Explore a Captivating World with a Mirror Maze: Numbers In Nature

January 18, 2018

New exhibit highlights mathematical patterns in nature with a mirror maze experience

BOSTON — This February, Museum of Science visitors can experience A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature, an interactive and immersive new exhibit that exposes and explains the mathematical patterns that abound in the natural world—from the nested spirals of a sunflower’s seeds, to the ridges of a majestic mountain range, to the layout of the Universe—providing a unique perspective of our daily surroundings and making math fun for the whole family.

Created by the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI), A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature features a 1,700-square-foot elaborate mirror maze where visitors can explore and navigate a seemingly infinite repeating pattern of mirrors. Various interactive elements allow for hands-on learning to understand that math is all around us in everyday life, revealing the beauty of our world through numbers. The exhibit opens February 4 for a limited engagement.

“An important part of our mission is to enable young people to learn by doing, not just by seeing,” said Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science. “We are thrilled to host this exhibit and give our visitors a chance to experience math in a new, immersive way.”

“The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago designed this exhibit to highlight how people interact with mathematical patterns every day, provoking curiosity and wonder,” said John Beckman, MSI’s director of exhibit design and development. “Everything we create at MSI is designed to inspire the inventive genius in everyone. While concepts like fractal branching can be intimidating to some, our hope is that this exhibit inspires all guests to look at the world around them with a new appreciation.”


Introduction to Patterns in Our World

As guests enter the exhibit, they will be greeted by lenticular images that animate imagery from nature — showing the many repeating patterns that are easily identifiable—if they know where to look!

From there, an immersive presentation provides an introduction of how math surrounds us every day, illustrated with stunning footage of nature, the human body, and even art and architecture. Animated computer graphics are superimposed over the images to reveal the mathematical patterns beneath these familiar objects. Explained in-depth throughout the exhibit are four primary patterns: spirals, the Golden Ratio (ɸ), Voronoi patterns and fractal branching. The film will help introduce guests to these patterns in a familiar way, as well as why they exist and how they show themselves in various facets of the natural and cultural worlds.

Building upon the examples in the presentation, an interactive area allows guests to identify patterns that surround them every day and to create numerical patterns of their own. They will be able to manipulate images of snowflakes, sea shells, flowers and more—triggering the underlying geometry—as well as create a numerical sequence to understand how a pattern is generated from repeating a simple set of rules.


The Mirror Maze

When guests make their way to the centerpiece of the exhibit—the mirror maze—they are exposed to a pattern of triangles that repeat in a dizzying array of mirrors. This experience allows guests to learn about the math that surrounds them while being inside a giant pattern. This fascinating, yet challenging, space will envelop guests within what appears to be an endless pattern— 1,700 square feet of it! Guests will encounter intriguing questions and activities to further immerse themselves in the repetition, symmetry and tessellation presented in the maze. Dead ends are scattered throughout along with a small secret room that rewards guests with bonus puzzles, imagery and artifacts.


Hands-On Discovery

Upon leaving the maze, guests will have more opportunities for hands-on activities in a final gallery.

Patterns in Nature:

  • Draw patterns on a digital screen—like connecting dots to draw spirals and creating Fibonacci rectangles—and see real-world objects that show that same pattern.
  • Align clear spiral frames to a series of objects from nature and the man-made world.
  • Learn how fractal patterns are used to make computer-generated landscapes in movies.

Patterns in Yourself:

  • Step in front of a large two-way mirror and strike various poses while a projection superimposes patterns and proportions on your body in real time.
  • Look through an eyepiece to observe how blood vessels branch within your eyes.
  • Compare similar patterns, like fractal branching, that appear in the human body and in nature by viewing a 3D-printed model of human lungs and a Lichtenberg figure, a sculpture that captures a lightning strike in a piece of acrylic.
  • Observe just how much symmetry—or lack thereof—is present in the human face.

Patterns in Music, Art and Architecture:

  • Compose a piece of music using symmetry: vary a single musical motive and hear your creations played back.
  • Create a musical scale with mathematical proportions using a playable harp.
  • Discover and compare similar patterns in architecture from varying parts of the world—from the Taj Mahal to the Beijing National Stadium—built millennia apart.

The exhibit also features an array of artifacts—Bighorn sheep antlers, honeycomb and an aluminum anthill casting—that demonstrate real examples of patterns in objects from the natural world.
A Mirror Maze: Numbers in Nature is free with Exhibit Halls admission. Exhibit Halls admission is $25 for adults, $21 for seniors (60+), and $20 for children (3-11). For more information, call 617/723-2500 or visit www.mos.org.


About the Museum of Science, Boston

One of the world's largest science centers and New England's most attended cultural institution, the Museum introduces more than 1.5 million visitors a year to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through the world-class interactive exhibits, programs and K-12 curricula of its William and Charlotte Bloomberg Science Education Center. An extraordinary variety of learning experiences span the Yawkey Gallery on the Charles River, Hall of Human Life, Thomson Theater of Electricity, Charles Hayden Planetarium, Mugar Omni Theater, Gordon Current Science & Technology Center, 4-D Theater, and Butterfly Garden. The Science Behind Pixar, created with Pixar Animation Studios, is touring nationally. The Museum's National Center for Technological Literacy® K-12 curricula, including its award-winning Engineering is Elementary®, have reached an estimated 13 million students and 129,700 educators. Visit: http://www.mos.org.

About The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI)

One of the largest science museums in the world, offers world-class and uniquely interactive experiences that inspire inventive genius and foster curiosity. From groundbreaking and award-winning exhibits that can’t be found anywhere else, to hands-on opportunities that make you the scientist—a visit to MSI is where fun and learning mix. Through its Welcome to Science Initiative, the Museum offers a variety of student, teacher and family programs that make a difference in communities and contribute to MSI’s larger vision: to inspire and motivate children to achieve their full potential in science, technology, medicine and engineering. Come visit and find your inspiration! MSI is open 9:30–4 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Extended hours, until 5:30 p.m., are offered during peak periods. The Museum is grateful for the support of its donors and guests, who make its work possible. MSI is also supported in part by the people of Chicago through the Chicago Park District. For more information, visit msichicago.org or call (773) 684-1414.

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