We are launching today (2 July 2014) the Museum of Mathematics to serve the interests of mathematics in the country, and to promote a knowledge and love of mathematics especially among school children.

For many years ETHER has been engaged in supporting museums, libraries, galleries and archives, and today we start to run a museum ourselves. We have contemplated this museum over the past few years, and have especially been exploring the question “how does one start a new museum”? Is it sufficient to simply state that we are a museum, or is there some other qualification required?

Mathematics pervades all of our lives and our society, and yet it is largely intangible since, for example, we cannot capture the number two and show it off in a museum. Perhaps someone out there has the original number two and I should be speaking to them, but I see number two as a shared concept and not as an object.

The Museum of Mathematics is shortened as MμMα (or as MUMA). MμMα will be opening up the world of mathematics to all, showing the part that it plays in life and work, expounding a range of unusual and interesting aspects of mathematics, and will show how mathematics is used, and how to learn mathematics.

Read more

A little exercise in mathematical patterns

As a first exercise in the knowledge of mathematics, you can try to find relationships between numbers and see if you can find patterns.

For example, take the numbers in today’s date, 2 July 2014, 2/7/14, and see if you can find a relationship.

This one is easy, since 2 x 7 = 14.

Try this every day and see if you can find interesting patterns in the numbers of our lives.

The number 7 is interesting in itself. It is a prime number, meaning that it cannot be divided into equal parts, except for dividing it into 1s (1+1+1+1+1+1+1). But it cannot be divided into 2s or 3s or any other number. These prime numbers are very important in mathematics, and even though they are a simple concept which can be explained to young children, the knowledge of the prime numbers contains some of the most important unsolved problems in the whole of mathematics.

Back to MμMα

The next few months will see MμMα grow from nothing to become a new museum. The challenge is how to make this happen, and in the next blog I will be exploring what I consider to be the most important question, being the purpose of this museum, and in particular who will it serve and what benefits will it provide to the various stakeholders. Whereas these are relatively simple statements, of the purpose, mission, vision, and values, these are also difficult to capture in words. These provide an understanding of the goal of the museum, and all actions will be directed to this goal.

A Request for Collaboration and Help

Many museums, archives and libraries have mathematically-related objects and stories, and we would like to build up our collection by tapping into these existing collections, and to develop links to these in the form of a virtual museum structure. This is done by referencing the items in other museums, so that our MμMα collection consists both of our own holdings and as other links to holdings at other institutions.

We will be developing our Collection Development Policy as one of our early guiding documents, and this will indicate what we will collect and why, and what we will not collect and why, and particularly how we will dispose of items that we do not need in the collection. There is a tendency to collect everything and to decide on how this will be used later, perhaps in future generations, but this is not a good policy since too much will be accumulated which may never be needed. By knowing the user base, current and future, and by understanding the needs of this user base, it is then possible to be more specific about what items are relevant to include into the collection.

At this point, I am interested in knowing what collections, objects, stories, and sites exist in the country and I am making a request to you for collaboration in terms of letting me know what is available in your own collections, so that we can build up an aggregated collection of what is where and how we may work together. I attended the keynote address of the OpenCulture conference in London last week, on 26 July 2014, in which Sir Peter Bazalgette, the Chairman of the Arts Council of the UK, spoke about breaking down the silos of museums by creating shared environments and in seeing museums as a being cooperative, collaborative and collective rather than being individual. My efforts in creating MμMα are to instill this thinking from day one of the museum.

What we are looking for

There a host of types of objects which depict mathematics and how we use mathematics in the real world. I visited the mathematics exhibits at the Science Museum of London during my trip to the UK last week, and found that they were displaying objects in cases but that this was not conveying the exciting world of mathematics to the extent that this is possible. I found that there were almost no children in this section, with all of them in the dynamic exhibits in the science sections.

What I am looking for is collections and items which you may have and which represent the knowledge or usage of mathematics, for example:

  • shapes and designs as used in architecture and crafts
  • measurement systems and items
  • calculating equipment
  • stories of mathematics
  • how mathematics is represented and conveyed in the different languages
  • special collections of mathematical texts and objects

My focus is on school-level mathematics initially, while opening up the vistas of advanced mathematics for others to see how mathematical knowledge develops. I also intend to explore how mathematics is learned and how is is taught as well, since mathematics is not something we are born with as an innate skill and the development of mathematical knowledge is itself a major challenge and a vibrant area of research.

I look forward to hearing from you and engaging with you.

Please contact me on my email below.

Roger Layton