Maths is all around us, as Wet Wet Wet nearly sang, and now the Science Museum has got a new gallery devoted to all things numerical. I confess that I was a little confused as to what we would find in a Maths Gallery. Lots of complicated calculations perhaps? Thankfully not. Just the fruit of those calculations.
Right at the centre of the Maths Gallery is a Handley Page biplane surrounded by an attractive swirling white and purple structure. All designed by Zaha Hadid. Have you ever wondered what keeps a plane in the air? Well take a closer look at all those swirls and you will have your answer for they represent the wind tunnel flows created by the plane.
What does this rather fine chest of drawers have to do with Maths? In 1818, it came to the attention of the Lord Castlereagh that not all weights and measures were the same and that meant that British business might loose out. So he sent a memo to all the British Consuls around the world asking them to send examples of local standard weights to London. It took two years for all 71 to arrive and when they did they were housed in this cabinet the Royal Mint.
More obviously mathematical, but equally important to trade, is calculating the tides. All these dials are part of Lord Kelvin’s tide predicting machine that deploys the harmonic method of analysis to produce a years worth of data. Somewhat less attractive is a machine, that stands nearby. It was developed in the wake of the 1953 East Coast floods to help predict when storm surges might occur, this is a lot trickier than simple tides and the weather plays a large part in the equation.
Calculators are so cheap and everyday now, that when I tell the Junior CW’s just how impressed we all were when Stephen Oakley come into school with a Sinclair Cambridge calculator they looks at me as if I’m telling them about the Dark Ages. Sure enough the Maths Gallery has a whole section devoted to calculators.
The new Maths Gallery is a visual treat but also an eye opening one. Being good at Maths opens up many interesting careers not just the obvious accounting and computer options but architecture too. A maths graduate friend of mine once described Maths as THE most creative subject, I raised an eyebrow at the time but would now agree with him. We visited with Junior CW’s and the Godmother, all had a good time.
Exhibition Road, London SW7 2DD
Open: Daily 10am – 5.15pm
Admission free (but donations very welcome!)
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