I can’t believe it. First The Hilltop Steakhouse and now this! Boston’s losing its long-standing icons.
Mathematica was an exhibit on mathematics commissioned by IBM for the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. It was designed and built by the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames, and was filled with quotes, cartoons, models (many of them working and moving), and exhibits of surprising clarity and wit. There was a giant Moebius strip with a motorized arrow moving along its surface to show that it had only one, a gravity well funnel with rolling shiny ball bearings to illustrate gravitational attraction, a dropping-ball model to illustrate the Binomial Distribution (the piles of balls eventually lined up perfectly with the pre-painted distribution curve painted on the wall), a bi-axial pendulum with sand leaking out that could create Lissajous figures, wire frames that dipped into soap solutions to create minimum surfaces, and more. Behind it all was a Mathematics Timeline showing the lives of famous mathematicians and events in mathematical history over the past several centuries.
The original went up in LA, but they built duplicates. One went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. This is the one that’s currently at the Boston Museum of Science. I think the LA one is now at the Hall of Science in New York City.
well, the one at the Boston MOS, which has been there since 1981*, is coming down next month. It certainly needs to be cleaned up and repaired – the projective Geometry models have fallen somewhat, and don’t line up right anymore. A LOT of the balls from the Binomial Distribution device have been lost, and they no longer come up to the painted curve. The model of the cylinder/ellipse intersection has slipped so that it no longer really illustrates the principal it’s supposed to. I’ve NEVER seen the “comet” on the Gravity Well in operation. Some of the items – which you aren’t supposed to touch – have been touched so often that they’ve been obliterated. And the whole thing is looking dated.
Still, it’s a powerful and compelling teaching tool, and I’ll be sad to see it go. I don’t know if it’s going to be retired, or will move on elsewhere. Apparently the only other remaining exhibit is the one at the Hall of Science in New York. The exhibit is slated to close next month, January of 2014.
“Mathematica” wasn’t alone. The Eames also did a lot of the things for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964-65 World’s Fair (taking some of them from “Mathematica” itself. Certainly I recognize the same cartoon style).
I believe they also did an exhibit for the New York Hayden Planetarium in the 1960s called, IIRC, “Astronomica”, about which I can find nothing on the Internet. They’re also responsible for the film Powers of Ten
*Although all the sources swear that the exhibit came to the MOS in 1981,m I could swear it was there when I was a student at MIT earlier. The Mathematics Time Line, which forms a backdrop to the exhibit, was also released as a long poster. They had a copy of this posted outside the MIT Undergraduate office until just a couple of months ago, when they closed the entire corridor down for renovation. I have my own copy of the poster, which I obtained from the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry.