Three years ago, Glen Whitney was a hedge fund professional at Renaissance Technologies, the giant hedge fund famous for using complex mathematical models to stay ahead of the market. Today, he’s the driving force behind a new museum that aims to debunk the myth that mathematics is dull and boring.
Whitney has helped raise $22 million, including $2 million from Google, for the new museum, to be located at 11 East 26th Street in Manhattan. And he believes many thousands of visitors will flock to his new Museum of Mathematics, set to open in 2012.
“We want to expose the breadth and the beauty of mathematics,” said Mr. Whitney in a recent article in the New York Times.
Whitney is a former math professor who used his quantitative skills to land a job with Renaissance Technologies. He quit the firm in 2008 to pursue his new dream of making math seem cool. His first effort was to build a carnival-like traveling exhibit which he called the Math Midway, to prove people would visit a math museum. Among its many interactive exhibits is a tricycle with square wheels that visitors can ride smoothly along a circular track, because the ridges in the track rise and fall to match the shape of the wheels.
Although there are many science museums in the U.S., this will be the only one devoted strictly to mathematics. A smaller math museum on Long Island closed in 2006, sparking Whitney’s interest in the project.
“I really felt that I found my calling,” Mr. Whitney said. “I don’t mean to be grandiose, but it was something that felt like it really fit with my lifetime of experiences and abilities and likes and so on.”
It could be the right time. Math scores for American students have been slipping in recent years, and many Americans are concerned about the U.S. losing its technological edge. Math skills are critical for the jobs of tomorrow, in finance, computer science, health and more.
What’s your opinion? First, do you think a Math Museum will have any traction? Second, what’s your relationship with math? Was there a teacher or person who inspired your love of numbers? Add your comments below.