First Look review: “Numbers in Nature” exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry
By Gabriella Mikiewicz
Located at: The Museum of Science and Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr. www.MSIChicago.org
Background: In late October, the Museum of Science and Industry unveiled the doors to its new permanent exhibit, Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze. The exhibit gives visitors the chance to travel through the patterns surrounding us everywhere. You’ll be shocked at the numbers and patterns in almost every shape and figure around you.
What to expect: This is an educational, scientific and mathematic display of how “math is the language of nature.” The spirals of a sunflower’s seeds, a butterfly’s wings, formulas in famous architectural triumphs, the arrangment of the universe — all of these are abundant in the same, repeating mathematical patterns. Learn about the “golden ratio,” Voronoi patterns, spirals and fractal branching — the things found in everything from the tiniest of places, like seashells, to an entire galaxy.
Don’t get scared off if you’ve forgotten all of your basic geometry and algebra, as the interactive images, graphics, visuals and content are geared toward people of all ages. “The majority of the concepts covered begin to appear in middle grades and up,” senior exhibit developer Olivia Castellini told us. “However, it is designed in such a way that general audiences can engage in the content and interactive activities in a meaningful way as well.”
The design team and curators did an extensive amount of research and prep work, consulting with math experts from around the country (including a pair from MIT). In order to bring these difficult concepts to a basic, family-friendly level, team members reached out to local educators to find out what curriculum is being taught in classrooms. This way, the exhibit not only educates newcomers on these mathematical concepts, but also works as an effective resource for educators and students who visit.
“Every exhibit project presents a unique challenge,” Castellini says. “First and foremost, we wanted to find a compelling and interesting way to get into the subject matter and create one-of-a-kind experiences that will help our guests engage in the content.”
What stood out: Definitely the coolest and most intriguing part of the exhibit was the mirror maze. The 1,800-square-foot maze is the most popular destination at the heart of the exhibit. With changing colors and repeating triangles that seem to go on forever, the optical illusions will have you second guessing your reflection in every mirror. It was a long and winding road to the end, filled with plenty of dead ends and confusion. The lights fading between colors and the never-ending triangles lighting the path on the floor create the illusion of an infinite passage — at least until you walk headfirst into a mirror.
Final thoughts: The educational properties, mixed with the interactive and fun games, create a great environment for family members of all ages. The whole exhibit may completely change the way you used to view educational museum trips.