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Science Museum Soars to New Heights with Mathematics: The Winton Gallery

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Roger Highfield, Director of External Affairs, describes the launch of the Museum’s pioneering gallery, designed by Dame Zaha Hadid, which is free to visit and open from 8 December 2016.

Mathematics took flight in the Science Museum last night, thanks to the soaring imagination of one of the greatest architects of all time, Dame Zaha Hadid.

At a glittering launch event more than 700 people celebrated the Mathematics: The Winton Gallery, including luminaries such as Sir Tom Stoppard, writer Kazuo Ishiguro (his father’s storm surge prediction machine sits in the gallery), Government Chief Scientist Sir Mark Walport, mathematics populariser Simon Singh, Emmy winner Anthony Geffen; Rana Hadid, Dame Zaha’s niece and Paul De Quincey, Director of the British Council in Russia.

Mathematics: The Winton Gallery has been made possible through an unprecedented £5m donation from long-standing supporters of science, David and Claudia Harding.

Last night David Harding, CEO of Winton Capital and a Science Museum Fellow, said he was ‘pleased and proud to be associated with this magnificent gallery…which will enrich the life of thousands of maths teachers up and down the country who will be able to take their charges here rather than do double maths.’

L-R: Curator Dr David Rooney, Claudia and David Harding, Chair of Science Museum Group Trustees Dame Mary Archer and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford.

L-R: Curator Dr David Rooney, Claudia and David Harding, Chair of Science Museum Group Trustees Dame Mary Archer and Science Museum Director Ian Blatchford.

Zaha Hadid, who believed that mathematics should be a way of life, created the gallery by using sophisticated software to chart the flows of air around an aircraft (itself a mathematical marvel) to create an achingly beautiful and theatrical design. In essence, the Museum’s Mathematics Gallery is crystallized mathematics.

The gallery is the only permanent public museum exhibition designed by Dame Zaha and also the first project of Zaha Hadid Architects, ZHA, to open in the country since Dame Zaha’s sudden death in March this year. The gallery has already garnered coverage in a wide range of media, from the BBC and Guardian to Dezeen and The Daily Telegraph.

Patrik Schumacher, ZHA Partner, said: ‘Mathematics was part of Zaha Hadid’s life from a young age and has always been the foundation of her architecture. This gallery is an important part of Zaha’s legacy in London and I am sure it will inspire visitors for many years to come.’

The gallery illuminates the central role of mathematics in modern life through remarkable artefacts and stories. ‘This is an audacious project and a mathematics gallery like no other,’ said Ian Blatchford, Director of the Museum. ‘We show how mathematical practice is woven throughout the modern world.’

He paid tribute to Karen Livingstone, museum Masterplan Director, and to exhibition curator, David Rooney, who said that at its heart the Gallery ‘tells a rich cultural story of human endeavour that has helped transform the world over the last 400 years.’

To bring these stories to life, Rooney and his colleagues selected 120 treasures from the Science Museum Group’s collections of around seven million objects, including an early example of the Enigma machine; a tote machine; the London School of Economics’s 1950s Phillips water-based model of the economy (described here by the FT); Lord Castelreagh’s Consular Collection of Attested Foreign Standard Weights; and Dr Shizuo Ishiguro’s electronic analogue machine, which used meteorological and ocean data to predict storm surges, and where and when they would affect coastal areas.

Suspended in the heart of the gallery is the Handley Page ‘Gugnunc’ experimental aircraft, designed by harnessing ground-breaking aerodynamical research in the 1920s to transform public opinion about the safety of flying and thus help secure the future of the aviation industry.

The plane inspired Alistair Robertson, a graduate of the Royal College of Music, to compose a piece to celebrate the opening of the gallery, featuring Morse code quotations, including ‘AMT’, the initials of Alan Mathison Turing, as well as G-AACN, the registration number of the aircraft.

As an orchestra played, roving video cameras revealed how ZHA shrouded the aircraft in three minimal surfaces that enfold the smallest possible area (within certain constraints), based on the shapes of the vortices in the turbulence wake created behind the plane in flight.

In the final gallery design, even the showcases and flowing lines marked within the gallery floor follow the lines of air that would have flowed around this aircraft.

Russell Taylor, Chief Marketing Officer, Samsung UK and Ireland, said that the company was proud to be associated with a gallery that opens the minds of people to mathematics, given the fundamental dependence of modern technology on mathematics, ‘which can be complex and frustrating for some’ and invited guests to experience the Handley Page ‘Gugnunc’ virtual reality experience. ‘This gallery is testament to the Science Museum’s commitment to innovation.’

Through the support of Samsung, the Science Museum Group is exploring emerging technologies in its Digital Lab.

Sham Ahmed, Managing Director, MathWorks, told the party that the new gallery was a perfect fit for the vision of his company, which creates mathematical computing software, used in the gallery to show how some of the objects work. ‘We bring maths to life.’

The sponsors were thanked by Dame Mary Archer, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, who drew the attention of the guests to a portrait of Dame Zaha Hadid taken by David Bailey for the Great Britain campaign. Dame Mary declared that the gallery ‘will wow our visitors for many years to come.’

Ian Blatchford added that the ‘bold vision for this world class gallery would have stayed on the drawing board without the dramatic generosity of David and Claudia Harding and their serious philanthropy.’

They have been joined by two stylish corporate supporters as well that we are proud to partner with: Principal Sponsor (Samsung) and Major Sponsor (MathWorks). And they in turn were joined by several individuals with an impressive track record of supporting science: Adrian and Jacqui Beecroft, Iain and Jane Bratchie, The Keniston-Cooper Charitable Trust, Dr Martin Schoernig, and Steve Mobbs and Pauline Thomas.

Written by Roger Highfield

  1. John Tilsiter

    Hi.
    So, Grandpa took his 14.5 yr old grandson (well into maths) to this exhibit this morning. Some exhibits were reasonably interesting but quite separately, and without comparing notes, we both concluded that this was a big let down with all the hype in the papers. The style was ok it was just the ‘maths’ element seemed to have escaped. Obviously you won’t think so but we found it to be on the boring side. So sorry about this. But feedback is useful.
    If there was more description of how much maths is essential in TODAY’S workplace it would have been better.
    Thanks
    JT

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