I was 6 years old during the 1964 World’s Fair and so a perfect age to be hugely impressed by all its attractions and views of the future. IBM Research, the arm of the IBM Corporation that does science in the service of all the technological directions of the company, has now published a free Apple iPad app called Minds of Modern Mathematics which focuses on the original exhibit developed by Charles and Ray Eames.
From the press release:
Users can click through more than 500 biographies, milestones and images of artifacts culled from the Mathematica exhibit as well as a high-resolution image of the original timeline poster.
The app also includes the “IBM Mathematics Peep Show,” a series of playful, two-minute animated films by Charles and Ray Eames that offer lessons on mathematical concepts, from exponents to the way ancient Greeks measured the earth.
I first became aware of the Eames’ and their relationship to IBM in the PBS American Masters documentary Charles & Ray Eames: The Architect and the Painter. The iPad app, which is available in the Apple App Store, includes, I believe, a couple of the videos from the documentary. I thought they were wonderful in the film and am looking forward to seeing the rest of them. They explain several interesting mathematical problems and concepts in playful and whimsical ways not often seen elsewhere.
Exhibits like this led many people to consider careers in mathematics, engineering, and the sciences. Coupled with the race to land on the moon, there was a tremendous amount of public support and recognition in the 60s for technological knowledge and innovation. We need to return to this, and quickly. I hope this app helps inspire students around the world to think about mathematics in new ways and to consider learning more of it.
Here’s an example of someone not “getting” the importance of the subject. When I was working on my Ph.D. in mathematics someone remarked to me that I “must know some really large numbers.” Yes, there are numbers, but mathematics is about relationships and structured systems that work together in coherent ways.
I challenge you to take a look at this app and find three things you didn’t know. If you’re pleased and impressed, recommend the app to others.