The University of Arizona

Math Models and Calculating Machines Display Case

Math Models and Calculating Machines Display Case

When the Department of Mathematics received an award from the University for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education in 1994, Dan Madden suggested that the Math Center spend the money on renovating the display of mathematical models in the lobby of the Math building. In Fall 1997 I asked Alaina Levine, a former undergraduate anthropology and math major with an interest in the history of mathematics, and Nadia Hlibka, a local artist, to work together on the display and an accompanying catalogue. By a fortunate coincidence, William Mueller, a lecturer in the department, had simultaneously become interested in the models, and shared his extensive research with the project, the results of which are described in his introductory essay.

Some of the models turned out to be quite old; the hinged wooden models were made by W. W. Ross, a school superintendent from Ohio who died in 1906; the plaster, wire, and some of the string models were made by R. P. Baker, who had an extensive catalogue of such models in the early decades of the twentieth century. Some of the Baker models are mathematically quite sophisticated, illustrating concepts from algebraic geometry not often seen in undergraduate courses. Other highlights of the collection include the remarkable stellated polyhedra made from perspex, and the antique calculating machines.

Learn more about the models on display by visiting the exhibit catalog at the Mathematical Teaching Tools website.

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