Spirals & fractals at the MoS

Another museum visit on my staycation was to the Museum of Science: the special exhibit Numbers in Nature, continuing through April 25.

My capsule summary is that it is generally high in quality but low in quantity. Yes, I agree that quality is more important, so it will be just fine for you if you’re visiting Boston’s Museum of Science anyway. But perhaps it will be disappointing if you make a special trip. The exhibit features four mathematical topics:

My focus was on the first and the last of these, as my freshmen have just completed a project about spirals and my juniors are in the middle of a project about fractals. How serendipitous!

The exhibit also includes several interesting interactive opportunities relating math to music, a topic that all of my juniors studied briefly and several of my juniors are exploring in depth for the upcoming Fractal Fair:

But back to the main topics. We have some nice examples of spirals in nature and spirals in culture (a distinction we also like to make in our fractals unit in precalculus):

Fine, but ho-hum. These look like posters put together by an above-average group of high-school students, not by a famous museum. Or am I being too critical?

On the other hand, we have a lovely interactive display that lets the visitor tweak three parameters and thereby generate remarkably realistic fractal trees in real time. Kudos for this one:

Similarly, there is another interactive display that lets the visitor tweak a different set of three parameters and thereby generate remarkably realistic fractal landscapes in real time. Kudos for this one too:

Finally, a few other examples and we will have pretty much exhausted the entire exhibit:

Fractals in the human body:

But no, I forgot one important thing! The amazing maze at the entrance casts a new light on things. To quote the museum’s brochure:

At the center of it all: a 1,700-square-foot elaborate mirror maze where visitors can lose themselves in a seemingly infinite repeating pattern of mirrors. This arrangement of symmetry and tessellation is the ultimate introduction to patterns and how math is an integral part of our lives. Dead ends are scattered throughout, and a small secret room is hidden within, rewarding you with bonus puzzles and artifacts.

Stay away from it if losing yourself “in a seemingly infinite repeating pattern of mirrors” sounds like a nightmare to you!

Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning