Many people who think math is boring would be intrigued by a square-wheeled tricycle.
At least that’s what Glen Whitney thinks.
Whitney, a former math professor and hedge fund number cruncher, is opening a Museum of Mathematics in Manhattan next year to get people to interact with math and see it as fun. (The U.S. currently lacks a single math museum after the Goudreau Museum of Mathematics on Long Island closed in 2006.)
Two years ago, Whitney created a traveling exhibit called the Math Midway, which featured a lot of the kinds of exhibits that the museum, already nicknamed MoMath, will display.
One example is the square-wheeled trike. During Math Midway, people could ride one on a ridged circular path that resembled human-sized flower petals. The petals were shaped to rise and fall in a way that compensated for the squareness of the wheels, keeping the centers of the tricycle wheels level at all times.
You can watch people riding the square-wheeled trikes in this video:
Whitney envisions MoMath as having colorful, interactive exhibits that show the beauty of mathematics, such as this Menger Sponge puzzle.
As he told The New York Times about his decision to found a math museum,
“I really felt that I found my calling,” Mr. Whitney said. “I don’t mean to be grandiose, but it was something that felt like it really fit with my lifetime of experiences and abilities and likes and so on.”
So far, his vision has inspired donors to give $22 million to fund the museum, including $2 million from Google and a substantial amount in individual donations.
He hopes the museum changes attitudes about math. “It’s the only field you can go to a cocktail party and talk to people with pride about how lousy you are,” he told the Times.