A remarkable new permanent exhibition at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation brings a multiverse of ideas to real life. Mathematica: A World of Numbers…And Beyond conveys the world of mathematics through interactive installations to make the concepts fun and memorable for everyone. The exhibit also preserves an important history — the genius, joy and contributions made by a husband and wife team to building the modern world.
Conceptualized, designed and realized by groundbreaking designers Charles and Ray Eames in 1961, Mathematica uses kinetic installations, models, timelines, quotations, imagery, and physical interaction to explain mathematical concepts, phenomena, ideas and applications. Visitors will discover bubbles that seem impossible, ball bearings that mimic orbiting planets, and a machine that renders probability theory as visible to awaken the relationship between the ideas of math and those in our everyday world.
The heart of Mathematica is populated by large mechanical interactive exhibits, including the Probability Machine, a device that drops thousands of plastic balls along a grid that once settled, creates a bell curve; Minimal Surfaces, where guests can watch as six wire wands dip in and out of a soapy bath to create delicate bubble forms; and Celestial Mechanics, where with a press of a button, metal ball bearings are released and cycle around down a vortex funnel to demonstrate the orbital relationship between heavenly bodies.
Two artifacts are unique to The Henry Ford’s Mathematica installation, Random Walk and Conic Sections. Two sorting baskets on top of the Random Walk flip back and forth—determining the direction of a meandering pathway of lightbulbs. Peering through the viewing portals on Conic Sections, guests can see beams of light transformed into complex shapes, scattered across string formations.
“Mathematica not only changed the way exhibitions were designed, but it emphasized the important concept of learning by doing,” said Patricia Mooradian, president & CEO of The Henry Ford. “With its addition on the museum floor, we can provide visitors of all ages a unique, engaging and interactive experience that incorporates the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) platform.”
“At the Eames Office, we wanted a venue that was respectful enough to conserve Mathematica as a complete and cohesive work of Charles and Ray’s creation, forward looking enough to restore the experience of the piece—even when that meant carefully adapting new technologies to deliver the original experience, and smart enough to present it not simply as a classic but also as a teaching tool for the students (of all ages!) of today,” said Eames Demetrios, director of Eames Office. “We could not be happier with the multi-year journey of getting it just right for The Henry Ford’s community. The Eames Family and the Eames Office are tremendously grateful to The Henry Ford for their passion and care.”
“Mathematica is classic Eames in its design, graphics, fonts and layout,” said Marc Greuther, chief curator and senior director historical resources at The Henry Ford. “It side-steps boundaries between education, play, art, and science.”
The Eames office created a total of three versions of the exhibition. The first is now installed in the New York Hall of Science and the second is owned by the Museum of Science in Boston. The third version, now at The Henry Ford, includes interactive elements unique to it. Several of its elements were first installed in IBM’s vast pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. Afterwards, it was put on display at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle before becoming the property of the Eames family.
About The Henry Ford
The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan is an internationally-recognized history destination that explores the American experience of innovation, resourcefulness and ingenuity that helped shape America. A national historic landmark with an unparalleled Archive of American Innovation, The Henry Ford is a force for sparking curiosity and inspiring tomorrow’s innovators. Nearly 1.8 million visitors annually experience its five attractions: Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour, Benson Ford Research Center and The Henry Ford Giant Screen Experience. A continually expanding array of content available online provides anytime, anywhere access. The Henry Ford is also home to Henry Ford Academy, a public charter high school which educates over 500 students a year on the institution’s campus. In 2014, The Henry Ford premiered its first-ever national television series, The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation, showcasing present-day change-makers and The Henry Ford’s artifacts and unique visitor experiences. Hosted by news correspondent and humorist, Mo Rocca, this Emmy®-winning weekly half-hour show airs Saturday mornings on CBS. For more information please visit their website thehenryford.org.