Hands up who, when thinking about maths, immediately dismisses it as dry and complex? If that’s you; don’t worry, you’re certainly not the only one. But a new exhibition space at the world-renowned Science Museum in London’s Kensington aims to radically challenge that opinion. ‘Mathematics: The David and Claudia Harding Gallery’ will look to engage visitors with ideas and ‘stories’ that position maths at the centre of our lives’ experiences and explore how mathematicians have helped shape our world.
Set to open at the museum in spring this year, the two-floor gallery will be curate by David Rooney, who was previously behind its award-winning ‘Code breaker’ exhibition about the computer-inventing Alan Turing’s life and legacy, and is part of a wider plan to redevelop a third of the museum over the coming years.
The Science Museum likes to call itself the ‘home of human ingenuity’, aiming to – and more often than not achieving at – inspiring its visitors with award-winning exhibitions, fascinating objects and explaining how major scientific achievements are relevant to everyday life. Certainly one of the best places in the world to engage people in science, its collection is truly outstanding, offering an unrivalled record of scientific, technological and medical advances from all around the world.
The new gallery, looking to appeal most to those aged 12-16 years, will span four centuries of ‘human ingenuity’, all the way from the Renaissance up to today’s modern breakthroughs, featuring artefacts including hand-held mathematical instruments as well as its largest object, an experimental aircraft built in 1929 by Handley Page, which was designed to take off and land at a steep incline, in order to overcome the dangers of using urban airfields shrouded in fog. The use of aerodynamics and material stresses (calculated using mathematic theories) are particularly embodied then in the aircraft’s design.
The aircraft has also informed the actual architecture of the gallery, with the idea being it represents a wind tunnel for the aeroplane, which will be suspended at the centre of the space, while related exhibits will be laid out around it following the would-be lines of airflow. This mathematical approach to the gallery’s design will be blended with other such concepts that inform display cases and further aspects of the gallery.
If you’re planning on visiting London this spring and looking for something to both entertain and engage – and even educate – the kids then, this new Science Museum mathematics gallery (complete with its aircraft!) could well be the answer, not least if you’re staying relatively nearby, such as at the London Premier Notting Hill hotel.
The legendary architect Zaha Hadid, at the launch of her company’s design for the gallery last year, told The Guardian newspaper: “This is very exciting for us – mathematics and geometry have an amazing influence on our work”.
Hadid, who studied for a degree in mathematics before becoming an architect, added that it’s important for maths to rid itself of negative cultural stereotypes: “When I came to do architecture people said you must know how to add. There is that aspect to maths, of course. But there is another aspect that was of interest to me and that was abstract thinking, and that was when I realised how important that degree was”.
The gallery’s funding has been derived from The David and Claudia Harding Foundation. Over the years, David Harding’s charities have made a number of donations to fund academic research and science communication, and at the launch he said: “Mathematics is a fascinating and mysterious but, for some, forbidding subject. The new gallery has been created to convey something of that fascination in a way that will appeal to a wide audience”.
Science Museum director Ian Blatchford further commented to the newspaper: “With this gallery we want to evoke the kind of excitement around mathematics that our Collider exhibition has done around particle physics, and with Zaha Hadid’s extraordinary designs, this project is off to the best start imaginable. This appointment reflects our ambition to deliver the world’s foremost gallery of mathematics both in its collection and its design”.