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Review: Minds of Modern Mathematics

When we think of Charles and Ray Eames, most of us think about their work in architecture, furniture, and design, specifically that iconic mid-century modern chair made out of molded plywood. But this creative couple was involved in other artistic endeavors as well, including film, and produced more than 85 shorts on a range of topics. This app includes some of those films and explores an installation that the two designed on the history of mathematics, viewed at the New York World’s Fair in 1964. The installation can still be seen today, in the original, or as a “12-foot-long poster…displayed in mathematics departments around the world.”

There’s a TED talk, “The Design Genius of Charles + Ray Eames” that’s well worth watching, if you’re interested.

Screen from 'Minds of Modern Mathematics' (MartianCraft)

Title: Minds of Modern Mathematics
Story Development: Glen Fleck
Developed by:
MartianCraft in collaboration with IBM and the Eames Office.

iOS, requires 3.2 or later


Gr 7 Up-In 1961, Charles and Ray Eames created an exhibit for IBM,  Mathematica: A World of Numbers…and Beyond, which was seen by millions of people at the 1964/1965 New York World’s Fair. That exhibit, a 50-foot timeline installation on the history of mathematicians and mathematics, has been reborn as an app.

The iPad is the perfect platform for this timeline as it allows users to interact with the exhibit in ways that weren’t possible before. The title is divided into three parts: a reproduction of the original timeline (here carefully retouched); an interactive history of mathematics from the year 1000 to 1950; and a collection of short films by Charles and Ray Eames. Several access points lead to the information, which also offers cultural context for the achievements.

The interactive “Men of Modern Mathematics” is an illustrated chart. Tapping on a mathematician brings up information about the subject, including live links to Wikipedia pages or biographical sources. Touching an image provides an enlarged view and a caption.

The films, most of which were produced for IBM, come from the vaults of the Eames Office and cover a variety of related topics such as “Copernicus” and “Symmetry.” Many are narrated, but some aren’t; together they employ animation, reproductions of artwork, live-action sequences, and music to tell their stories.  (Try using the one on the “powers of numbers” and “Exponents” when introducing a lesson on the topic.) This well-executed production will be of interest to students of math, science, and history and could be used as the basis for lively discussion in these classes.—Daniel Greene, U-32 School, Montpelier, VT.