Sunday, April 10, 2011

New York Hall of Science

On April 5th I visited New York Hall of Sciences - I was kindly invited to give a talk for the Staff Professional development seminar. I was caught in traffic while driving there from Brooklyn - 11 miles took more than an hour. Because of that I arrived just before my talk and did not have time to look around beforehand. But I did later and saw interesting things.
It is still possible (until April 24) to see a wonderful travelling exhibit 1001 Inventions which previously was shown in Istanbul and London.
So called "dark ages" in Europe was the Golden Age in Muslim civilization. Innovations from that period are still in use today. I liked very much how visitors are invited to push buttons at particular exhibits by mischievous story tellers who wave at you.

One of the stories I listened was about Islamic architecture and developing the infrastructure in cities. It also mentioned amazing geometric constructions which later were copied by Western architects.

The story about the astrolabe is told by woman and this was not the only one about creative and smart women. More can be found on 1001 Inventions website. But this movie will give a better visual idea about this fascinating exhibit:

Director of NY Hall of Science Eric Siegel proudly showed me and David a permanent exhibit Mathematica. It was designed in 1961 for IBM and is the first interactive exhibition devoted to math.

The long wall of math history starts from approximately 12th century.
The first model we both noticed in the exhibit of course is the pseudosphere -surface with constant negative curvature I was just mentioning in my talk.
Sometimes when I talk about hyperbolic plane my audience is asking me where are hyperbolas on it, and I have to disappoint them telling that there are none.
This surface is hyperboloid which also has negative curvature on its surface but the curvature is not constant. It is an interesting surface that can be built with straight steel beams. It allows minimisation of wind cross-section while retaining structural integrity with minimal material. Cooling towers is one of the application examples in architecture.

This is a nice demonstration of stereographic projection.

My favorite depiction of stereographic projection is by Peter Paul Rubens:

When applied in photography, stereographic projection produces fun images.

Pseudosphere can be seen in another demonstration - about planetary motion. It visually shows black hole idea.

Yet another surface with negative curvature (but not constant!) is helicoid as the demonstration of DNA structure shows. (In Crocheting Adventures with the Hyperbolic Planes I wrote about the connections between helicoid and catenoid and have pictures of crocheted models that show this connection.)

The next surface has both - positive and negative curvature (can you see where?).
If this already reminded you about the mathematical models I wrote in my previous post, then the next picture is even closer to art:

I really liked this delicate string model of helicoid tucked in between braid and sphere packing demonstration. I wish it could have its own case to be fully appreciated.

Also Reye Configuration could use more space (some more pictures of Reye configuration). But of course I understand space issues in exhibits...

I was happy to see the visual depiction of one of my favorite geometry theorems - Pascal theorem (sometimes called Hexagrammum Mysticum Theorem). It is a generalization of ancient Pappus theorem, and Pascal found this generalization when he was only 16!
At the time when Pascal was playing with geometry, he had no idea that this theorem will be later mentioned in projective geometry. There is a nice demonstration of projective geometry in Mathematica. This is a configuration how you see it from the side:
And this is what you see when looking to the same configuration through the hole.

Do not see anything? Good reason to go and visit NY Hall of Science yourself! Much more to see than I can show here, for example, some math magic too:

When we arrived at NY Hall of Science there were many school buses and the hallway was full with happy primary school kids. B y the time we were leaving exhibit halls were mostly empty since school day was over. While I am totally agreeing that we should talk to children about science in early age, I was still thinking about the tendency of turning science museums into children playgrounds. What happens to children curiosity later? Is it consumed by computers and video games and we do not see anymore teenagers in science museums? I remembered my first ever visit to science museum. It was in 1994 in Finland - this year Heureka is celebrating 20 years. It is not as old as Exploratorium or Ontario Science Center, which are twice as old, but still Heureka was one of the first. I have not had a chance to visit it again, so I cannot tell whether I would have the same impression now. But in 1994 we all adults had great fun to look at the exhibits and I do remember many teenagers and adults there and exhibits were engaging us. In US I have met with many people working in science centers and they all confirm the same thing I have notices - science centers are places where parents take their children like they take them to the playground, and children behave there as in playground - they play. It is good first to play but there is no follow up. Except for some volunteers I have not seen any teenager coming to science center - who is going to return to the playground? As a result exhibits are being tailored to the kinder garden level. What happens? Like in NY Hall of Science little kids will pass this very nice Mathematica exhibit - it is above kinder garden or primary school level, it will stay in their memory as something impossible to understand and that's it. I wish I am too pessimistic in these thoughts and wrong...
On my way back to Ithaca I was driving across Tapan Zee bridge
According to 2009 AAA report this bridge is "worst of the worst in New York", some say even in the whole country by now. Still in use.
Attitude to safety like this?
If something endangers them these geese will simply fly away. Bridges, education... Well, may be not my business, may be I am thinking about restricted areas like this park - on my way out I noticed the sign that it is "only for the use to Westchester County residents". So much for "free country"...

Fortunately, these ones did not object us walking there.

1 comment:

  1. Nice photos tagged here. I like the interior of new York hall. And last natural scenario is also pretty impressive.
    dean graziosi