surprising exhibits of all.  In this exhibit, you ride in a cart over a track covered with shapes that MoMath calls “acorns.”  The “acorns” aren’t spheres – and yet your ride over them is completely smooth!  That’s because these acorns, like spheres, are surfaces of constant width.  That means that if you pick two points on opposite ends of the acorn – with “opposite” meaning points that you could hold between your hands while your hands are parallel to each other – the distance between those points is the same regardless of the points you choose.  See some surfaces of constant width in action in this video:

Rouleaux_triangle_AnimationOne such surface of constant width is the shape swept out by rotating a shape called a Reuleaux triangle about one of its axes of symmetry.  Much as an acorn is similar to a sphere, a Reuleaux triangle is similar to a circle.  It has constant diameter, and therefore rolls nicely inside of a square.  The cart that you ride in on Coaster Rollers has the shape of a Reuleaux triangle – so you can spin around as you coast over the rollers!

Maybe you don’t live in New York, so you won’t be able to visit the museum anytime soon.  Or maybe you want a little sneak-peek of what you’ll see when you get there.  In any case, watch this video made by mathematician, artist, and video-maker George Hart on his first visit to the museum.  George also worked on planning and designing the exhibits in the museum.

We got the chance to interview Emily Vanderpol, the Outreach Exhibits coordinator for MoMath, and Melissa Budinic, the Assistant Exhibit Designer for MoMath.  As Cindy Lawrence, the Associate Director for MoMath says, “MoMath would not be open today if it were not for the efforts” of Emily and Melissa.  Check out Melissa and Emily‘s interviews to read about their favorite exhibits, how they use math in their jobs for MoMath, and what they’re most excited about now that the museum is open!

mimematicsLogo (1)Finally, meet Tim and Tanya Chartier.  Tim is a math professor at Davidson College in North Carolina, and Tanya is a language and literacy educator.  Even better, Tim and Tanya have combined their passion for math and teaching with their love of mime to create the art of Mime-matics!  Tim and Tanya have developed a mime show in which they mime about some important concepts in mathematics.  Tim says about their mime-matics, “Mime and math are a natural combination.  Many mathematical ideas fold into the arts like shape and space.  Further, other ideas in math are abstract themselves.  Mime visualizes the invisible world of math which is why I think math professor can sit next to a child and both get excited!”

One of my favorite skits, in which the mime really does help you to visualize the invisible world of math, is the Infinite Rope.  Check it out:

slinkyIn another of my favorite skits, Tanya interacts with a giant tube that twists itself in interesting topological ways.  Watch these videos and maybe you’ll see, as Tanya says, how a short time “of positive experiences with math, playing with abstract concepts, or seeing real live application of math in our world (like Google, soccer, music, NASCAR, or the movies)  can change the attitude of an audience member who previously identified him/herself as a “math-hater.””  You can also check out Tim’s blog, Math Movement.

Tim and Tanya kindly answered some questions we asked them about their mime-matics.  Check out their interview by following this link, or visit the Q&A page.

Bon appetit!

10 responses »

  1. I’ve never heard of a museum dedicated to math, except for my math teacher Mrs. Nguyen’s classroom. The museum seems amazing from what was I read in the post. When I think about shapes that roll I think about spheres and only spheres, but from what I learned is that another shape called an “acorn” rolls too! From reading on about this “acorn” I discovered that it’s realated to a sphere and the new shape that I learned, Reuleaux triangle, is realated to a circle. I’ve never heard of a Reuleaux triangle and I’m glad that I learned something new today! Mime-Matics is by far the weirdest thing that I’ve ever heard, and I love it! The combination of mathematics and teaching, Tanya and Tim created a fun way to learn concepts of math. Now I guess I wont have to travel to France to see a mime show when it’s here in the US.

  2. I really liked the video about the math museum. I liked how they made the bike with square wheels. The puzzle room and 3D wall looked cool. They would be cool to see in person. I wish I could go.

  3. I wish I could go to the math museum but does the bicycle with square wheels have to be rode on the ground the video shows it on?

    • Hi Ian! Yes, it does. On a normal road it wouldn’t move at all. That’s one of the things I think is coolest about the bike– that you can choose a wheel shape and design a shape of ground on which it will roll. You could try it with other shapes for wheels, too– like triangles, maybe.

  4. the releaux triangle objects are very confusing to how they make an object appear flat. Who made that discovery?

    im hoping to go to the math museum when i visit New York this winter.

  5. I watched the video on Reulaeux Triangles and I was truly amazed. I would have never thought that something other than a sphere could have been under that book. After reading about the triangle and how every two points on opposite sides of the shape are the same distance apart I wondered if any other shape could do this as well, other than a sphere.

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