Math has been intimidating and worrying students (and their parents) since humans starting adding and subtracting. But the people behind MoMath—the only museum devoted to math in the United States—want to change the perception that math is boring and scary. "We want to show a different side of mathematics," co-founder Cindy Lawrence tells New Scientist. "Our goal is to get kids excited, and show them the math they're doing in school is just one tree in a whole huge forest."
The museum, located in New York City, ditches the textbook in favor of hands-on exhibits—there are over 40—that aim to teach a real understanding of abstract concepts. At Pedal on the Petals (above), kids can ride a bike with square-shaped wheels. In Hoop Curves, visitors will be able to optimize their aim. Hyper Hyperboloid demonstrates how taut lines of string can form a curved surface. Stand on Math Square, and it will light up the shortest path between all the people on it. At Coaster Rollers, people propel themselves in a little car over oddly-shaped objects that, according to Time Out Kids, "act as though they're spheres because of a unique property they share with balls: they all have a constant diameter." There are also areas where visitors can design 3D objects and submit them to a contest, a red laser that demonstrates what a cross-section is, and technology that generates holograms of flat sketched objects so people can walk around in them.
And math isn't just for exhibits. It's hidden everywhere, if visitors look closely enough, including in the Enigma Cafe, where the walls are made of pentominoes and families can solve digital puzzles, and at the museum's two-story paraboloid sculpture, which has lights that run between points where the radius is a whole number (it's actually an interactive calculator).
The idea is to demonstrate that math isn't just something that's taught in school or found in museums, but "that math is actually out in the world, and we brought it in here," chief of design Tim Nissen told New Scientist. MoMath opened yesterday.