Glen Whitney "in the Quest to Make Math Riveting."

April 18, 2011
Hertz Staff

From Crain's New York Business

by Miriam Kreinin Souccar

A museum that promises to make calculus entertaining is coming to the Madison Square Park area.

The Museum of Mathematics, a new nonprofit established by former hedge fund executive Glen Whitney, signed a lease last week for the ground floor and lower level, or 19,000 square feet, of 11 E. 26th St. It is scheduled to open in the fall of 2012.

Mr. Whitney, a former algorithm manager at Renaissance Technologies, also taught math at the University of Michigan after he graduated from Harvard. He began working on the museum—or MoMath—two years ago, because he believes math can be more accessible.

If you go to a cocktail party, people are almost proud to say, 'I was never any good at math,' ” Mr. Whitney said. “We have a cultural issue with the way people perceive mathematics in this country, and it takes a cultural institution to solve a cultural problem.”

In the quest to make math riveting, Mr. Whitney and his team of 10 staffers are developing 50 to 60 exhibits. One, The Ring of Fire, features a laser cylinder that reveals hidden shapes within the structure. It is already traveling to institutions around the country and will come to the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey this fall.

Show of shows

The exhibit is very popular, according to Cindy Lawrence, MoMath's chief of operations. “Every museum is asking for it,” she said.

Experts said MoMath will fill a void.

“There are existing museums, like the New York Hall of Science and the Liberty Science Center, and they all deal a tiny bit with mathematical concepts, but not often,” said Alan Friedman, a museum consultant and former CEO of the Hall of Science. “To convert mathematical concepts into exhibitions requires additional work that none of the existing museums have done.”

Helping merge math into science museums is part of MoMath's mission. It recently got $2 million from Google to help institutions create exhibits from MoMath's designs.

The museum has raised $22 million of its $30 million capital campaign. Mr. Whitney expects that when fully operational, MoMath will have an annual operating budget of about $3 million.