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Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond

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Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond

Mathematica: A World of Numbers… and Beyond is a kinetic and static exhibition of mathematical concepts designed by Charles and Ray Eames, originally debuted at the California Museum of Science and Industry in 1961. Duplicates have since been made, and they (as well as the original) have been moved to other institutions.



In March, 1961 a new science wing at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles opened. The IBM Corporation had been asked by the Museum to make a contribution; IBM in turn asked the famous California designer team of Charles Eames and his wife Ray Eames to come up with a good proposal. The result was that the Eames Office was commissioned by IBM to design an interactive exhibition called Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond. This was the first of many exhibitions designed by the Eames Office.

The 3,000-square-foot (280 m2) exhibition stayed at the Museum until January 1998, making it the longest running of any corporate sponsored museum exhibition. Furthermore, it is the only one of the dozens of exhibitions designed by the Office of Charles and Ray Eames that is still extant. This original Mathematica exhibition was reassembled for display at the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, July 30 through October 1, 2000. It is now owned by and on display at the New York Hall of Science.


In November, 1961 an exact duplicate was made for Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry, where it was shown until late 1980. From there it was relocated to the Museum of Science in Boston, Massachusetts, where it is permanently on display. In January 2014, the exhibit temporarily closed to undergo a much-needed year-long refurbishment, and has since reopened in a new location at the Museum of Science as of April 2015.

Another copy was made for the IBM Pavilion at the 1964/1965 New York World's Fair. Subsequently it was briefly on display in Manhattan, and was then installed in the Pacific Science Center in Seattle where it stayed until 1980. It was briefly re-installed in New York City at the 590 Madison Ave IBM Headquarters Building, before being moved to SciTrek in Atlanta, but that organization was shut down in 2004 due to funding cuts. The exhibit was then shipped to Petaluma, California to the daughter of Charles Eames, Lucia Eames. As of 2015, the exhibit is in the hands of the Eames family, and some elements have been on display at the Eames office.


Some of displays are minimally interactive, in that they start to operate at the push of a button. Other displays are motorized and run continuously, or operate automatically on a fixed cycle as long as power is supplied. The moving display elements combine with noise made by balls falling through the probability machine, to fill the exhibit space with an atmosphere of continuous activity.

  • Large-scale bean machine showing the binomial distribution as an approximation of the normal distribution in probability theory
  • Moebius strip with a motorized red arrow that can trace a complete circuit of the one-sided surface
  • A curved funnel-shaped surface modeling a gravitational well using ball bearings orbiting in ellipses
  • A three-dimensional cube illustrating the concept of multiplication
  • Soap bubbles and films, as examples of minimal surfaces
  • Mechanical linkages
  • Topological surfaces
  • Models showing perspective and geometric projection
  • Wall-spanning timeline of the history of mathematical thought and discoveries
  • In addition, large placards hang from the ceiling, carrying interesting quotations from famous mathematicians.

    Men of Modern Mathematics poster

    In 1966, five years after the opening of the Mathematica Exhibit, IBM published a 2-by-12-foot (0.61 m × 3.66 m) timeline poster, titled Men of Modern Mathematics. It was based on the items displayed on the exhibit's History Wall, and free copies were distributed to schools. The timeline covered the period from 1000 AD to approximately 1950 AD, and the poster featured biographical and historical items, along with numerous pictures showing progress in various areas of science, including architecture. The mathematical items in this chart were prepared by Professor Raymond Redheffer of UCLA. Long after the chart was distributed, mathematics departments around the world have proudly displayed this chart on their walls.

    In 2012, IBM Corporation released a free iPad application, Minds of Modern Mathematics, based on the poster but updated to the present, including expanded coverage of women mathematicians. The app was developed by IBM with the assistance of the Eames Office.


    Mathematica: A World of Numbers... and Beyond Wikipedia

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