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Exhibit is 'opportunity to think a little like mathematicians do'


The exhibit "Beyond Numbers" is intended to take visitors beyond the long division and checkbook balancing that turned off many of them in school.

"There are whole realms of modern math that depend on different skills," said Exhibits Director D. D. Hilke. "In the exhibit, we expose you to a lot of these different kinds of math, and you get the opportunity to think a little like mathematicians do."

With computers doing the "heavy lifting," mathematicians are freed to use their imaginations to tackle larger challenges. Among those portrayed:

* Solving problems. Math can be used to solve real-world problems. Visitors will get a chance to try using experimentation and reason to build a city's fire stations in places that maximize safety while minimizing costs. But they'll also learn how math can provide more systematic tools for reaching the answers.

* Discovering patterns. "Math is a language . . . to represent patterns in physics, chemistry" and elsewhere in nature, Ms. Hilke said. Visitors will see how simple mathematical patterns combine to create natural forms in plants, crystals and shells, or infinitely variable designs in tiles.

* Playing with abstractions. Visitors will explore abstract concepts by playing with such props as a Mobius strip, an object with just one side and one edge.

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